10 Things That Change About Life From 21 to 31

I’m about to turn 31 in a few weeks, and birthdays always get me thinking. This time around, I couldn’t help but think about how much has changed in the last decade. If the soon-to-be 31-year-old version of myself were to meet the 21-year-old version of myself in person, I hardly think they would recognize each other.

Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but seriously—a lot has changed.

Photo Credit: A♥, Creative Commons

There are the obvious things, of course. I live in Nashville now (I was remembering the other day how a friend moved to Nashville when I was 20 and I thought to myself: “Who would move to Tennessee? What’s in Tennessee?”), I’m married, I have a graduate degree under my belt, and I’m writing full-time.

But I guess I’m thinking more about the less obvious things, the things you wouldn’t probably notice unless I told you. Twenty-one was great. I have no complaints. But life is better now, hands down. I wouldn’t go back to being Twenty-one if you paid me.

Here are some things that have changed.

I don’t count calories anymore.

I used to count calories before I ate them and add them up in my head. I got so good at doing this, I could guess—within about 25 calories—the calorie count of what I was eating, without even seeing a label.

These days, I do my best to eat real foods, when I’m hungry, until I’m satisfied. I eat junk food in small quantities, especially if it means being a part of a group (pizza or cake at a birthday party, s’mores when we’re camping). I try to drink lots of water. I’m so much happier; and I’m the exact same weight.

I’ve stopped drinking Diet Coke.

When I was 21, I was really addicted to Diet Coke. I would start drinking it in the morning, and have at least three every day.

Since then, I’ve quit. And then I’ve started, and then quit again, and then started again, and then quit finally. I’ve officially not had a Diet Coke since January of this year, and I feel great. The fake sugar was a habit I started during my dieting phase, and I just hated what it did to my body.

I have close friends who are women.

When I was younger, I used to think I had nothing in common with other women. “We just don’t get along,” I’d say, “I’d much rather spend time with guys.” Since then I’ve realized much of the reason I felt this way was because I was insecure around other women. I felt competitive and jealous around them.

As I’ve grown out of my insecurity, I’ve grown into some of the most satisfying, fun, transforming, lovely relationships with women—relationships I wouldn’t trade for the world.

When we get together, we talk about more than just guys.

I think this was a famous line from Sex and the City—right? The women are all sitting around the table and suddenly they realize: every time they’re together, all they do is talk about men.

Maybe it’s because I’m married, but these days, when I get together with my friends, we hardly ever talk about who’s dating who, who kissed who, who said what to whom. In fact, I find that we are almost always doing something (serving, playing, etc), rather than just talking. I wish I would have learned this sooner. It’s so much more fun.

I don’t worry nearly as much about theology or politics.

My friends and I used to have heated debates around theology and politics. At the time, it felt so right and fun. I congratulated us for being so smart and informed but, looking back, I realize we weren’t nearly as smart or informed as we thought we were.

Not that there’s anything wrong with theology or politics, but these days, I have more questions than I do answers. When I’m with my friends, we talk about what we love, what we care about, what matters to us. Sometimes it’s politics, and sometimes it’s theology, but either way there’s more listening and less arguing.

I’m pretty (sort of) okay with not knowing.

I guess part of the reason I’ve stopped arguing theology or politics is because I’m becoming more and more comfortable with not knowing.

I used to think life was about figuring out the answers to all the Big Questions but now I just feel like most of the questions don’t have any sort of concrete answers. Even if we discover what we think are the answers, we have to give those answers permission to change. We might as well just enjoy the journey.

I’ve quit drinking for sport.

I drink.


I know, crazy. But—I don’t drink for sport, anymore, the way I used to in college. It’s been a decade since I’ve gone to the store, bought the cheapest thing I could find, loaded it into a backpack, and drank until I couldn’t drink anymore.

Does it go without saying: I don’t miss it in the slightest?

I’m the tiniest bit more assertive.

I’m learning, slowly, that it’s okay to stand up for myself, to assert my opinion into the world, to admit I don’t know, to show my weakness, to ask for help, to want something and ask for it, to make space for myself in a conversation, to put my foot down, to draw a boundary, or to make a decision (even if it’s a wrong one).

I’m the tiniest bit more assertive (less passive, less aggressive) than I used to be. Still working on this one.

I’m not waiting around for something to happen to me.

