21 Things I Wish I Knew Before 21

About a week ago, my mom asked me what I wanted to do for my 21st birthday. When I responded with “not much, it is just another birthday and work day for me,” she seemed somewhat sad/disappointed and replied saying that 21 is different than other years because it is when someone truly becomes an adult. I agreed to disagree with her until I sat on this thought for a while, because in my mind, 21 is the age people can legally get hammered, but that’s about it. After a while, I realized 21 is the threshold into the next stages of life; not having to leave a restaurant on a date because the only open spots are at the bar (that was awkward), graduating college, moving out, getting a job, getting married etc, and because of that, I thought I would share the 21 things, big and small, that I wish I knew that would have made these pre 21 stages of life a bit easier.


Spend money on practical things

College turned me into a minimalist. I like when things are usable, and I don’t have too many of the same thing because why would I need ten plates at college when I have just one that works like a charm? Before college, I didn’t really think about spending money on things that I could continue to use in the future; expensive practice leotards, CDs that I haven’t touched in YEARS, clothes in style that are now out of style, and my personal favorite: my high school themed black and blue custom Nikes with “East” on one tongue and “View” on the other. Granted, these things served their purpose in the moment, as Spotify didn’t exist back in the CD era, my Nikes looked great with my warm ups, and I needed leotards to practice. Now that I am almost a good four years out of high school, no longer train, and don’t listen to JB on CD, I can’t help but cringe when I walk by the Nikes sitting on a shelf in the garage, see the dust on my CD box, and look at my old leotards staring at me in the bottom of my drawer. The hundreds of dollars in things I don’t use anymore could have been invested into something better. Looking back, I would have limited the amount of leotards I got because I only wore my four favorite ones anyways (I had over 30 at the end of my career), would have not gotten the idea in my head that Kidz Bop was fire, and stopped to consider if I was actually going to use things in the future. Yes, I could wear the Nikes still, and as much as I like Eastview, I don’t think anyone has THAT much school pride for their high school.

Don’t try to fit in

Yeah this sounds cliche, but back in high school, I wish I internalized this. I obeyed the social hierarchy, which led me wanting to look my best every day, and try to figure out what the “populars” had that I didn’t. We all remember the “Miss Me” jeans with the white thread and glam on the butt? Got those. Vera Bradley lunch box and lanyard? You bet I had to get that. Everything Lululemon? Always. And if that weren’t enough, you HAD to be tan for prom, so yes, I did drive to Wisconsin once a week to go to the tanning bed since I wasn’t 18 yet and allowed to sit in a human toaster in MN. Nowadays I like to steer away from looking exactly like the other girls who all wear denim skirts, crop tops, and Birks on campus. It is exhausting trying to be someone you are not, or feel like you have to impress everyone everyday. Looking back on it, I would tell myself to just be me, because people like me even without sparkly butt jeans.

Don’t settle

I used to settle for “good enough” regarding relationships with guys, roles at jobs, friends, and gymnastics. In these times, if I had a little bit more faith and confidence in myself, I could have had more and done more. It is so important to speak up, but I never did because I thought it wouldn’t change anything, so I talked myself into being ok with settling with where I was at. This often happened at gymnastics when my coaches didn’t have as much faith in me than I did, friendships were one-sided, guys didn’t understand the true meaning of courting a girl, or bosses that didn’t see my potential. It isn’t the fact that I could have been a few levels higher in gymnastics, or been on a fewer dates with dudes that were not my type that I wish I could change, but it really is more about knowing my worth and abilities. Not settling for less than what you deserve shows that you know what you can do, and what you are worth. Now that I have learned to speak up and not settle, I have met the guy that checks all my boxes, am out of toxic environments and friendships, speak up for when my grade is 92.97% and want an A, act on my ambitions, and don’t put up with anything unfair.

