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10 Crucial Things You Ought To Know When You Turn 21 Years Old

Birthdays don’t usually make you feel any different; but it’s another thing when it comes to hitting your twenty-first. Most look forward to the day when they turn 21, some dread that very thought. Why? Because at 21, life starts.

With that newly acquired freedom and responsibilities, there are so much you can (and cannot) do. Here are some of the things every 21-year-olds ought to know:


1. Working Experience Matters

Credit: Elizabeth Boon

At 21, you are either in or about to step into the working world. You’ll come to realise that every working experience matters. If you haven’t had an internship or a part-time job, you should really consider getting one.

This is where you pick up new and relevant skills pertaining to your field of interest. At the end of the day, it’s all about knowing what you can do, what you cannot do and what you want.

Where to begin: InternSG, Hatchme

2. Travelling

Credit: Yan Hern

You’re going to have more responsibilities and lesser time in the future. Travelling takes money, so get a job and travel during your break (I wouldn’t recommend you do that in your first few months).

Move out of your comfort zone, see the world. Soak up in the different cultures and witness firsthand how different societies interact with one another. These are experiences that will ultimately shape your character.

3. Making Mistakes

Life is never a bed of roses, obstacles are bound to appear. At 21, you need to know that it’s alright to make mistakes, and it’s also alright to take the longer or lesser travelled path. We learn from these mistakes.

Years from now, you’ll thank your younger self.

-Financial Literacy-

4. Saving For A Rainy Day

If you have been spending more than you save, I’m afraid you are doing it wrong. It takes a lot of discipline to not impulse buy and commit to a regular saving scheme. But you should.

If you are at a lost, read up on the 50-30-20 Rule where you save 20% of your income, or simply follow Rebecca Bloomwood‘s (Confessions of a Shopaholic) the “Do I Need These” rule.

What to do: OCBC Savings Plan, POSB Savings Plan

-Life Skills-

5. Learning To Cook

I had a friend who once washed rice with soap. She then asked me if it was normal to have that many bubbles appearing in the pot while boiling porridge. That was when I realised the Home-Economic classes you took during your secondary school days weren’t enough.

Somewhere in the future, you’d either live alone or with children of your own. You’d need to put something (healthy) in your mouth. Yes, this does not include instant noodles.

Learn the difference between stir-fry and deep fry, the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, how to cure a fish, how to prepare ingredients.

Where to begin: ToTT, Grandmothers’ Recipes, or your mother

6. Reading More (SingLit)

Credit– Natalie Wang

At 21, rather than confining our reading habits to Facebook statuses and Twitter updates, we ought to read more books— for leisure and pleasure or knowledge and self-improvement, you decide.

It’s impossible to not notice how our local literature scene flourishes these days. While many would expect conventional themes, Singlish and premises set within the HDB in “Sing Lit”, you’ll be surprised by how far we’ve come.

Where to begin: Kappa Quartet (2016) by Daryl Qilin Yam, Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows (2017) by Balli Kaur Jaswal

-Social Skills-

7. The Art Of Communication

At 21, you would have started networking and meeting new people. First impressions count and you should make the most out of it.

Don’t give that limp-wrist handshake, don’t break eye contact during a toast, learn to memorise people’s names, even your body language matters.

Also, I know it’s hard to summon that minuscule amount of leftover energy to socialise after a day’s work. In due time, you’ll realise that if you don’t go, people will stop extending their invitations.

As much as you can, try not to reject invitations.

8. Basic Negotiations

By 21, you’d have to learn to ask for what you want. This sounds frightening, but, yes you have to do it. No one will ever know what’s going on in your mind if you don’t.

There’s something sublime about basic negotiations; it goes beyond firm handshakes, it encompasses a lot of listening, patience and homework.

-Some Other Hard Truths-

9. Stop Looking To Others For Validation & Approval

It’s funny how when we are 21, we tend to be crowd-pleasers. It’s in human nature to be self-conscious. But never let others dictate your self-worth. The number of likes on your Instagram feed or Facebook doesn’t really matter.

Also, no one is ever going to tell you “yes” or “no” — have your own set of beliefs and morals, and adhere to your principles.

10. Friends Will Leave

The volatility of friendship today is frightening, but not without reason. Because at 21, we are starting to figure out who we really are. We will drift from one crowd to another, and eventually settle with one.

Distance and absence will cut connections. There is nothing we can do and there is nothing to worry about.

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