What I Wish I Knew When I Was 21

In the fall of 1985, I worked as an intern at CNN in Washington, DC. At that time, I thought I wanted to be a television anchor, just like Diane Sawyer or Deborah Norville. I wanted to be on TV so badly I agreed to work for free. I was 20 years old then and full of dreams and ambition.

I was smart; however ,I was not wise. Wisdom comes with age and experience.

Today, when I speak to college students all over the world, they look at me with wide eyes and admiration. They say I’m a success. They want to be successful too.

But what they might not know is that it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifice and nearly 20 years to become an overnight success. And I’m still a work in progress.

Although I didn’t pursue a career in television, my education served me well. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would become an etiquette expert. Nor did I think I would ever be a guest on CNN giving etiquette advice to Anderson Cooper!

It just goes to show that life has many twists and turns and just when you think you know where you’re going, the universe has other plans for you.

I am so grateful that I get to share my wisdom with others, especially those who are just starting their careers. This week I had the opportunity to reflect on all the things I wish I had known when I was 21.

Now I want to share them with you, in no particular order:

  1. Listen to your instincts. The little voice inside your heart is smarter than you think. If something doesn’t feel right, make a change, sooner than later.
  2. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient with yourself and others.
  3. Travel is the best education. It will open your mind, your perspective, and make you more sensitive to others.
  4. Don’t give advice unless you’re paid for it.
  5. Be curious. You gain a lot of knowledge by asking questions.
  6. Give flowers and write thank-you notes often. Little things produce big results.
  7. Read. Readers are leaders and the more you learn, the more you earn.
  8. Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone’s else’s life or trying to fulfill someone else’s dream.
  9. If you want something, just ask. The answer will always be “no” if you don’t ask.
  10. Some of the best relationships have expiration dates. Don’t be afraid to end a marriage or friendship if it is not working.
  11. Don’t hold a grudge. Your anger will eat you inside and hurt no one but yourself.
  12. Choose your friends wisely. Surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than you. Don’t hang out with people who constantly complain or who are complacent.
  13. Save your money. You don’t acquire wealth by what you make, but what you keep.
  14. Just when you think your life is bad, you’re not alone. Everyone has either been through, is going through, or will go through some extremely challenging situations.
  15. Don’t compare yourself to others. Stay in your own lane and focus on your own game.
  16. Happiness comes from within. If you depend solely on others to make you happy, you will ultimately be disappointed.
  17. Always take the high road. The low road is too crowded, anyway.
  18. Don’t be afraid to apologize and admit when you are wrong.
  19. Practice gratitude. Say, “thank you,” often and give out compliments like candy.
  20. Offer to help before someone asks you.
  21. Turn a termination into determination. A loss is a gateway to growth and greater opportunities.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach.  She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work.




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