A reflection on achievement – 21 by 21(ish)

Graduation is no doubt a time for reflection, and even though it was a fortnight ago there is still an awful lot of this reflecting business going on. This is emphasised somewhat when you’re not entirely happy with the results of your graduation, i.e. working in a coffee shop (see my last blog entry). As temporary a move as this may be, it can still be down heartening and important to focus on the achievements I have made, and in doing this I came across the ’21 by 21’ challenge; a list devised by one of my first lecturers (you can find the original post here). The lists compromises 21 achievements a 21 year old should be able to tick off, whether having been to university or not. Admittedly I’ve cheated a little here by being 23, so feel free to add a couple of additional challenges in the comments. Here are my results:

21 things to have achieved by age 21


  • Have raised money for a good cause

I ran an embarrassingly short distance a couple of years ago to raise money for a local charity. I may be able to tick this one off the list, but it reminds me that physical fitness isn’t at the top of my best attributes. This is something I should work on, considering I’ve just signed up for  a 22 mile charity bike ride later in the year.

  • Have campaigned in an election or for a cause

Despite the success of the day being overshadowed by riots in the end, I am proud to say I was amongst the thousands of students that campaigned in London last November against the rise of tuition fees.

  • Have written to your MP

As part of the university’s Amnesty International student group I wrote to an MP regarding the imprisonment of selected individuals in Guantanamo Bay.

  • Have a track record of volunteering

Yes. See my CV included in my previous blog entry.

Media literacy

  • Have had a letter published in a newspaper or have appeared on television

For my first portfolio of PR work I had a letter published in the Daily Express concerning ‘health and safety gone mad’ in primary schools and have appeared on television twice (once on the national news, once on the local news).

  • Have your own blog or personal website

Established 2007, now considerably more professional than it was back then and with a considerably higher readership.

  • Have a following on social media (eg 500 Facebook friends; 100 Twitter followers)

500 Facebook friends?! This one I cannot claim. I do believe, however that followers on Twitter, a site on which you cannot request followers in the way you can FB friends, and therefore have to prove yourself interesting to stand out, is more important than the number of people you went to school with and still have listed online. At present I have 904 Twitter followers, I hope this makes up for my apparent lack of friends.

  • Can name your five favourite novels (and say why you’ve chosen them)

Ah, one of my favourite questions: The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas for introducing me to science fiction and a new realm of reading, amongst brilliant writing and constantly likeable characters.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. Despite the off-putting title this novel is one of utmost emotion and not at all about what it sounds like. If I were to ever recommend one book to someone, it would be this.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. For some reason Steinbeck always seems to just miss out on the best literary praise and is rarely considered as good as his competitors, the likes of George Orwell and Charles Dickens. Personally, I prefer him to both of these, and shock horror, didn’t think 1984 was all it was cracked up to be. Sorry, George.

Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder for its pure imagination, with the added help of the greatest philosophers and schools of thought. I would never have thought fiction and philosophy could be combined until I stumbled across this magic number.

Money, by Martin Amis. This book probably stands out as rather different from the above four but in terms of writing skill and drawing in the reader it deserves to make the top five, though this last place was difficult. I must add, if the question here had simply been top five books rather than novels, this would have been a different list entirely.

  • Can discuss and explain the day’s news headlines

I can discuss it, no problem. Explain it? Well, how does one go about explaining the mass murder of children and the worst famine in history exactly? Acknowledging and understanding events are two extremely different skills, and I doubt many people can claim the second.

Entrepreneurship and independence

  • Have started your own business

I am currently in the process of becoming an official freelance writer. I’ve been writing for years, now I’m going to see if I can succeed in charging for it.

  • Have gained demonstrable team-building and leadership qualities

Working as part of the editorial team on the university newspaper certainly helped here, as did most of the voluntary projects I’ve been involved in.

  • Have lived independently and learned to budget

Undoubtedly. Once you’ve mastered food shopping on £15 a week it’s easy to budget for anything.

  • Have cooked a meal for six or more

Christmas 2010. Ten people, one small table and over 12 hours of single-handed kitchen preparation. Never again.

Global outlook

  • Can speak a foreign language

Me habló no mucho Español.

  • Have lived abroad (not just visited on holiday)

Not lived exactly, but travelled the US for three months, staying in New York for one of those and have plans to go back on a semi-permanent basis as soon as funds allow.

  • Are sensitive to cultural and religious differences

Yes, but considering this list is made up of items that university isn’t necessarily needed for, it’s important to point out the influence university has on experiences like this. Travelling opens the mind equally, however.

Personal achievements

  • Have the expected grades and qualifications – plus something extra

What I’ve learned here is that an expected grade isn’t always an achievement. Going beyond what is expected of you is. Gaining a 2:1 last month left me disappointed as a First was something I’d strived towards from the beginning of my degree. Learning to come around to accept my grade as an achievement was an achievement in itself.

  • Must have sound basic literacy (spelling) and numeracy (counting) skills

I sincerely hope so.

  • Endurance (eg have run a marathon; have walked 100 miles)

I can (just about) manage to work a 12 hour shift in an extremely busy coffee shop, spending 11.75 of those hours on my feet before cycling home (and consequently collapsing upon arrival).

  • Can explain your passion for sport/fashion/celebrity/music etc

Afraid not, I can’t explain anyone’s passion for these things I’m afraid. Books, however…

  • Have in addition to this some notable musical, artistic or sporting skill, or an unusual hobby

I enjoy photography, not to the point I could ever call it a skill, but I practice nonetheless. Other hobbies include ballet (again, not necessarily a skill) and the obvious one, writing.

Score: 19.5/21

I still have to work on a couple of things, my Spanish, namely, but having a business as a freelance writer is imminent and overall I don’t think I’ve done too badly. The main thing to learn now is to stop reflecting on what I’ve learned, and consider what may be on such a list in another 21 (or 23) years.


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