Lunch meat and eggs are nothing to be afraid of

This one is more on the lighthearted side, but when I was younger there were certain foods I would not eat out of irrational fear. I did not eat eggs until my freshman year of college (new year, new me stage) because my brother once told me eggs were dead baby chicks, so I went 18 years of my life without due to being gullible. I also did not touch lunch meat (literally and figuratively), which is why I brought pb&j every day for lunch from 7th grade to senior year. Little Lauren was perfectly content rotating between chicken fingers, mac and cheese, or pizza off the kids menu every time we went out to dinner. When I graduated from the kids menu, I would find the closest thing to those three things. I wish I knew earlier that there was a better world outside of pizza, and that grilled chicken or turkey wasn’t any more alive than chicken tenders like I thought it to be. I wouldn’t eat hot dogs at baseball games because the hot dog scared me, wouldn’t eat the meat that hung over the sides of my burger/didn’t have cheese on it, or a turkey sandwich without piling chips on it so I couldn’t taste the turkey. Now that I think about it, I was pretty much vegetarian without trying to be due to the fact that I was scared to eat meat where I could see it without breading on it or wasn’t totally out of sight…I thank the Lord I got over that phase, and it truly ended in college, because everything I didn’t eat back then is now pretty much all I eat.

Haste makes waste

I’m one to solve problems as quickly and effectively as possible. Over the years, I’ve had occurrences of trying to get something done fast, not doing it as well as I could have, and it backfired which led to more work than I would have had to do if I just took my time initially. Long story short, don’t rush! This phrase applies to so many things. We’ve all been there; switching lanes to get around a slow car, but in the end they pass you as they smirk at you in the rearview, trying to rush a homework assignment but end up doing it wrong and having to start over, trying to rush a relationship and it ends up crashing and burning, or in my case, trying to take the short cut at Minnehaha Creek and ending up taking an unexpected dip and having wet jorts for the rest of the day. Quantity over quality most of the time is not a good thing, and if I knew this years back, I would have stayed patient and actually saved the time that I thought I was going to save by doing it hastily.

Learn to cook

I wish I knew that what I have pinned on Pinterest in my “Eats” board isn’t just for looks like it has been since middle school. Growing up, I never had time to learn because I was training 20 hours a week. When I did have time to learn, my family was always at baseball tournaments, which led to many dinners anywhere other than home. Being at Gustavus, the trend has continued, as students are most of the time on a meal plan all four years. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried to learn over the years, but the only thing I’ve learned is that I can’t be trusted around sharp or hot objects. I am completely calm about graduating this next year and starting a new job and routine- but what terrifies me is that I will actually have to trust that what I made myself is not going to get me sick. Stay tuned for a future blog post about my first meal that I tried to make and ended up having to call the fire department..seriously, mark my words.

I am not immune to caffeine

I’ve always been one to believe that robust phenomenons don’t apply to me; caffeine leading to feeling more awake is one of them. I have never been a coffee drinker, I actually hate the taste of it (probably because I only get black since adding anything to make it taste better makes me feel weak). I never got it before college because I didn’t think caffeine had any effect on me, so what’s the point. I now realize that caffeine addiction is real because I still hate the taste of coffee, yet I find myself getting my cold brew every single morning despite the fact that it makes me gag. Starting college, I made a vow to myself that I would not turn into a coffee dependent college student, and that vow remained unbroken until this summer when I discovered one day without coffee at my internship led to wondering how I got to work alive since I didn’t remember driving there, and falling asleep at my desk on my break (and I’m not talking dozing off in the chair, I am talking full on head down on the keyboard). As much as I wish I could have warned myself, there is no going back a this point.

What a balanced diet actually means

Throughout my gymnastics years, coaches would send mixed signals regarding diet. I would hear “balanced diet,” from some, and “no carbs” from others. In younger years, anything diet related went in one ear and out the other as it should for any kid, plus my parents were in charge of meals. What I ate as a kid wasn’t a problem for me because I was so active, could eat anything I wanted, and didn’t need to consider carbs, proteins, and fats. If I could do it over again, I would have learned the importance of balancing macros because I didn’t notice the impact it had on my body. My senior year of high school I was plagued with injury and couldn’t train. Because I was so used to eating whatever I wanted (ALL the pasta, chicken tenders, and DQ), I didn’t accommodate for the fact that I wasn’t training 20 hours a week, or at all, and ended up unwinding all the effort I put in to get in shape for season. Just like I didn’t believe caffeine affected me, I didn’t believe that calories or too many chicken tenders affected me either. On the flip side, transitioning to college, I learned eating too little of one of the macros leads to feeling low energy, and is just as bad as eating too many of one. If I could have it my way, instead of trying to teach my elementary and middle school self the importance of the food pyramid and portion plate (you all remember this, don’t deny it), I would teach my high school and college self when it could be absorbed and comprehended more. In my opinion, it makes more sense at this age, as we have more independence, hence the freshmen 15. Now that I have learned the hard way what balance is, I definitely wish I didn’t reach extremes on both sides and put my health through some rough waters to finally get it right and be at optimal health.

