21 Things I’ve Learned Turning 21

Remember when we thought grown ups were real?

When we were kids we’d say stuff like:

“When I’m a grown up, I’m going to be cool and eat ice cream all day. Not like my parents who eat broccoli and tomatoes.”

We thought being a grown up was a real deal. It was unimaginable that our parents were actually our age once in their lives. Now that I’m 21, being called “Sir” by the bag boy at the checkout is slightly eerie and discomforting. When you turn 21, you think there is this imaginary bridge that takes you to grown up land and you’d know everything there is to know about being an adult.

You’d know how car insurance works. You’ll know how to get a mortgage. You’ll have a real “job”. You’ll know who you’ll marry, how many kids you’ll have, where you’ll send them to school, how much money to save for their education and how much to put aside for retirement. You’ll know how to change a diaper, how cure boo-boo’s, how to pay off debt or if dogs really go to heaven.

You thought being an adult meant that life’s mysteries would suddenly unveil themselves. A junk mail pamphlet containing all the solutions to life’s complications, big or small.

Turns out, there’s no such thing. Not even in a fortune cookie.

There are only lessons, mistakes, hints, revelations, epiphanies, failures, successes, delights, obstacles, challenges, persistence, motivation, drive, determination, fear, lust, curiosity, greed, dismay, hesitation, generosity, missed and lost oppourtunities.

All of these facts and fantasies are bundled up and neatly wrapped in a time bomb we call Time.

So after being alive for 660 million seconds; 11 million minutes; 183 960 hours; 7665 days, these are the 21 things I’ve come to know as facts in my short, short life here on this sliver of rock floating among the infinite blackness we call space.


1) You only have one Family. I spend a lot of time with my family. In fact, I still ask my parents before I decide to go out with my friends. My friends often ask me why I go over to my uncles place so much, or why I would rather stay home. Being away from home puts things into perspective, so I’m going to give you a vivid example. Let’s say you have your own family, a job, responsibilities and only see your parents and the rest of your family once a year during the Holiday’s. By this time let’s assume your parents are probably 60+ years of age. With the average lifespan sitting around 80 years old, you will only see your parents 20 more times before they die. If you happen to skip a dinner, or make plans with friends, then simply subtract those from 20. That’s a little extreme, but that’s how I think about it. You can find new friends, dump your girlfriend, change your social circle completely but your family will always be your family. I only have one, and it’s a small one. So I spend as much time as I can with mine.


2) You have to keep your close friends close. While family comes first, supportive, loving, enduring and true friendship is just as important. Friends will keep you sane, they’ll have your back, they’ll pick you up, they’re your family away from home. Think about it this way. How many friends do you keep in contact with since elementary school? How many friends do you still talk to from high school? How about post secondary school? The great thing about public school is that it throws you into a abundance of social interactions where you’re able to make friends left, right and centre. The problem is that we all walk different paths. We all split in different directions and most never cross again. So the number of friends you have trickles down to a select few. Better yet, how many “Friends” do you have on Facebook, and how many do you interact with? Facebook does a good job of giving us the illusion of having hundreds upon thousands of friends. I’ve learned that having a lot of friends may be great, but there are only select few who are true and the relationship is deep enough to be lifelong. Even these few friends can change, the important thing is when you are being a friend, be a real one.


3) You are not that important, but you are unique. On the grand timeline of Earth’s 4.5 billion years, my existence of 21 years is molecular. I am 1 out of an ever growing 7 billion people on this planet. I am on 1 continent out of 7. I am on 1 planet out of 9 in our solar system. I am in 1 star system out of 300 billion in our milky way galaxy. I am in 1 galaxy in 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. As far as I know, we are the only planet in the entire universe that supports life. Therefore, I am truly unique.


4) The world is different, yet the same. I’ve been very fortunate to have a Dad that put so much into our family, especially with the past that he’s had. He works hard, and instead of buying a bigger TV, a nicer car, a boat to go fishing and data for our cell phones, he invests it into our family so that once a year we can travel together. Not to brag, but this has allowed me to go many places. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all this travelling, it’s: the world is different, yet much the same. The similarities in different places allow for comfort wherever you go, yet the subtle differences make the world exciting, fresh and new. Each culture has a different delicacy or traditional dish. They have traditional clothing, speak a different language, have different opinions, have different mannerisms and are located in different corners of the world. But the grand overarching similarity that we all share is that we are all human and we all live on the safe face of the same Earth. To connect as a human to another human from a different place is an amazing feeling. In that essence, it’s easy to connect. Of all the people who have ever lived, from violent political dictators to those who led civil rights movements in equality. Of the darkest skin to the palest of skin, the blondest of hair to the blackest of hair and everything in between. We hold two things in common. We are human, and we all live on a planet called Earth.