For years, I was waiting for something awesome to happen in my life. These days, I realize awesome things rarely happen to people. People who want awesome things to occur in their life have to be willing to create awesome circumstances.

So these days, I’m getting my hands dirty to create the life I want.

I see faith as fluid.

I used to think the “moment” I came to faith (a conversion moment) was this defined time in history—when I crossed some invisible line, from one side to the other.

These days, I can see at least two flaws in that thinking: First, there are no sides. Second, there is not one defining moment. Faith is constantly growing or shrinking as we cultivate it. It’s a living, breathing thing that needs nurture and care. At times, it takes more care than we ever thought practical.

At times, it flourishes into something we never dreamed possible.

My 30s are the best decade yet, and I’m just getting started. Here’s to the next ten years.


No, seriously, we can be friends...we can email back and forth and everything! :) 

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Allison Fallon

I write books. I help people write books. I believe a regular practice of writing can change your life.

16 thoughts on “10 Things That Change About Life From 21 to 31”

  1. Congrats on kicking some bad habits. Can you explain what fake sugar did to your body? Like the difference in how you felt before and after? I’m trying to reduce regular sugar intake.

  2. I just turned 30 two weeks ago (wow…still can’t believe that as I type this!), and I totally resonate with the sentiment of this post. There are a lot of things (okay, most things) that my 20 year old self wouldn’t recognize. It’s amazing what a decade can do, eh?! I must admit that I’m equally thrilled and terrified at being 30, but I’m working on embracing this new decade. After all, I can’t go backwards in time, can I?!

  3. Loved this, Ally!

    I just turned 31 and can tell you… it’s great! Amen to all of the above… especially the part about girl chat. 😉

    See you on the other side.

  4. Love this line “People who want awesome things to occur in their life have to be willing to create awesome circumstances.” I turned 30 almost 2 months ago and today I’m leaving my day job to be a full-time, self-employed personal trainer. #awesome

  5. Your comment about faith made me think of the Bible verse that says, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.” It seems wrong that we should be able to have both at the same time yet we do and this verse gives us permission to acknowledge that.

  6. Happy early birthday, Ally. I really relate so much to this list! There’s a lot of growth, a lot of acceptance in this list, and a lot of chilled-out-ness. I’m thinking that people’s 30s are about more fully coming into their skin and getting the hang of being themselves, in a sense, even as they continue to grow and learn.

  7. Happy Birthday!

    I turned 31 this past November. As I was reading through your post, I found myself nodding my head up and down with many of the points you listed. It’s amazing how much you can grow and learn from 21 to 31.

    I’m right there with you – no one could pay me enough to go back to 21!

  8. This list is so good! I resonated particularly with not worrying so much about politics and theology. We need more questions, more honesty, more listening, and less arguing. It definitely gets better with age!

  9. Great post! I’m a decade and then some ahead of you, but my thirties somewhat resemble your twenties (minus the drinking for sport-gave that up in my 20’s as well!). Gone is the Diet Coke, the obsessing over every calorie and the panic that used to come when life threw a great unknown into my path. This is what is good about aging; you relax into life, learn to accept what is, and work your way up to respecting who you are as a person instead of trying to be somebody else. Hope your birthday is a good one!

  10. Your words resonate with me in a deep way. I have been reflecting lately about how my life has changed since my early twenties. I battled an eating disorder… and won… and am now going back to school to learn how to help others in their recovery. I’m friends with women — I realized it IS possible to build friendships with women I can be myself around. My relationship with alcohol is different — I love good beer and whiskey and drink for taste, not to get drunk. And, most importantly, I have a relationship with God now, a relationship that becomes more vibrant with every passing day.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing. 🙂

  11. I remember turning 30 and feeling very “wise” and the funny part is, I made some of the worst decisions and mistakes of my life in that decade. I’m 48 now, and while I’m still the same person on the inside in many ways, I know myself and my weaknesses better and I’m more realistic about how to deal with them. Those bad decisions led to deep regrets, but I don’t let the regret steer my life. Instead, I focus on the lessons those experiences taught me, and keep those lessons at the forefront of my mind, making me a more open, compassionate and honest person today. Always be open to life’s lessons and God’s grace…that is the simple secret of a full and meaningful life, regardless of mistakes. Blessings to you Ally, I enjoyed Packing Light so much, and just bought a copy for my 13 year old daughter.

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