I am more than “Lauren the gymnast”

I lived and breathed gymnastics for 16 years. At school I was known as “Lauren the gymnast,” was asked to do handstands down the hallways, backhandsprings at recess, and recognized in the school news for my performance at the meet the night before. Teachers would ask me how meets went, how the team was looking, or what skills I was working on. My friends knew I never had time to hang out due to my practice schedule, but would come to cheer me on at meets so they could see me, and I was constantly thinking about practice or visualizing my routines when I wasn’t crying over AP Calculus. For all of my school years, that was my identity, so the day I retired and I no longer could call myself a gymnast, I was absolutely lost. 3rd-12th grade I believed my biggest strength was gymnastics, and I never gave my time and effort to anything else other than school. If I could go back, I would tell myself to recognize the other great things I did, and not hold on so tight to the fact that I was a gymnast. Back then, I was also a great writer, coach, friend, and student, but I didn’t highlight those strengths or use them to define myself. How I was doing as a gymnast dictated my mood 97% of the time. Now that I am in college, and am three years retired, I no longer define myself as “Lauren the gymnast,” and it is such a relief because I now realize my life is so much more than leotards, scores, and chalk.

Prepare for interviews

This one also falls in the category of me not believing it applied to me just like caffeine and chicken tenders. I thought I was invincible and didn’t need to prepare for interviews at all. As much as I dig the confidence I had as a sophomore in college trying to interview for internships, boy was I wrong. I have always been one to panic when put on the spot, so the fact that I thought I could answer behavioral questions right then and there was a bold move. Now that I have experienced more challenges and have more “go to” stories to tell for interviews, it has become easier. But even then, I still didn’t truly prepare for interviews, or know how to effectively communicate my experiences, until I learned how to in my HR class this past year. Doing my research on the company, and STAR (situation, task, action, result) have been lifesavers, and make interviews so much easier, perhaps a bit fun too! I don’t know why I never did prepare, because it would have made me much less stressed while interviewing.

Do what scares you

I never really was one to branch out or try something due to my tunnel vision on college gymnastics, and being reserved in general. My whole life growing up was a routine, and I rarely strayed from it. I had many things I wanted to try back in high school, even my freshman year of college, but was too scared to try. I am so glad I got over that. If I didn’t, I would have a huge gap in my life where gymnastics once was. I wouldn’t have this blog, wouldn’t see my face on the front page of the Gustavian Weekly for the articles I’ve written, wouldn’t know how much I’ve helped others get healthy by creating my fitness account on Instagram, wouldn’t have internships or studied abroad, wouldn’t have performed flips in the Nutcracker ballet in front of thousands of people, ride a mechanical bull at the county fair, I’d still have bangs (good move), wouldn’t have eaten scrambled eggs, wouldn’t have shared my FND story with all my friends and family to create more awareness, and wouldn’t have gone on a date with the guy that I now can’t imagine going a day without talking to. Whatever it is that scares you right now, it may just lead to something life changing.

