It's the morning after your twenty-first birthday and if you can stand upright and open both eyes, then you're ahead of the curve. If you don't have a pounding headache, then things are even better.
There's a lot to ahead of you: excitement, adventure, long nights, and possibly even some heartbreak. We can't make things easier for you, but we have a few suggestions for taking the sting out of the next eighty or so years. Think of this as some sage wisdom from the older sibling you never had (or the sibling you wish you'd had instead).
1. When the Loan Officers Call, Answer the Phone
You're probably going to graduate with some debt. It's nearly unavoidable. On average in 2016, college graduates left school with nearly $30,000 in loan debt (source). Having those kinds numbers hanging over you can feel isolating and destructive, but starting a dialogue with your loan officers can help make your life much easier, especially with federal loans. Knowing your options and finding a payment plan that works for your finances can spare you a huge credit rating headache down the line. It's not impossible to keep from becoming a part of the 13.7% of people who default on their federal loans (source). Trust us, having decent credit will help when it's time for you to finally buy that houseboat you've been eyeing.
2. Hobbits May Need Second Breakfast. You Do Not.
That second order of General Tso's chicken may sound appetizing, but we wouldn't say it's strictly necessary. Nearly a quarter of people in the 12–19 age group are obese, according to a CDC study (source), so there are pretty good odds that you might not in the best shape of your life going into your twenties. The good news is that a couple of extra pounds won't kill you, but setting up healthy eating habits can be beneficial to your heart and your wallet. That might mean, you know, eating some of that "green stuff," too.
3. Don't Use Social Media as a Metric for Your Success
You will likely have friends who will seem to have things figured out in minutes, not months or years. They'll be taking post-grad trips to places you can't even pronounce, much less visit. It's important to realize that your social media presence isn't your whole life and that's true for your successful friends as well. Research suggests that social media usage spurned by boredom and passivity can increase depression and envy (source). So maybe use your time between writing resumes a little more productively than internet-stalking your globe-trotting friends.
4. You Live With Your Parents? Cool, So Does Everyone Else
Nearly half of recent graduates live with their parents (source). It may not be an ideal situation, but it's no reason to beat yourself up. Relying on family members with established revenue streams and solid assets only makes sense when you're coming from four years (or more) of not working steadily. Give yourself time to work up to moving out if you have to and cut yourself a break if it takes a little while. We're sure your family is super proud of you and loves having you around. Probably.
5. Your Pessimism Isn't Cute Anymore. Cut it Out.
It's easy to imagine that you don't have much going for you at twenty-one. You probably have some debt under your belt and not many assets besides your education. You know what's not going to make the situation better? Being a huge bummer all the time. Optimism has been linked to cardiovascular health in several studies (source) and not to mention the fact that a positive outlook will make you easier to be around. Turn that frown upside-down, Shmooper. Your friends and family will thank you.
6. Start Saving for Retirement. Like, Right Now.
When you barely have any money, it can seem counterintuitive to be saving it for some later date. But trust us, you'll want to start on retirement savings as soon as possible. 69% of 18–29 year-olds have nothing saved for retirement (source), which is an enormous problem. The earlier you start saving for retirement, the better off you'll be. Start a savings plan and keep to it so that you don't have to retire too modestly.
7. Don't Stop Believin'… in Lifelong Learning
So you've got a degree, or two, or three. Great, but don't forget that education should have an ongoing place in your life. Roughly 11% of Americans have poor literacy skills (source) and 28% of Americans don't have broadband Internet access (source). If you are lucky enough to have the means to continually learn and acquire new skills, then you absolutely should. Maybe you can start by finally tackling Shakespeare?
8. Get Rid of Garbage People
Drama kind of seems inevitable at twenty-one. You're navigating so many new relationships and there's a huge influx of people in and out of your life. Some of those personalities are bound to clash. However, pay attention to people who seem to do nothing but clash. Sustained negative relationships appear to have a negative effect on cognition (source). So...are your new BFF theatrics really worth decreased brain function? Doubtful.