5) Live for right now. The past is gone, the future is a manifestation of your present state of mind. So why not just live right now and let that shape your future, instead of living in the future trying to shape that. Instead of always looking forwards, try looking around. You see so much more, and it’s a lot more fun this way.

Finger Lakes NY 2007 099

6) Outside must be good for you. Why the heck is it that when we start going to school at 5 years old, we’re going for 6-8 hours a day, everyday? Then, when we have “jobs” we work 8 hours a day. When we come home we plop on our couches, at our desks, at the dining table, and then sleep for 8 hours at night. It’s possible to spend our entire adult lives without getting a drop of sunlight. When was the last time you went for a walk? When was the last time you did something in the rain? Welcomed it? I love the rain, I love the smell of it. I love the smell of cut grass, I love shovelling snow, I love every excuse to go outside.. Even if that means reading textbooks on a picnic table outside my apartment.


7) Be yourself from the start, it’ll come out eventually. It sucks that we have to present ourselves differently in different situations. If you spend enough time with these people, they will get to know the real you eventually. My fact of life is, always be yourself. Never lie, always be honest. This goes for both yourself and others.


8) There is no such thing as age. Think back to your school days. The older kids didn’t play with the younger kids because they were little kids. The seniors don’t talk to the juniors because they were noobs. There was a fine line of segregation that limited you to who you considered were your peers, classmates, friends, etc. Like everything else, you grow out of it. Everyone does! Enter university. Everyone helps everyone. Everyone respects everyone else. Everyone’s seen as an adult, an independent thinker, a curator of ideas. At this age, you can communicate with people years older than you, years younger than you, and you all fall on the same level. Your professors aren’t your teachers like they were in high school, you can approach them, talk to them. They become people. There is no such thing as age because the things we value most in people are ageless.


9) It’s okay to be afraid. As long as you don’t let that fear control your life. Whatever that fear may be, I walk towards it. And no matter how bad I screw things up, I’ve grown from it. Standing behind a closed door fearing what is on the other side is completely insane. What if what lies on the other side of the door is a blissful new beginning, a means to a complicated end, or an incredible adventure. It’s okay to be afraid, but you’ll never know until you try. (Except scary movies. I don’t do scary movies.)


10) It’s okay to be the stupid one. I’ve been a part of countless group conversations where I have nothing to add of value. But I’ve grown to know that these conversations are most important. Why? Because if you’ve gone in with nothing, you’ll absolutely come out with something. You’ll learn something new, you’ll gain some new ideas, you’ll connect some new dots and you’ll open some new doors. Most people would leave. But I’d sit there, ask questions, listen and learn. I learned about things I never thought I’d sit down and learn about. Most people would leave these situations and label them as awkward. I label them as isolated pockets of intellectual growth.


11) Motorcycles are awesome. Everyone drives a car. If everyone’s doing it, then it must not be that great. So why not change it up and ride a motorcycle? Motorcycles taught me that it is very easy to be roadkill, but it also taught me to look around, to take a different route, to do things that excite you no matter what others may say, and to surround yourself with people that share similar passions. Cars are boring, motorcycles are awesome.


12) A problem is just a surprise you didn’t want. If you treat it that way, a problem will never get you down.


13) Smile, always. People notice a smile. On the street, on the bus, in a crowd, everywhere. The coolest thing about smiling at someone is that they always tend to smile back.


14) Never forget who you are. Being born in an Asian household, we have different traditions and annual celebrations. It’s every bit a part of me and I will never let it go. Language is a big part of my life and who I am. Being multi-linguistic offers so many additional chances for interaction. If you only know one language, it’s never too late to learn. No matter who you are, where you’re coming from, where you are going or what language you speak. Never forget who you are.