Focus on strengths, not weaknesses

It’s a common mistake to believe that in order to succeed, we must fix our weaknesses. Think about it, if you were given two tasks to choose from; one you were good at, and one you were bad at, why would you choose the one you were bad at? Senior year I was taking AP calculus, and knew I was going to major in psychology. Math is a weakness for me, and every night I would come home near tears. My parents then said “psychology doesn’t use calculus, why don’t you drop the class and do something else that will help you in the future?” That is exactly what I did, and not putting energy into a weakness of mine was the best decision. Putting energy into a weakness is like trying to fill a bucket with a small hole in it, it may fill up some, but ultimately it’s just going to keep draining and needing more to keep it half full. Another example is when I decided to give up competing all-around because every time I vaulted I would wreck myself, so I devoted more time to the events I was good at, and progressed more than I would have if I stayed in the all-around. Once I got to college and spent my time doing what I was good at- psychology – life became more enjoyable. I also found that I was great at HR and spent more time in that. I know my strengths, and my weaknesses, and being able to choose my classes, internships, and hopefully a future job that plays to my strengths is something I am looking forward to because I know I will do a good job.

Don’t put your faith life on the back burner

Before college, I only thought about my faith life when I needed it, and when it was convenient as bad as that sounds. I prayed when I had a problem or wanted something, and that’s about it. I wish I focused more on my faith life and devoted myself earlier because I can’t go a day without it now, and it makes me more grateful and appreciate the good things in my day. I look forward to my daily devotional, time for prayer and reflection, and just knowing that I am a part of something greater. I dealt with some hard times in high school, and I wish I could go tell myself to depend on the Lord for comfort and guidance instead of trying to deal with everything on my own. I love being in my Christian organizations and bible study on campus, they are highlights of my week, and such a positive influence. Life seems so much less-heavy ever since I have been more dependent and devoted to my faith. Philippians 4:13, baby, could’ve used that for many terrible Tuesdays back in the day.

You are not going to marry your middle school crush

Sometimes I wonder if I had a different brain back in middle school because my thoughts then do not resemble any of the logic I use now. I can still remember the day I was walking back from lunch, and passed who I believed to be my soul mate. To 7th grade Lauren, I thought it was love as first sight, it seemed like time stopped when I saw him. I would plan my routes from class just so I could pass by him in the hallway. The day he texted me and dropped a 🙂 at the end of the text, you would have thought I had just won the lottery. While we did go to freshman year homecoming and senior year prom together, there is no end to the middle school one-sided love story, except the friend zone. I wish I could go back and tell myself to just chill. Seriously, do you know anyone who married their middle school crush?

Do your future self a favor

I have always been one that likes to see instant results from what I put my effort into, so when my brother and dad told me to make a LinkedIn and a resume in 9th grade, I thought they were nuts. At that time, I had no desire to get an internship, didn’t see why networking was important, and didn’t think of how it could potentially help me down the road. If I could go back to myself and say “I promise you, this is not a waste of time, don’t half-_____ it” I would have appreciated that, because I like knowing what I’m doing will make things easier eventually. Being that future self now, I am so thankful I started the process years ago when the only thing I could put on my resume was the “most dedicated” award for gymnastics. Other examples have been investing my money in stock, doing more of my homework now instead of putting it off for a time I know I will not have the time to do it, or doing little things that I know will help my future self whether that be minutes, months, or years away. As much as I don’t want to do it in the moment, it does help, and I wish my past self would have done more to help me now!

Everything happens for a reason

I heard this so many times growing up, but I never believed it. I had heard of God’s plan, and that everything works out in the end, but I only liked to look at the good things that happened, and didn’t see bad things as a part of a bigger plan. High school wasn’t easy for me, but if I had not experienced some of the things I did back then, I wouldn’t be where I am now, wouldn’t have met some of my best friends, or had the opportunities I’ve had. FND is my biggest example of this, yeah it has dragged me through the mud, but I wouldn’t be as active and driven without it. This really is a hindsight thing, and it is cool to see how things have worked out looking back. When something bad happens now, I keep this in mind and know something better is ahead. I wish I could go back and tell myself to not get down over the middle school heartbreak, the terrible Tuesday, the missed internship, or failed plans, because God has something so much greater ahead!

Keep Mom and Dad close

I had my terrible teen years where I wanted to get out of the house and go to college. If I would have told myself that I would become really close with the ‘rents once going to college, I would not have believed it. If I could, I would go back a whack some sense into my younger self for all the times I was just not pleasant to be around, or where I thought I was right and they were the enemy, but really, they knew what was best. I would tell myself to appreciate all they do, and actually spend time with them! I cherish my times coming home from college and being able to go to dinners, movies, and just talk with them. Looking back, I see those years as years wasted that could have been so much better.

