The most important notes I took in my first 21 years.

Third-year journalism and media major Daniel Kehn reacts after getting cake thrown at his face Nov. 6 at the Art and Journalism Building. Mya Cataline, DN
Third-year journalism and media major Daniel Kehn reacts after getting cake thrown at his face Nov. 6 at the Art and Journalism Building. Mya Cataline, DN

Daniel Kehn is a third-year journalism and telecommunications major and writes “A Kehn Perspective” for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

I’ve had birthdays come and go my entire life, just like everyone else on this rock floating in space. But turning 21 had a different feeling to it. This is the age adulthood begins — where “growing up” turns into living. With that in mind, I compiled a list of 21 things I’ve learned in my first 21 years.

1. Sticky Notes? Sticky Notes. 

Sticky Notes have become a huge key in remembering important things since I’ve gotten to college. It’s much better than just writing on my arm, which I used to do. I have evolved to the reminders app, but I still like to use Sticky Notes to remind myself of the good moments. I have decorated the back of my bedroom door and my desks’ surfaces — both at work and at home — with little notes to remember. Notes like a ‘Love you!’ from Mom or a quote I really like. Physical reminders or motivations keep me going. 

2. Organize Your Life

I have my life arranged and scheduled into three places: the reminders app on my phone, my Apple Calendar — which is superior to Google Calendar, in my opinion — and my notebook/planner. The effort is what matters. Scrawling down your appointments, assignments, projects and even dates helps keep life structured, and structure helps me stay in control.

3. It’s All Forward

Now is the first moment of the rest of your life. Dwelling on the past — whether it’s mistakes or regrets — will do nothing to change it. Be the best version of yourself today and build on that tomorrow. 

4. Truly Love Something

A sports team, an author, Noah Kahan or the weekly Daily News Crossword that I will never solve. Whatever it may be, find something to truly love. Put time into it, and let it soak up the miscellaneous pieces of your life. Whether it be paying way too much to scream 1989 (Taylor’s Version, of course) or watching your team live, these moments may never happen again. It might be a craft after finishing homework or buying season passes to your favorite amusement park, but allowing yourself to both love and enjoy the small things is an important part of life.

5. Take a Walk 

Never in my life have I had a bad walk. Post-meal walk? Yes, please. Adventure hike? Point me to the trailhead. Long day? I can solve that in a mile or two. The fresh air, observing the seasons changing, seeing a cute dog — always pet dogs if possible — walks can be everything you need and more. Include friends if inclined.

6. Do a Good Turn Daily

My time as a Boy Scout in Troop 391 ended when I was 18, but I still visit as an Adult Leader whenever I am home for Tuesday night meetings. The Scout Slogan “Do a Good Turn Daily” reminds you to do something good each day — a random act of kindness, if you will. It’s stuck with me after all of these years. Put love into the world. Be a good human being.

7. Dance in the Damn Kitchen

Etta James, ELO, Billy Joel, Pitbull — the list goes on. Reenact the scene from Risky Business if you must. Slide around and have a good time. Some of my favorite memories come from bouncing around the kitchen with my family or having a disco moment with my roommates. 

8. Touch Grass

Nature is all around us. Part of living is experiencing the world from the human perspective. Lay with your head in the cool grass and stargaze. It’s worth it, I promise. 

9. Progress, Progress and Progress

If you’re working out, take pictures. If you’re waking up early, write down the times. Progress doesn’t look like anything major on day one, but you’re going to wish you had a picture of how far you’ve come at day 100. 

10. Minors and Majors

Today’s minor problem is tomorrow’s major problem. Don’t let the little things slide. 

Daniel Kehn props himself up on a toy trunk in his childhood home. Daniel Kehn, Photo Provided

11. Half Hugs Suck

That’s self-explanatory, right? Hug the people you love and hug them tight. As dark as it may seem, the next hug is not guaranteed. Cherish them. Squeeze the people you love extra tight and put your heart into it every time.

12. Peace of Mind

Call me cliché, but if it costs you your peace of mind, it’s probably not worth it. Protect and value your well-being, even if it means making the hard choice.

13. Laugh Out Loud

Don’t be embarrassed by it. If somebody else wants to judge your joy, that’s their problem. Have those big belly laugh moments. Laugh until you cry. Don’t stifle your happiness.

14. Be Prepared

Another one from the wonderful world of Boy Scouts. If it rains, do you have an umbrella in your car? A spare change of clothes? Being prepared in the sense of packing, yes, but also be mentally prepared. Be prepared for whatever adventure life might throw at you today. Don’t let the big opportunity slip by because you weren’t ready. 

15. No Mountains without the Valleys

I’ve been down and out, looking up at my previous high point. When you’re down there, you’d give everything to be back at the top again, but that’s not how it works. The top of the mountain is only so breathtaking because we walked through the valley to get there. Appreciate the low points even when it’s hard. But remember your past highs and look forward to what’s to come.

16. Cold Brew > Iced Coffee

One pump of caramel is great, but black is just fine. And Starbucks makes it best, just for the record. 

17. Self-Care Over Comfort Care

Comfort care is coming home from a long day, throwing pizza rolls in the microwave and watching TV. Self-care is having a tough day and going for a walk after work, seeing friends or cooking a good meal that feeds your body. Do what is going to best serve you tomorrow. 

18. Drink Water 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the average person needs between 91 and 125 ounces of water a day. There are varying opinions about what exactly water does for you (keeps your temperature normal, lubricates and cushions joints, protects sensitive tissue, etc.). Still, the bottom line is you should have a water bottle and set a goal for how much to drink per day. 

19. Don’t Work That Hard

I am probably one of the worst people to be advising on work-life balance, but I have begun to prioritize it, especially as I have stepped into jobs with more responsibility. There is always going to be the urge to get ahead and set yourself up for success in the future, but taking Friday night off won’t be the end of the world, I promise. 

20. Run, Baby, Run

This past summer, I wanted to get in shape again. I wanted to lose weight and be comfortable in my body, so running was the best way to do that. However, I quickly found peace and mental solitude on long runs. Now, I look forward to lacing up the Hokas and pounding some pavement. Whether it’s running or any other physical exercise, get out there and get moving. Exercise improves mental health. 

21. Keep Going

I’ve felt myself giving up before. I’ve started to check out. But it always comes back to “Can I keep going? Just for one day? What if I can make it through one more day, then the next, then the one after that?” Just keep going. It’s a long road but one worth living.

Contact Daniel Kehn with comments at or on X @daniel_kehn.


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