9 Things I Wish I Knew When I Turned 21

#2: Say yes to opportunities.

Tom Stevenson
Nov 6, 2020 · 11 min read
Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

When I turned 21 back in 2010, I thought I knew it all. I was approaching the end of my final year at university and I was surer than ever of what the future held.

After I graduated, I would stay at home for a few months before travelling to Australia for a year to work and travel. Well, I graduated with my degree in History, but my plans didn’t go the way I imagined.

By the time I had graduated I had talked myself out of going to Australia. The thought of going to the other side of the planet by myself had put me off and I decided to get a job instead. Only that didn’t go as planned either.

Instead of landing a graduate job, I struggled to get past the inane tests before the interview stage. With my prospects of a job looking thin on the ground, I took a job in a betting shop. Far from a graduate job, this was a run of the mill job which wasn’t what I had in mind.

This experience and my subsequent ten months in the job taught me a lot. I realised I didn’t know it all and that I was quite naive upon graduation. Looking back now at the end of my 30th year on this planet, I realise how wrong I was about a lot of stuff.

They say the older you get the wiser you become. While I’m not sure this is 100% correct, you certainly gain a sharper perspective as you get older. I look back at my younger self and wonder what I was thinking for some of the decisions I made.

Hindsight is 20/20 but I can’t help feeling had I had a bit more introspection and thought more deeply, I could have avoided some of the issues I faced back then.

Life will never be perfect. The folly of youth means we make mistakes that our older self will cringe at looking back. That said, it’s good to look back from time to time and see what you can learn from your younger self and how you can apply this to the present and the future.

Life is short.

Back when I was 21, I thought I had all the time in the world. I can still recall my time at university with clarity, so it’s incredible to think that next year will mark the ten-year point since my graduation. It amazes and terrifies me to think how fast the time has gone.

A couple of months after my 22nd birthday, I realised how brief life can be. Heading home from work, I was knocked my bike by a car. Thankfully, I was able to walk away from the incident with a few cuts and bruises, but it could have been much worse.

In the days afterwards I realised how lucky I had been. My life could easily have been taken from me, or I could have spent the rest of my days in a vegetative state. Before this incident I never would have given much thought to my mortality, now it’s something I’m aware of every day.

Life is short, shorter than we think. When you’re young you think it will go on forever, but soon enough time catches up with you. You wake up and wonder where the years have gone, how you could have wasted so much time, instead of doing what you wanted.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Recognise that although life may feel like a slog, it can end in a flash. Our years advance right before our eyes. Don’t delay what could be done today for tomorrow, because one day tomorrow will never come.

Say yes to opportunities.

When I was living in New Zealand, my friends decided to go skiing during the winter. I’d never been skiing before and it was something that I’d never wanted to do. I don’t know why but it had never appealed to me.

After they made their suggestion, I was lukewarm to the idea. I didn’t particularly want to go skiing, nor pay to rent all the gear. The closer we got to the trip, the more negative I became. I was adamant I wasn’t going to enjoy it, even though I’d never been skiing before.

Once we got to the ski fields, I was still unsure of whether I’d enjoy the experience. After getting my bearings and learning how to ski in a rudimentary manner, I realised that I was enjoying myself.

All of my protestations and negativity had been brushed aside. Skiing, it turned out, was fun. I enjoyed the experience so much, I went back a further four times during what was left of the winter. Each time, it was hard to leave the slopes, due to how much I enjoyed it.

I could have turned down my friend's offer at the beginning, but I said yes. Despite my misgivings, this was a great decision. I’d already decided I didn’t like skiing, even though I’d never done it. If I hadn’t said yes to this opportunity, I might still believe this to this day.

Saying no has its benefits, but there are plenty of things you should say yes to. If someone is offering you the opportunity to go on an adventure, trek a mountain, ski, or go on a road trip. Think long and hard before you turn them down.

The opportunities we take in life open up doors we never realised were there. If you turn them down, you may regret it later in life.

Challenge yourself.

A lot of us think that an easy life is the best life. When I was 21, this was something that I believed. I wanted a job that wasn’t too stressful, with a set routine, a stable relationship and somewhere to live.

That was it. Looking back, I was naive. Sure this sounds like a nice life but in reality, it's boring and tedious. I lived this life in my first job after graduation and it drove me insane. I longed for spontaneity, something to come along and break the chains of monotony.

When I plucked up the courage to move to Australia for a year, I realised what my life had been missing; challenge. My life in the UK was too easy. I was set in my ways and I wasn’t stepping out of my comfort zone.

In contrast, life in Australia was challenging. I was in a faraway country where I knew no one. The only saving grace was that I spoke the same language but it was a struggle and a giant change from what I was used to.

The longer I spent in Australia, the more I embraced this lifestyle. I realised that we get the best out of ourselves when we push ourselves to do things that make us uncomfortable. It’s from these places that we derive meaning from life and grow.

As the Roman philosopher, Seneca said, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

You don’t know it all.

Before I started travelling I had many preconceptions about other countries. Every country has a stereotype and to some extent, they’re true. But a lot of them are exaggerated and not based on the truth.

At the young age of 21, I had many assumptions about what life was like in a lot of places. I was also firm in my beliefs about certain nationalities. This is funny because at that age I had barely travelled and met people from outside the UK. Yet I was sure that what I believed was correct.

Well, these assumptions and preconceptions were shattered when I stepped off the plane in Australia. Due to its history as part of the British Empire, I thought Australia would be like the UK but hotter. Well, I was right about one thing. It was hot but it was nothing like the UK.

As the bus drove away from the airport to the centre of town, I looked out the window and saw a scene that reminded me of childhood trips to the United States. The buildings, the roads, even the signs resembled America more than the UK.