Don’t wish time away

This is one of my biggest regrets. I spent high school wishing I could go to college. And I’ve spent college wishing I could just be done because I’ve faced so much adversity. It is easy to spend time wishing something bad away, but in the process, that time does truly fly by. Being an incoming college senior, I can’t help but wish I could be a kid again having slumber parties and spending time with all my friends, or be in high school again because my friends were so close, and I actually loved high school as much as I believed I didn’t sometimes. Even now, I wish I could go back and repeat my last three years at Gustavus because I spent so much time focusing on what was going wrong, and I didn’t take advantage of the college experience as much as I should have. It is the worst feeling knowing you could have done something better, but have no way of changing it. I’m glad I know this now, because I am going to try to make up for the three years of college that I wished away all in my last year at Gustavus! Never will I ever wish more time away as much as I look forward to what is ahead.

Change your flight on beam

This one is directed at my 8th grade self only, and would have saved me three months in a back brace if I decided to do what scared me instead of take the easy way out. Flight on beam is the tumbling series performed during the routine. I was too scared to do back walkover back handspring, so I did back walkover-back walkover. If I would have known that doing too many back bends would have given me a stress fracture, I would have stopped right then and there. Because I was a wimp back then, I now deal with lingering back pain like I am already 90 years old.

No experience is a waste of time

Just like everything happens for a reason seems to be a hindsight type deal, so does this one. I have had some experiences and been with people that make some situations seem unbearable in the moment, and ultimately feel like a waste of time. As cliche as it sounds, you do learn from every experience, both good and bad. Back then I never saw a tough time as learning what not to do, or what I don’t like, I just thought I was unlucky and life was tough. Every hardcore social-loafing project group I have been stuck with has shown me what kind of people I want/don’t want to work with. Every summer job or internship that didn’t quite enjoy has gotten me one step closer to finding my dream job, one terrible date showed me what kind of guy not to date, and one broken arm taught me not to go on a trampoline with eight people. If anything, it is the failed and miserable experiences that I’ve learned the most from, and in return won’t waste any time doing more of what I don’t like. I wish I knew back then that all the bad times were endured for a good reason.

You are your own person

I can’t remember a time growing up when I wasn’t wanting to make others happy, and would strive to be perfect by doing what I thought was expected of me. Over the years I have created expectations/ rules in my head that I thought would make my family or friends happy; including what career path to take, what kind of guy I could date, unofficial rules that my family grew up doing, what I was allowed to do on the weekends etc. This often led to me being more reserved, scared to try new things, afraid to do what was “out of character”, and ultimately not happy. It only took me 21 years to figure out that what I do, and who I am, is enough, and perfectly ok! I don’t need to follow exactly in my brother’s footsteps to make my family happy, because my successes are just as great even though they are different. Just because I choose not to drink, even on my 21st, doesn’t make me lame or naive. Just because I am a psychology major rather than into some form of business like the rest of my family doesn’t make me any less valuable. Just because I don’t eat dessert after dinner doesn’t make me rude. While none of these “rules” were ever said, that is what my mind thought through observation growing up. It is definitely a relief knowing I can make my own decisions, as a 21 year old should be able to, and know that I have no unrealistic expectations or guidelines I have to follow.

I don’t know what my life would be like now if I knew some of these tidbits earlier. Maybe I would be the same, or maybe I would be in a completely different spot. It’s interesting to think about how every action I have taken has, or maybe hasn’t, gotten me to where I am now. Every year on my birthday, I wake up expecting to feel completely different. And every single year is so anti climactic; I get out of bed, still short, still blonde, still bad at math…but this year, I actually do feel different. I may have woken up one year older today , still short, still blonde, still bad at math, but I am so much wiser, happier, and feel like I am in complete control of the years that are ahead of me.

Cheers to 21 years! ^^^^(Wine tasting in France doesn’t make wine taste any better)

~Lauren

6 thoughts on “21 Things I Wish I Knew Before 21”

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