A Letter to My 21-Year Old Self on my 31st Birthday: A Decade of Lessons

Today is my 31st birthday! This birthday more than turning 30 has made me think about life. Probably because there’s no excitement or fear of a new decade, but rather I’m IN the new decade. Not just a visitor still holding on to the 20s. At 31 there’s no excuse, you’re IN your 30s and you have to accept it. This has made me think of how much life has changed or even hasn’t changed in the past 10 years. It’s made me think of what lessons I’ve learned, which ones I wished I learned a little earlier and which ones I wish someone told me about. People always say that with age comes wisdom, not to say that I’m so wise at 31, but I am definitely wiser than I was at 21. For that reason, I would like to take a minute to write a letter to my 21-year old self. That carefree, fun, loud, happy girl I was at 21. I’d like to give her the lessons I took a little too long to learn, the ones I never learned but I wish someone would’ve warned me about and the ones I learned the hard way. Though it’s too late for me and my fun and exciting 21-year old self, this letter might be of some good to my future daughter one day, or maybe even my god-daughters on their 21st birthdays. So here are a few lessons to the 21-year old me….

Dear Carefree 21-year old Me,

I want to share some lessons with you that I’ve come to learn in the past 10 years. 31 seems very, very, far away to you now, but before you know it it’ll be here. Some of these lessons I learned on my own, some I learned through watching other people fall and get back up, and some I’m still trying to figure out, but here are some guidelines for you in the meantime. Are you ready? Pay attention! I know you probably think this is dumb, or boring, but trust me, come your 31st birthday, you’ll be glad someone told you what to expect at some point. So here we go:

Follow your dreams! No matter what anyone tells you, follow your gut! You will come across some nay-sayers, but keep believing in what truly makes you happy because that’s all that matters anyway.

Choose a career you’re passionate about. Not just one that makes you lots of money.

Learn to trust people, but most importantly learn to trust yourself and your gut. You’ll learn how to listen to this gut thing sooner or later, because in the end it’s always right.

Same goes for your heart. Listen to it! No matter what people’s opinions may be, follow your heart! It knows what your dreams are and what makes you happy!

Have faith. In whatever it is you believe in… grab on to it and don’t let go. You’ll need to rely on this more times than you probably think right now.

By now you’ve experienced deep, tremendous hurt. Feel it, learn from it and cry. Don’t be afraid of it. You’ll feel this deep loss a few more times in the next few years. It’s just life’s way of teaching us to appreciate the things and people around us.

Love your family. Be there for them. I know they’re a little crazy at times, but they will truly be the ones standing by your side NO MATTER WHAT!

Some family may stray, but the ones that stick around will be your rocks to lean on when things get tough.

Be the same for them. There will be times they will need you just as much as you will need them. You will be each other’s strong force through life. See, there’s a reason you have such a huge family of cousins and aunts and uncles. These people’s strength will teach you, inspire you and push you when you need it. They’ll also pick you up when you’re falling into a million little pieces.

Listen to your family. Sometimes you’ll think they’re wrong and you won’t want to listen to them. But take it with a grain of salt and store it in the back of your head. You’ll soon realize they were helping you realize things you didn’t yet see on your own.

Respect your parents. They will drive you crazy! Trust me, they will really drive you crazy. But they only do this because they love you! People will try to tell you they’re out-dated, too strict, too demanding, too old-fashioned. Whatever they tell you, listen and let go. At times you’ll think these things too. But never forget no one has better intentions for you than your parents do. They want you to succeed, they want you to be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. Everything they are doing for you will be for your own good. You might not think so now, but when you look back on it, you’ll see they were right. Don’t worry, you don’t have to let them know they were right. It’ll be our little secret. Just respect them, show them love, and listen to them even when it’s hard to. They only drive you crazy because they’re trying to do things out of love, things you might not agree with or realize just yet. One day you will. One day you’ll see it was all worth it. Be grateful for the parents you have. They’ve helped you get this far and they’ll continue to be by your side through every little thing you’ll experience. They’ll be experiencing them right there with you. The heartbreaks, the great news, the amazing opportunities, the tough choices – all of it, they’ll be right there by your side for every single thing. Trust them. Love them. And listen to them, even if you don’t want to admit that you are.