15) You only have one body. Recurrent shoulder dislocations left me unable to play many of the sports I enjoyed. I was timid, embarrassed and scared. It wasn’t until I started really taking care of myself physically that I began to change mentally. By addressing asymmetries, lifting weights, eating healthy, and continuing with my shoulder rehabilitation I was able to gain new confidence in sports. You only have one body. If something isn’t going right with it, like a bummed shoulder, a bad knee, chronic neck pain or a bad back, you have to do something about it. You only have one set, so take good care of it.


16) Books are not stupid. I always believed that you can only learn so much from books. It’s not until you go out and see it in the real world that you’re really learning, which I still believe in 100%. For some reason, for a long while, I took that to mean: “Books are stupid. Don’t read books.” It wasn’t until I bought my first non-fiction book that I started to realize a world beyond my own. Sure, it’s true what they say about real world experience versus the words contained within a book. But I think without books, and the love of reading, you wouldn’t be able to implant these seeds in your brain that eventually lead you to applying what you’ve read. Books are like maps for the real world. You take a look at an area and explore it until you find what you’re looking for. You read different books to take yourself to different areas, and you can be conscious of what to look for and appreciate things for what they are.


17) People watching is not weird. I’m 21 and I love to people watch…I’m not weird. I understand the fact that each individual has their own unique story. They have collected in one area or are walking on one street because something brought them there. A reason for why they are there, a reason for where they are going. The story behind their clothes, the story behind their pace. Just a story, that each its own, is unique.


18) Happiness is fleeting. I think, and have come to know, that true happiness is not an everlasting state that we allow ourselves to dwell within. Happiness, in my mind, is fleeting. It is a wave of emotions that ebb and flow and create packets of happiness followed by calm, plateaus and sometimes sadness. We chase happiness as if it were something that if we grasped it and held on tight enough, we would be able to hold on forever. But the pursuit of happiness doesn’t work that way. Happiness is found in moments. I believe happiness is a moment that is so powerful and touches something so deep within ourselves that we extend it onto different outlets of our lives. Which we can then allow ourselves to confidently say that we are happy in that moment in time.


19) Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I haven’t read Eat. Pray. Love. but I believe this is has been the foundation of my life thus far.


20) You are your worst and best critic. There’s a little speck inside your brain that edits every thought you have. Sometimes that speck can be a bitch. It tells you to reword this or redraw that. Call it intuition if you want. It tells you you’re not good enough or that wasn’t your best effort. I listen to this speck inside my brain and it is usually right. I let it be my guide when I’m trying to produce my best work. If it’s half-assed, it was probably half-assed. If it needs editing, it probably needs editing. If it’s not good enough, it’s probably not good enough. I set pretty high standards, and my inner critic knows. You can choose to ignore it, or you can choose to listen.


21) Never grow up. Honestly, I never want to grow up. But I know one day I will have to, so I made myself a few promises. I promised myself  I will watch animated movies and cartoons.  I will allow myself to laugh at farts. I will allow myself to be childish, immature and free spirited. I promised myself I will not be a grumpy old man. I promised that I will play awesome games with my kids. I promised I will continue to learn and expand my knowledge of the world. I promised that I will laugh, love, live and grow. I promised I will remain young at heart.


– Benny

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Young at heart and forever a kid. Obsessed with fitness, adventure, education and lifestyle design.

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33 comments on “21 Things I’ve Learned Turning 21
  1. Lehlabile says:

    Well, I just turned 20 and manI am so excited about 21. Partly because I will get a “key” and be considered an adult from there on and by reading your post, i just realize the amount of fun that lies ahead of me and i seriously cant wait. Thanks a lot for sharing such insightful words Benny.

  2. Daniella says:

    I’m turning 21 in two weeks and I have been feeling a bit freaked out for some reason. But this actually made me feel better. I believe in everything you wrote. :)

    • Lehlabile says:

      Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, hope u will have an awesome birthday party and remember to have tons of fun and know that you ar efabulous!!! Happy birthday in advance

    • Benny says:

      Thanks Daniella, Happy Birthday! Life just gets way better after this. Drink responsibly ;)

  3. Wow Benny, I reread this article and almost wanted to pitch a tent on live in your words. On the brink of my 21st birthday in March, I definitely hope to adapt some of these virtues.

  4. David says:

    Loving all these comments! Congratz benny

  5. What a wonderful outlook! Thank you. And pass along a heartfelt ‘thank you’ too to your parents and family. They must be awesome and they deserve to know you’re appreciated out here in the virtual world!

