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21 Years Young: 21 Things I Learned Before Turning 21

It was early 2020 when the idea for this article came to mind, trapped in the quaintness of a New England colonial during a global pandemic. Glued to the full-sized bed of my childhood bedroom, learning what Zoom is and the meaning of the word “asynchronous.” Fast forward to 2021, I start my freshman year of college at Pace University. Small town boy moves to New York City, a dream of mine since 12. I was 18, living in a college dorm on the corner of Broadway and John studying Communication and Media Studies, Arts and Entertainment, and Photography. Ecstatic and scared out of my mind, the lawless 212 was my five-star Nobu oyster. I was where I belonged… finally. Mind you, I didn’t know what a MetroCard was or the first thing to NYC public transportation (but ask me now though, I know it like the back of my hand). At 20 years and 360 days old, I spend my time songwriting, photography, and modeling. I’m driven by the people, places, and things I’ve discovered and surround myself with as a young adult. In 2022, I would release my first three songs, and in 2023, make my New York Fashion Week debut. Who knew I’d look that great on the runway? Which brings us to 2024. Despite the extreme highs and lows of NYC living and the inevitable seasonal depression of the winter months, I’m at peace with myself. Life is good and getting greater, and I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how it’s only the beginning.

1. Nothing lasts forever

Good or bad, nothing lasts forever. It’s a bittersweet realization that I had in lockdown. People

break up and friends move to new cities. But if all good things come to an end, then shouldn’t

bad things as well? I know that dedication and the universe can dig you out of the deepest

holes in life. Trust the process and remember, nothing lasts forever.

2. Be a good friend

You know in your gut when something is wrong, and that includes guilt from being a bad friend. Show those close to you that you’re capable of putting others before themselves and not the other way around. Show that you care.

3. Bars > Clubs

This one is crazy because I used to be such a club kinda guy. I love a good place with music I can dance to (Casablanca playing ‘A&W’ by Lana Del Rey did something to me, other DJ’s take notes please). I’m a social person, and someone’s bad breath in one ear and unforgivable speaker bass in the other is not it. Grateful for all the cute places I’ve discovered recently.

4. Wear sunglasses

Everyone loves someone who wears sunglasses. Some will think you’re pretentious or “hot-

sh*t,” but more will think you’re cool. Do it for those people and not your haters… And

something that goes well with the fit and the scene.

5. Rejection

Something I learned gradually is that life is just full of rejection, and in NYC that’s f*cking

boldened and highlighted and italicized. You don’t get sh*t on a silver platter here. It’s taken

me so long to realize that… In a way I still am. My first 21 years of life have been a lot of

rejection. Life is rejection, but rejection is protection and of course, redirection. The pieces will

fall into place if you trust the process.

6. Pimple Patches Are Cool

Those pimple patches that look like stars or other cute shapes are the newest fashion

statement, declared by yours truly. Start wearing them out… To class, work, dinner, the bars,

you name it. Let’s make 2024 the year of pimple patches.

7. Learning new languages is so cool.

It’s time we monolingual folks learned a new language or two. I’ve been taking Spanish since

elementary school. I use it variously with other people and only know basic words and

sentences. I hope that someday I can be fluent.

8. When in doubt, change your clothes

I’ve found this to be quite a freeing thing to learn. Clothes say a lot about you. You know that

liberating feeling when you change into your pajamas after a stressful day? Try changing outfits next time you’re uncertain about something or you’re having a bad day. Trust me, you’ll notice a difference.

9. I’m not a relationship person

Or am I?… I don’t know? I guess the lesson here is I don’t know if I’m a relationship person or


10. Put the napkin on your lap

Just do it. It’s a classy move you can never go wrong with.

11. I love photography

Rarely do I leave my apartment without a camera. There’s something beautiful in everything,

and I’ve gotten some of my most amazing photos from just throwing a small camera in my tote

on the way out the door.

12. Be approachable

There’s being nice, and then there’s being approachable. And people love being approachable. Body language is key, as it is all in the way that you carry yourself physically and emotionally.

13. Perfectionism is out

Shoes are meant to get dirty, money is meant to be spent, hearts are meant to be broken. Stop dedicating so much time and energy into perfecting everything in your life. Life is in the details and it’s the little things that matter, but don’t get too caught up in them. Let the pieces fall into place, you’ll be fine. Life is imperfect, and in a way, imperfect can be perfect. I intentionally made that corny.

14. Don’t be afraid to be proven wrong

Sometimes you must be proven wrong a thousand times before you’re right.

15. Nice guy vs. Tough asshole

A wise woman once said: “Never be so polite, you forget your power. Never wield such power, you forget to be polite.” Being charming and tough are two sides of the same coin. Use both to your advantage in your personal and professional lives. Life is learning to be nice to everyone, but tough to anyone in conflict. Thanks, Taylor Swift.

16. Twitter is toxic

Seriously, it’s a war zone every time I log on. I’ve had to delete the app from my phone so I

could go on it much less via browser.

17. I’m the most sentimental person I know

Meticulously queuing songs for the perfect moment and having playlists for every emotion

imaginable might be at fault here but I am in fact by definition, “excessively prone to feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia.” It’s a trait of strength but also one of weakness. “Live in the past and you’ll miss out on the future,” they say.

18. Why settle?

Don’t settle, you can always do better. Shoot for higher than what is expected of you, shoot

higher in everything. And when they go high, you go higher always.

19. Go green, buy a plant

They really liven up a space. They’re a staple to a good space. There’s a store on the outskirts of Boston that sells $20 plants, and I’ve made it a regular stop in my trips back home.

20. I learned how to play various instruments

After violin in middle school and piano in high school, I didn’t think this could ever happen… but I’ve learned guitar! Very few chords, but I can play Drops of Jupiter if you ask me to.

This article is about knowing and not knowing. What I’ve learned, what I’m still learning,

and what I have not a clue on in the first 21 years of my life. By the time you’re reading this, I

would have already turned 21, probably wondering where I could find the best mojito in New

York City. So, consider it #21 on this list.

Written by Joe St. Pierre

Photography by Mark Bluemle

CD: Lucy Anderson

PA: Sophia Querrazzi

Talent: Lucy Anderson, Elly Williams, Sargam Chaturvedi

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