Don’t let anyone take advantage of you! Many will try… Guys, employers and sometimes even people you think are your friends. Don’t let them. Be strong! Stand up for yourself! Stand up for your beliefs, your standards, your work ethic, your personal value. Whatever it is they’re trying to take advantage of from you fight for it. You are strong enough and well-versed enough to stand on your own two feet. Do it. Don’t let anyone walk all over you! Especially if it’s someone with authority or command above you. If you don’t fight for yourself and believe in yourself, then who will? Stand strong and don’t allow anyone to use you, your talents, your person, or your feelings.

You’ll mess up. You’ll fall down many, many times. But don’t worry nothing is permanent, each time you will learn how to pick yourself back up and be a stronger woman than you were before.

Enjoy life! Have fun and party! Those trips you second guess taking — take them! Be adventurous! They’ll make the best stories for years to come. And sooner than you think these adventurous trips of youth will be long gone.

Those friends people tell you will drift away in college. They won’t! At least not all of them. The good ones will be around for many years to come! They’ll hold your hand when your heart is broken or life gets tough, they’ll wipe your tears and sit beside you during some of the most difficult moments you’ll ever face. But you’ll also have lots of laughs. You’ll watch them fall in love, get married and have babies of their own. So be good to them. You’ll have fights. Lots of fights. But never forget the history you have together! That’s what will keep you together, history and love. These friends will become family. Some literally and some might as well be.

Remember those trips I mentioned? Take lots of trips with your friends! Enjoy every night out! Drink safely but let loose. Sooner than you think nights out will end at midnight. That sounds crazy to you now doesn’t it? You now leave the house at midnight! Enjoy it but be responsible.

Hold on strong to your morals. They’ll be tested, but they’ll make you the person you will become. It’s a great person, I can assure you of that. But never compromise your morals. In the future you’ll be admired for them. This might sound like an oximoron to you right now. Who thinks of morals at 21? Trust me, they are what makes you hold your head high, even in the tough times.

Fall in love! Don’t be afraid to love! Don’t try to only date guys who you think could be “The One”. Rarely is he the one now. Just have fun! Enjoy! And most importantly learn. Relationships and love will teach you a lot about having relationships and it will also teach you a lot about yourself. So go ahead…fall in love! There’s nothing to be afraid of!

Ok. I lied! You might be afraid of getting hurt if you fall in love. I know it’s scary, but there’s a lesson to be learned! It will hurt. You will cry for days. You’ll feel like you don’t want to get out of bed. It’s all part of the lesson. Having your heart broken will only teach you to be more careful next time you let someone in. It will teach you to trust more carefully and it will teach you in what to really look for in a guy. Just because he’s cute, doesn’t mean he’ll be great to you. Don’t ever forget that. Only date guys who respect you, put you first, give you your own space, accept you for who you are, don’t ask you to change, love your family and friends as much as you do and someone who also has similar values and morals. When you find a guy that has those qualities… marry him! (Don’t worry it’ll take a while. You have time, I’m still waiting to find him.) In the mean time, enjoy love, relationships, and the lessons that come with it.

Tell those you love, that you love them. Your friends, your family – whoever. Some will be taken away from you way too soon. Death is a part of life. You’ll experience it many times in the next decade. You’ll lose close family members, you’ll lose friends, and you’ll see people die who were too young to go. However, learn from this too. Learn not to take people or experiences with them for granted. This is where that strong faith will come in handy. You’ll question it at times and maybe even drift away. It’s ok. That’s just part of growing up and making sure that what you believe in is right for you. Your religion will be something you will continue to fall on and hold on to for strength.

Make school a priority. Jobs might sound tempting and everyone wants to get a head start in their careers, but those jobs that promise the world – won’t. Your education will be one of the things you’ll have that no one can take away from you. Take advantage of it. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn. Don’t give up your college experience for a job that won’t make a difference in years to come.

Those internships that sound intriguing but scare you – take them! You’ll learn more from these than you will learn in any textbook. The unpaid ones that you want to turn down because they want you to work for free – those will be the most valuable experiences for your future.

Opportunities will come and you’ll have to choose between a steady paycheck and an ok job for an opportunity of a lifetime. Take the opportunity of a lifetime! There will be other jobs. You can always get a weekend job anywhere else. Your college job won’t shape who you become, it won’t open more doors for you. Now that opportunity that’s making you choose? It’s making you choose because it’s worth it! It’s testing your commitment. Don’t let them test you! Take it, jump on it, be excited and make it happen. It WILL make all the difference in years to come.