    • Benny says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s refreshing to find out there are awesome people like yourself on the internet among the vast sea of trolls. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Kelsie Gale says:

    Amazing!! Thank you for this awesome list. I really appreciate it. Turning 21 in a month…i really want to maintain these things in my life. Thanks again!!

  7. Tipsy Yogi says:

    Benny, you are wise beyond your years – well done on this list.

  8. nameccap says:

    This was an awesome introspective. It’s nice to see so many people pursue fun and loving life. I enjoy playing and I still enjoy cartoons. Laughing is my must have everyday (sometimes at inappropriate times). If I was a celebrity, on my Obnoxious list of demands would be I Love Lucy and Seinfeld disk sets and maybe Pineapple Express. I love that movie…

  9. cassieronda says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! This is great – I’m especially a fan of #3 and #17. (And I also agree that scary movies are to be avoided at all costs..)

  10. izin97 says:

    Great post, really inspiring. Its nice to be reminded that as I am a human and not a robot -I don’t have to be perfect. Thanks a lot for liking my post as well.

    • Benny says:

      One day we might be robots – humanoids maybe, and that’d be really cool. Until that day, imperfections are the things that make us special :)

  11. This says exactly what I was thinking. Because I’m new here and because you seem like a cool guy I’m going to let you in on a little insight–I have no idea what I’m doing. I graduated college and started with a normal 8-5 job. I hated it. But it felt like where I was supposed to be in my journey toward being an adult. So I quit. And I got another job with more flexibility and more responsibility. Yes, it pays the bills, and yes, I’m still figuring my stuff out while I do that, but god knows where I’ll be in another year–another two years. I always thought by 24 I’d have it all figured out. Jokes, I can barely remember to pay the bills on time… But at least I think I have my priorities in order. Thanks for stopping by BrittanyMeetsWorld. I’ve tried this a few times and just now am really finding the motivation to keep up with this whole blogging thing. I’ll be around :)

    • Benny says:

      Hey Brittany!

      I’m slowly pulling myself out of this imaginary quarter-life crisis of a spiral and honestly, I’ve started to embrace the “Art of Not Knowing”. Grabbing at all the loose threads called oppourtunities that come stumbling by and saying Yes more than before has made things a lot more interesting. And by DOING more than planning, I’ve got to meet a lot more people and their interests spark mine which then brings me deep into rabbit holes I never thought I’d find myself in.

      Life’s weird like that, and I think that’s what makes it awesome. It’s the quote about the “journey not the destination” people like throwing around.

      If I have any final words, it’d be this cheeky quote:

      “Growing up is merely watching your heroes turn human right before your eyes.”

      We’re all still trying to figure things out.

      Stay curious, don’t stop learning and remember to have fun!

  12. leewriter says:

    Great job, wonderful, insightful, inspiring post. Chronological age is pretty irrelevant. If you exercise regularly, eat smart, remain active and curious about the world, you’ll age much gracefully and enjoy the ride/life’s journey, which is really what it comes down. It’s all about the present moment and how much in tune you are with it. And when you fall out of touch with the present moment by doing things like drinking too much and you end up in situations you don’t want to be in (my wife Amy died at 41 from excessive drinking over the space of about ten years), you have make peace with yourself in whatever manner it takes. Sometimes you can’t make peace with yourself right away (as Eckhart Tolle writes, “You have to accept your non-acceptance”) but have patience with yourself. Things will clarify in your mind and soul. Thanks for reading my blog. I plan to write a book that will be a compilation of all my “Bad” blogs and call it “The ‘Bad’ Path to Sobriety: Gain Inspiration and Insight from a Modern Day Tragedy”.

    • Benny says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear about your wife.

      I believe life is a sequence of lessons taught and lessons learned. The failure to recognize when a lesson is being taught can lead to misdirection. Being open and “awake” to the things happening around you, whether directly or indirectly affecting you, allows you to collect more observational data to implement into your own life for the better.

      I really admire your perspective of the world and I’m sure your book will touch the hearts of millions of people.

  13. Jdpoe says:

    I like your mindset

  14. simon says:

    Thank you m just now 19 and yah i have many thing more to lear

  15. Dawn says:

    Great lessons and they all still hold true even when you’re my age!!

  16. here is hoping that as you get older #21 will remain with you. As someone who may have had a few more birthdays haha, I can tell you things in life will try to take being young at heart away from you. Do your best not to let anything do so! Your optimism is contagious.

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