Most Valuable Lessons I Learned When I Was 21

Just like the previous years where I usually wrote about self-reflection around my birthday, this time is no different. As you probably can tell from the title, I recently turned 22 just last week and you probably have no idea how old that makes me feel (despite how young I am!).

At 21 years old, I was tasked to lead a team much older and more experienced than I was. I was tasked to co-lead multiple marketing campaigns for clients, I was sent to multiple meetings as the company representative, and all the other responsibilities that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. I’d like to personally credit my boss for having the faith on me to take all these responsibilities since day 1.

No wonder 21 felt like 2-3 years just based on how taxing it was for me, both physically and mentally. However, I’m glad that it happened. I took it as an opportunity to continuously grow and learn from other people. It was the perfect kickstart.

Anyway, to celebrate the 22nd my own way, I will dedicate this post to share with you some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned at 21, including some advices that I wish my 17 years old knew back then.

Right now, I’m sitting here at Starbucks Grand Indonesia secretly wishing that this post will be of value to some of you, someway and somehow. If this has the power to improve even just one (1!) life, then I will write for that 1 person.

So stick with me and let’s get to it:


#1 Shoot your shot

Even until now, I still find myself hesitating whenever I’m faced with 2 options where each bears a pretty serious consequence. I stand corrected nonetheless.

As you get older, you will realize that you only have a finite amount of time on this planet and you should strive to live it up and maximize every moment because tomorrow, nothing is promised.

Maybe passion and life goals make you feel alive, but you will still have to shoot your shot in order to obtain the ultimate prize in life. You want to earn your Master? You will still have to submit those documents and compete with the rest despite of how unlikely you think it is that you will get in.

You have a crush in someone and want to get to know them on a romantic level? Looks like you will have to shoot your shot and ask them out on a date. Took me years to figure out, but I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with asking out someone even when he/she doesn’t share the same feeling (surprising, I know). Just make sure that you take it elegantly, just like anyone who knows his/her quality would.

To summarize, just remember this whenever you doubt yourself: Everything you ever want and dream of is on the other side of fear, and the only way to get it is if you shoot your shot.


#2 You don’t always have to be right (all the time)

When you’re young and fresh, you will know how tempting it is to constantly prove to everyone in the room that you’re correct and good enough.

21 taught me that being right all the time is never the most important thing, but rather about how you can accommodate everyone in the room to bring out the best version of themselves.

Sometimes, that requires you to stay silent and listen, even if deep down you know you’re right.

Once you grasp that being right is never the objective, only then will you understand all the subliminal messages signaled by your team on how you can be better and how you can unlock their true potentials.


#3 Your job does not define who you are

In this era where we’re constantly taught to find ourselves within the work we do (or what we usually call “passion”), it’s important to separate our worth from our work.

Obviously, doing something that we’re very passionate about is a blessing that we all should strive for. However, many others (and probably you) don’t share that same luxury.

Some of us work just for the sake of making ends’ meet, and let me tell you this: it’s perfectly normal and it’s also more than okay.

To add more context, it’s just as important to detach your self-worth from your professional performance. Some people take criticism harder than the others simply because their values are attached to their works.

Those who doesn’t separate bother to separate their lives and works tend to be more defensive when given criticism, and usually take longer to bounce back after a failure than others who don’t.

Now, repeat after me:

My job doesn’t define me.


#4 Learn to be comfortable with the numbers

Alright, this might get a bit too technical for some but I believe that being good at numbers won’t do any harm, even if you are in a creativity-driven industry like me.

There was a time during last year where I met with a potential client of mine for a marketing-based project in Jakarta. Things had been working out pretty well until I (kind of) fumbled it when that client asked me to do a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation during the meeting. My calculation was dead wrong and therefore led everyone into the wrong side of the discussion. (In my defense, I wasn’t prepared at all then and I hadn’t been touching any numbers for the previous 6 or 8 months.

2 days later, I got a message that said that they had just signed a contract with another freelancer that day.

Fast forward to today, this one still holds true as I’ve now found multiple occasions where this skill came in handy. Being comfortable to work with numbers shapes my logic thinking, improves my problem solving skills, and most importantly encourages me to be  a more data-driven strategist.


#5 You don’t have to care about everything

Have you ever felt like society (or more specifically, social media) kind of forces you to care about every single issue out there?

You are not alone.

With the pace at which information circulates everyday in your timeline, it’s more than likely that you will get overwhelmed by the amount of stuff you need to keep up with. Just take the most recent example from last month.

In January, we had:

  • Coronavirus outbreak
  • Jakarta Flood
  • World War 3 debacles
  • Kobe Bryant death
  • Everyday’s report about sexual harassment, global warming, and racism

Just too much stuff to keep up with that it’s almost impossible for one to be entirely invested in all issues (unless you’re unemployed, which is pretty obvious).

If there is one thing that I really learned when I was 21, it was the fact that it’s perfectly okay to not care about everything. It’s more than okay if environmental issue moves your attention but not Omnibus Law. It’s more than okay if you rarely discuss about Coronavirus because it doesn’t feel close to your heart.

It’s also okay if talking about gender equality makes you passionate and obsessed but Iran-US conflict doesn’t.

What matters the most is having a healthy level of self-awareness that you can logically pick the kind of issue you’re interested in. More importantly, one should assess themselves where they can leave the most impact on.

Always remember that being invested in one issue is tiring enough and not everyone can afford that kind of emotional strain 24/7 on themselves. No matter how you twist it, we are all limited physically and mentally, so it’s probably in our best interest to pick our battles wisely.


Final Words

Well, I think that’s all for today. At 21, I only focused myself to absorb as much as I can, to help as much as I can, so that one day I can look back and tell myself that I leave with 0 regret.

Allow me to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to everyone who crossed paths with me in the last 365 days, whether for good or worse. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for those around me. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Last but not least, pardon me for being too narcissist, but please wish me luck for the next 12 months so that I can be of value to those that I love and to those who love me.



The cover of this post was taken by my talented friend, Luthfi. Go check his Instagram here!

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