Experience life outside your comfort-zone. Take a study abroad, apply for an out of state internship, do something that requires you to learn and be on your own. If you don’t, you’ll regret it one day. These out-of-the-box experiences will shape you into the person you become. They will teach you how to be on your own and rely on yourself. They’ll also teach you other lessons you’ll have to find out on your own when you get there.

That plan you have in your mind on where you want your life to be in 2 years, 5 years, even 10 years from now. Write it all down … then burn it. Nothing will happen according to your plan. NOTHING! So you might as well let it go now. Life will give you some ups and downs. Things will get in the way. Better things will come along and bad things will happen. You’ll learn from each of these – the bad ones and the ones that are better than what you had planned. Just keep in mind that life doesn’t follow a plan. Well, at least not yours. It follows God’s plan for you and nothing you can do will change that. So get rid of your expectations, your to-do list and your life map. If you hold on to it too tight you’ll be disappointed.

Life will take you where you least expected it to. You’ll meet people you didn’t think you would, you’ll go places you never imagined you’d enjoy, you’ll have jobs you never even thought of, things will happen out of order, you’ll live in places you never dreamed of, you’ll be doing things at 31 that you didn’t think you would. Just embrace it and have the faith that someone has a plan for you. Someone knows where you’ll end up and how happy you will be when it all works out for you. In the meantime, they are all just lessons to make you a better person, a stronger person, a more prepared person, a more loving person, a more faithful person and a more complete person.

I hope my letter helped you out carefree 21-year old self. Enjoy life! Don’t let my guidelines scare you too much. You’ll learn all of these on your own anyway. I just wanted to give you a heads up since some of these lessons might take longer to reveal themselves and to learn than others. Some you’ll learn through other people and some you’ll learn through your own experiences. However they come, keep them in a safe place in year heart and in your mind so you can teach the next generation someday.

Love you….

The 31-year old version of you.

P.S. Don’t worry, you’ll turn out to be an amazing, strong, wonderful woman! Just keep trusting yourself, believing in yourself and following your heart and dreams!

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18 responses to “A Letter to My 21-Year Old Self on my 31st Birthday: A Decade of Lessons

    • Alice! You made my day! Sorry I forgot to respond sooner. I’m in awe that I reached you and you’re so far away. Live your life and enjoy being in your 20s. Don’t rush it..21 is a great age! But keep your morals and values in check… they’re there for a reason! xoxo

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  2. Some great advice here! “Step Out of Your Comfort Zone” is one I would underline :-) BTW, did you check your mail today? Maybe your 41 year old self sent you a note ;-)

    • haha.. thanks, Wally! Sorry for the late response, I just noticed that. Luckily, my 41-year old self didn’t write me a letter today. That might ruin the fun of learning on the way, though it would be pretty cool to see how things end up.

  3. This is a great post! I sometimes reflect and ask myself if the younger version of me would be proud of the older version of me…and that always keeps me motivated to do the right thing and keep doing what I need to do. :) You’re an amazing writer!! Happy 31st Birthday Michelle!!!!

  4. Great post, Michelle…exactly what every young 21 year old should know and every 31 year old should realize! Love you!

  5. Happy Birthday Michelle!!! I really like the idea of writing to your younger self and yes, someday your future daughter or god-daughters will benefit from this priceless advice. In the end, we all need to learn through some experience…it would never be the same excitement and sometimes dissapointment if we just got all this knowledge directly from someone else. Nevertheless, I think it’s pretty clear that you and I are the kind of people that will share this knowledge with others in an attempt to help smooth their ride through life. Stay blessed amiga!

    • HOLA! Sorry I’m just now replying to your comment. Thanks so much for your very kind words! I hope my lil girls (though not biologically mine) will benefit from my hard times someday. It is fun and exciting to learn and experiences these “lessons” on our own. But then again, some hard times could be better doing without them. I’m sure your boys will benefit from you and your little wisdom. You’re also a very inspirational person…keep sharing your little lessons as well! :)

  6. You are growing too fast. Is it good? will you be happier? I don’t know yet and i’m already 34 years older. but… keep trying, go for it. sometimes you will win, others you’ll be defeated, but GO, it’s the only way to be satisfied with you. HAPPY 31TH BIRTHDAY!

  7. hehehe…it’s kinda funny writing to yourself but i like the idea very much….i wonder what im going to say to myself when i write a letter for me…

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