“You’re not in a competition with every person you meet. Most of them are on your team. Lift up the people around you, and you all win.”
~Arza Patel, via Charity Shumway in Ten Girls to Watch

Between weathering Hurricane Sandy, celebrating my cousin’s beautiful Bat Mitzvah, gluing myself to ABC’s election coverage, and, of course, editing until my eyes get bleary each day, I haven’t had much time lately to read. Even so, I’ve been squeezing in pages of the fabulous book quoted above whenever I get a spare moment. With only fifty left to go, I’m still falling more in love with the story after every chapter. It is inspiring. It is motivating. It is thought-provoking. It is the kind of book that makes you reflect, makes you ponder, makes you act.

Without giving too much away, main character Dawn’s task is to contact all previous winners of Charm Magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest – fifty years of finalists, fifty years of daydreams, fifty years of aspiration and inspiration. As she tracks down these women, Dawn does more than just learn about their lives. She also learns about her own. She learns about herself. Their words of wisdom add embers to the spark already within her. Their ambitions give strength to her own. Dawn interviews doctors, lawyers, professors, opera singers, authors, teachers, and more. And while she spends her days profiling these successful women, she spends her evenings navigating the roadway of her own dreams. To be a published writer, to find love, to find her place in the world … as we see Dawn’s hopes, we also see our own.

Never before have I actually taken to post-it-noting (wow, how’s that for a made-up word?) a book, but I did this time. Yellow tabs peek out from so many pages, marking passages that speak to me. One question that Dawn often asks her interviewees is: what advice do you wish someone had given you when you were 21? Some of my favorites answers and reflections from the characters:

-“You need to find your passion before you can follow your passion. Try a lot of things, and don’t be embarrassed to call it quits if something isn’t right for you.” (Betty Robinson, 1964)

-“We get so used to thinking success means one thing. Like you can take a snapshot and see if you have it. It’s not like that. It’s your whole life, and you have years and years to work with. I always want to tell young people, don’t be so hard on yourself. Life is long. Be patient.” (Stephanie Linwood, 1969)

-“I think dwelling in the past can be … I don’t know, very good, I guess. I just know that if you look back at it, the days add up to something.” (Elizabeth Irwin, 1982)

-“You never know what you’ll grow to love.” (Jean Danton, 1960)

All these pearls of wisdom got me thinking: what advice do I wish someone had given me at 21? What advice would I give to a 21-year-old? There are so many things, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it’d be this: When you find your heart’s passion, don’t let anything discourage you from turning that dream into a dream-come-true. Obstacles will pop up, frustrations will rear their ugly heads, and tears will fall even when you swipe them away. You’ll wonder why things seem unfair, you’ll wonder when it’s going to be your turn, you’ll wonder if the emotional roller-coaster is worth it. IT IS. Because something worth loving is worth fighting for with every fiber of your being. Don’t turn your back on your dreams or you’ll be turning your back on yourself. Reach for the stars. Reach for your star. Reach beyond it.

How about you? What advice do you wish you had been given at 21? What advice would you give?


13 thoughts on “21.

  1. I haven’t quite reached 21 yet, but they all sound like good pieces of advice to be given when I do reach that age… or else I’m happy to take them on board now :) Haha.

  2. That’s wonderful advice. All of it – yours, and the passages you picked out. Very inspiring! There are so many things I’d tell 21-year-old self. Mainly, though, it’s that there are lots of setbacks, but in the last fifteen years they have always led to something good. A little after I turned 21, I broke up with my college boyfriend. I was devastated. Now, though, I look back and see we weren’t right for each other. And if I’d have been with him, I wouldn’t have my husband OR my daughter, and I wouldn’t live in a town I love, and maybe I wouldn’t even be a writer. Who knows? And there are so many other things in my life that have worked out that way, but that maybe I don’t want to say in public, though I’ll gladly spill in an email. :-D

    • It kinda reminds me of the whole “everything happens for a reason” idea. Even though we may not know what the reason is at the time, there’s almost always something good to find in every setback … a ray of sunshine in every cloud! :)

  3. Hmm, it’s so hard to think of what advice I would’ve appreciated @ 21 (that I would’ve listened to anyway) since I needed all of those peaks and valleys to make me who I am today. I probably would’ve liked to have been told to “stay physically fit because it’s a lot harder to take it off when I’m older.” lol. The book you’re reading sounds pretty good. I haven’t written as much as I’d like over the last several weeks but I have been reading and enjoying the story very nicely :)

  4. Shari, those passages were so beautiful. I love the “life is long, be patient” specifically. I think it spoke to me because at 24, so many of my high school classmates and college friends are already trying to measure “success.” Most of them are doing it by monetary status alone. I just keep thinking that I have to focus on the big picture, and this quote reminded me of that. Thanks for this post!

    • Hi, Jorie! Thanks so much for stopping by!

      I agree: out of all the passages, I think that’s the one which struck me the most. It’s so easy to compare our success with others – especially with the prominence of Facebook, Twitter, etc. these days – but like you said, it’s about the big picture. Success means different things for different people, and it certainly doesn’t happen all at once. That patience can be soooooo hard sometimes, but I have to believe it’s worth it! :)

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