Here are some things I wish someone told me on my 20th birthday:
Sometimes it will feel good to love the wrong people. Sometimes it will feel good to date someone you won’t remember or someone who won’t remember you. Sometimes it will feel good to not be loved at all. In this case, try to love yourself. Just try.
Some of your friends are poison. Very few will actually have your back. The best friend/roommate you have in college? They might be gone in two years. Gone to Portland, Europe, California, a small vineyard in Rancho Cucamonga. If there wasn’t a huge falling out between you two, they might just slowly start to fade away like an old picture. Games of phone tag will go on for six months until it’s reduced to a catch-up email. “How are you, my old best friend I used to share everything with? Is the weather nice where you are?” This is acceptable for a lot of friendships but with certain ones, you’ll want all or nothing. You’ll want to respond, “Either be in my life completely or not at all because it’s too painful to have you in the in-between.”
Taking care of yourself will be the most difficult job. Harder than your first 9-to-5 or a demeaning, grueling internship. You’ll enter this decade burning the candle at both ends and it will feel damn good. Oh sure, you’ll pretend to shame spiral and feel guilt over your naughty behavior but deep down, it will feel so delightful to test the limits of your life. It’ll feel so good to know that you can go out till 4:30 a.m. and still show up for work five hours later and do an okay job. You can conceal the weariness with a smile and do the bare minimum of work that day. It will feel hellish, you’ll regret how hard you raged the night before and try not to do it again, but a part of you will feel totally satisfied. You did it. You had your 20-something cake and puked it up in the bathroom at work too. Suckers.
When I say “taking care of yourself,” I don’t just mean lights out at 11 and going to a soul cycle class. I’m also referring to your emotional well-being and finding a lifestyle for yourself that feels sustainable. Everyone tries to operate on extremes. Either they’re one phone call away from rehab or they’ve become a total grandma who never goes out. Neither of those two options are realistic though. Neither involve balance, which is what we all ultimately need but have trouble getting. It’s probably the most elusive thing in your 20s. That, and a well-paying job.
It’s possible to think that you’re the best, that you’re owed great things because you’re funny, smart and went to a good college, while also totally hating yourself and wondering what the hell you’re doing all the time. This duality of self-loathing and hubris will be your major tension. It will inform and tear at most of the decisions you make.
You will have moments that will make you feel so exposed and alone. Eating solo star at a restaurant on a Friday night, going to the doctor, walking around aimlessly by yourself at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and deciding to catch a movie, walking home from a bar unattended, taking a long subway ride by yourself, waiting at the airport for someone to pick you up. These things don’t hurt you all the time. On the contrary, they can bring you major contentment. But sometimes, on the wrong day, on the day where you feel like a raw nerve, any of these activities will leave you feeling so small.
Um, this is all depressing advice, so maybe I should end it on an optimistic note. One thing you don’t realize in your 20s is that anything is possible. It sounds trite but it’s true. This is your moment. People like to think that the odds are stacked against them. Crappy job market, no money, no support, no clue how to enter the field you desire. While a lot of this is valid, you have to realize that by being the new generation, it’s our turn now. Someone has to be the new, great filmmaker, artist, scientist, author, etc. So why not let that someone be you? What’s different today than back then is that there is no clear path anymore. Lines are smudged, career trajectories are murky. But that’s also what makes it so exciting, don’t you think? You can create your own journey and become a trailblazer. I mean, is that a ridiculous thing to suggest? I’m typing this out and kind of wanting to gag at the saccharine tone, but I still think it’s true. I still think it’s possible to go after what you want and get it. It just involves a buttload of discipline and tenacity. You also can’t ever second-guess yourself. Imprint it on your brain. You will become who you want to be. There is no other alternative. The power of positive thinking often feels sooooo “delusional sorority girl” but it’s effective in many ways. It certainly can’t hurt, right? Besides, you’ll need all the help you can get during this freaking decade.