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Twenty-One and a Half

Twenty-One and a Half

Today is my half birthday.

I’ve now been twenty-one years old for six months. I’m totally going to go around correcting people when they say I’m twenty-one and be like, “um, I’m actually twenty-one and a half, thank you very much.” (Just kidding, I’m not an asshole.)

On my twenty-first birthday, I vowed that this age would “be the start of how I learn to live, not the end. I’ll make smart choices and bad decisions, be honest with both myself and others, stop being reserved about what I think, and ask enough “why” questions to make my [late] grandfather proud.”

I’d like to think that the past six months consisted of constantly keeping these promises. Here are some concrete ways that I changed since I turned twenty-one — and I don’t mean that I go out every weekend!

Stopped being motivated by fear; started being motivated by enjoyment

Quite honestly, I barely remember my first, second, and third years of college because I was so busy filling up my calendar with obligations that I thought I should do, not things that I actually wanted to be doing. I took six or seven classes per semester and meticulously over-studied for each exam, worried that I’d somehow fail miserably if I didn’t put in as much time as possible into reviewing the material. I was in student government every single semester. I headed two clubs. I held off-campus secretarial jobs. I constantly chose my work over my relationships, and was always in a state of near-burnout.

I did all this out of fear. I’d been a textbook slacker before college, often preferring to waste my days pointlessly shooting the shit with friends rather than work on projects that interested me, skating by with mediocre grades as often as I could. At eighteen, a few weeks before college, I had a half-quarter-life-crisis of sorts and realized that if I didn’t get my act together, I wouldn’t have any freedom when it came to choosing my career later in life. So I pushed myself as hard as I could, terrified that if I slipped even a little bit, everything I’d worked hard to build would be destroyed and I’d regress back to my slacker self.

Over the summer between third and fourth year, I started working as an iOS engineer intern at Urban Outfitters. It was my first time in industry, and I was the youngest and most inexperienced on the team by far. Every day at work, I felt like I was trying to jump several levels in technical competency, and I wasn’t sure if I was succeeding. To my surprise, no one seemed to mind; they prioritized growth and learning over hard achievement. [1] I was an intern, after all. Slowly, I stopped attaching my self-worth to my accomplishments and started doing stuff because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to.

This isn’t to say I’d go back and change anything about my first three years of college — having the mindset I did definitely helped me out at times, and now I know that the world does not have to work that way. I am glad that I changed my attitude when I did.

Stopped taking myself so seriously

One of my favorite books is Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman, a celebrated physicist who, among other things, helped develop the atom bomb, received the Nobel Prize in Physics, and established the field of quantum computing. Even though he did a lot of cool-sounding shit, he loved going on adventures and preferred to look at life in a lighthearted way.

Attitude does matter when approaching a task. I realized that, when it came to getting shit done, everybody involved would have a much better time if we had fun. Plus, as mentioned above, the stuff I was doing weren’t exactly life-or-death matters.

Doing good work is paramount, but taking that stick out of your ass and enjoying yourself while doing good work is essential.

Started enjoying being uncomfortable

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

– Tim Ferriss

That quote is on point — and true. I find that the more uncomfortable situations (the good kind that make you better once they’re over) I put myself in, the easier it gets to navigate them, and I never regret it. This works kind of like a muscle does; if I don’t put myself out there for an extended period of time, it becomes hard to be comfortable with being uncomfortable again, and I’ll have to re-adjust myself.

Stopped buying clothes; started buying books

Whenever I got a paycheck in the past, about fifty percent of it would go toward the preppy dresses you see so prominently featured on this site. One of the perks of working so much was that I always had a little pocket money, and since I often shopped thrift or secondhand, I could afford much nicer-looking things for less. That all built up, though, and once I’d filled up multiple closets with colorful frocks, it wasn’t even really fun to shop anymore. Everything in the store windows looked like something I already owned.

Shopping had been my way of blowing off steam, back when I was stressed out about everything. Once I started doing interesting things all the time … well, hanging out in malls suddenly seemed boring, and like a waste of energy. I already had all the dresses I needed to look good; now, I wanted to spend time teaching myself and getting better at things I never learned in school. I started buying/borrowing loads of books and finishing at least one per week. I had paperbacks I read in bed and digital tomes in my Kindle that I read in line at the supermarket. I read everything, from fictional short stories to heavy business books to psychological research to spiritual self-improvement. I wrote down the quotes that stood out to me, and I started to absorb the authors’ ideas, which often influenced my decisions and put me on a better path than the one I was on before.

Started doing all the important things publicly

I started openly blogging about the projects I was doing as a way to beat impostor syndrome and ensure social accountability. I’ve noticed how well this system works — now, I never think about whether I “really know” something or not, because if I don’t, somebody will call me out on it, and then I’ll actually know the thing I was worried about not originally knowing! Similarly, I’ve been a lot more motivated to keep my promises when the whole world is acting as my accountability buddy.

It’s been a wild (in a good way) six months so far — onto the next! I can’t wait to see where life take me. ♚


[1] For a while, though, I was seriously worried that they were going to fire me. If you’re reading this, URBN team — thank you so much for taking a chance on a young computer science major with no prior experience in industry. The lessons I learned working with you were crucial to my self-development and I’ll pay it forward as much as I can.

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