It was at this moment that I realised what I believed was wrong. My preconceptions about Australia were misguided. The longer I stayed in the country and on my subsequent travels I realised what I thought I knew about the world was wrong.

I was humbled by what I saw, the people I met and the places I visited. Far from knowing everything, I knew very little. I made the mistake of thinking I knew best despite my young age and lack of wisdom.

Instead, it’s better to adopt Socrates maxim and realise that ‘you know nothing.’ Only then, can start on the path to true wisdom.

Invest in yourself.

After leaving university when I was 21, I thought I had most of the tools I needed to succeed. A degree that would open doors, organisation and planning skills, as well as the writing ability I had developed during my three years of studies.

I didn’t envision myself paying more for studies or courses because I had already paid for three years at university to earn a valuable degree. What I realised a few years after graduating was that you’ll always need to invest in yourself.

Life moves fast. What was enough one day, will no longer be enough the next. When I first thought about setting up my travel blog, I was put off by the hosting fees I’d have to pay. I was reluctant to pay because I wasn’t sure if it was value for money or not.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realised it was worth it. If I wanted to start a successful blog, which I did, then I would have to pay the money. Once I paid and the blog did become successful, I realised the value of investing in yourself.

When you spend money on courses, setting up a business, or a webinar, you’re backing yourself to succeed. You’re prioritising your future self and opening up opportunities you might not otherwise have. It’s easy to think you can do things on the cheap but that’s not always the case.

If you invest in yourself, you give yourself a big shot at success. Don’t baulk at the price, if you believe it will help you get to where you want to be, go for it!

Embrace change.

One of the few constants in life is that things will change. The world is very different from the one I inhabited back when I was 21. Even the past year has seen change on a scale which would have been unimaginable to almost all of us.

When I decided to travel to Australia, I made a big change in my life. I left behind a stable life, with a set routine and plunged myself headfirst into a new way of living. I was nervous but after a while, I embraced the change and came to enjoy my time in the country.

Throughout my travels, I learn that things can and will change. I missed my friends and family but I didn’t let these thoughts override my emotions and I came to embrace the opportunities that I was presented with.

Humans aren’t the best at handling change which is strange considering how common it is. If you can not just handle change but embrace it, you’ll perform better than most people. It was through my travels that I realised how much things can change.

It was not only the places that I visited, the culture and the languages I encountered that changed, it was me too. Change can be scary but it’s also inevitable. Don’t run from it, accept it and welcome it.

If things stayed the same forever, the world would be a boring place.

Less is more.

When I travelled to Australia back in 2012, all I took with me was the stuff I could fit in my big backpack and a small rucksack. I left behind so much, that when I finished packing my bags I wondered how I’d survive with so little.

This was a shock after driving up to university for the past three years with a car packed full of clothes and other items. It seemed odd that I was taking a fraction of this stuff to the other side of the planet. Yet, a funny thing happened after a few weeks.

I realised that what I had with me was more than enough. Apart from my bike and my iMac, there wasn’t anything that I missed or needed. The only things I bought in the first few weeks were some clothes and an iPad so I could Skype my parents back in England.

I had a whole room worth of stuff back home and yet I was more than comfortable living out of the contents of my two backpacks. It was in these moments that I realised the constant adverts demanding you buy this item and how it will make you happier than ever were rubbish.

I was happier than I had been for years when I had less stuff with me. Clutter is corrosive. The more possessions you have, the more they end up owning you instead of the other way around.

We tend to think that more is better. That to improve our lives we need to add rather than subtract. I’ve found that the inverse is true. Less is more. It’s better to subtract than to keep on adding.

Enjoy the journey.

During my travels, I spent a lot of time on road trips. In Australia, I did four separate road trips, including driving from the bottom of the country in Adelaide to Darwin at the top.

While I was always eager to see the place where we’d finish, what I realised during these trips was the journey was often better the destination. All the little moments that happened were what made the trip. When I got to the destination, while it was great to explore a new place, I found myself longing for those times in the car again.

During the end of my time at school, I was eager to finish and go to university. Towards the end of my final year at university, the same was true. Although I enjoyed my time there, I was eager to move on as the year drew to a close.

Going on multiple road trips made me realise that the journey is what makes life worthwhile. The present moment is all we have. It’s better to live in the moment, enjoy what is happening now instead of yearning for the future.

Persistence pays off.

My job in a betting shop was boring. Considering I spent three years at university beforehand, it wasn’t what I’d thought I’d be doing after I graduated. Back then, the idea that one day I’d be working for myself from the comfort of my own home was fanciful.

Whenever I was cycling into work I was wondering how I could become self-sufficient without working in a boring and fruitless job. It took me a while to figure out, but after I started my travel blog in 2015 and started writing here, I was able to do it.

With that said, it could have gone the other way. I was close to quitting on many occasions. After I moved to Barcelona in 2015, I stopped writing on my blog for a few months, until I started up again. In those days it looked like I’d never earn any money from the blog.

I slogged away, learnt all I good about blogging, writing, SEO and marketing and a few years later I was able to make my dream a reality. Anything that is worth having takes time. You're not going to be a success overnight. It takes a lot of effort and patience to succeed.

Most people quit before they become successful. If you’re able to stick it out, fight through the pain, you’ll come out the other side all the better for it. Sometimes, all you have to do is outlast everyone else and be willing to suffer to succeed.

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier.

Tom Stevenson

Written by

I like to write. I like to travel. https://www.thetravellingtom.com Join my email list -> https://tomstevenson.substack.com/

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier. Join a community of storytellers documenting the climb to happiness and fulfillment.

Tom Stevenson

Written by

I like to write. I like to travel. https://www.thetravellingtom.com Join my email list -> https://tomstevenson.substack.com/

Ascent Publication

Strive for happier. Join a community of storytellers documenting the climb to happiness and fulfillment.

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