Recently, I have been thinking a lot about what life looked like for me in my early 20s. I was living the college dream- partying up extra, in student government, had amazing friends, fun beaus, and all this was within a stone’s throw of New York City.
I was young, idealistic, writing up a storm and thinking through Foucault’s pan optic while devouring Derrida and wondering about what our signature event context means, despite, or particularly in spite of class based social reproduction. You know, the kind of thought processes that Bourdieu’s ideologies of education and distinction would be associated with. I was happy, I thought I was going to remain that way for the rest of my life.
Boy, was I in for a shocker. My life turned out to be extraordinarily different from my plans. In the course of the next ten years, I left everything I held dear, traveled the world, worked with the United Nations, and learned the meaning of chasing my dreams with less money than I ever had in my 20s. I learned a few tricks to remaining sane, and even grew to love my own company- something I never could imagine, in the lonely midnight hours that I kept.
Here’s what I learned to accept, that allowed me to enjoy my solitude and look forward to every day.
1. Don’t be afraid to step away from the expected milestones.
Whether this is marriage, buying a house, having kids… There is no prescribed time to be someone “grown up.”
2. There is no such thing as forever.
Nothing is a given. People do wilt, wither, molt, and they grow new skin. Change is truly the only thing you will have that is yours to keep, tackle, and understand.
3. Real people empower each other.
This goes for the difference between being a woman versus being a girl. Misogyny runs between the sexes and is more common than you’d think. It’s entrenched within normalizing calling a woman of any distinct background “bossy,” and suggesting that women are the only ones who are “too westernized.” STOP if you find yourself doing this. Go read some Marx and then follow it up with some Judith Butler. Real men empower women too. End of story. Don’t allow for misogyny. You’re better than this.
4. Cry if you have to. Cry, and then carry on.
Do cry if you must. But follow it up with a walk. You will never regret this.
5. Do not abuse substances.
Alcohol IS a depressant. Alcohol can exacerbate problems, not solve them. In fact, if you’re downing alcohol to escape your life, have another think.
7. You are enough.
I remember struggling tremendously with trying to gain weight in my youth while constantly being told that I was too skinny, too bossy, too smart for my own good, too excessive in every way. But I’m enough. Just the way I am.
8. Speak up.
Silence-to the creative mind- is the space in which demons dwell, where hope is lost.
9. Make yourself vulnerable.
10. The fastest way to create enemies is by telling the truth before someone is willing to receive it.
11. It’s okay to change friends.
12. Your parents care more for you than you’ll ever know, no matter what your relationship is with them.
13. Not all your relatives or your friends have your back.
Blood may be thicker than water, but sometimes, bad blood is possible. To survive, you have to walk away instead of continuing to suffer just because you have shared a past.
14. Learn to acknowledge the little things, appreciate communicating effectively, and learn the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.
15. Be good to yourself.
Your biggest relationship is with yourself. You deserve to find the strength to walk away from mediocrity. Surround yourself by positive people with good energy who encourage you to think awesome. Travel, and you will learn that you will fall in love with train rides, rain, and the night sky. If you are really struggling, find and speak with a professional. Learn about goal-focused therapy instead of swallowing a lot of antidepressants and not figuring out the root causes of your chaos. Validate yourself.
16. Your ideas of success will change as you get older.
At a certain point, you will realize nothing material makes you happy, and only experiences and conversations do.
17. Life is cyclical.
For all the good times, there will be horrifying times. Boring, however, is what you make of it.
18. You don’t need anyone else to save you.
You’re not selfish or a liar or inadequate, and your feelings matter, but at the end of the day, only you can make yourself feel adequate.
19. Keep reading.
Read voraciously. Expand your thoughts and don’t get stuck.
20. Talk to strangers.
That saying about never talking to strangers was an old wives’ tale that is meant to perpetuate xenophobia. Get out there and meet strangers. You’ll learn a thing or two or twenty.
21. Bullies are cowards in disguise, and classists are the most insecure people ever.
Stay away. Just that.
22. Don’t get stuck thinking that you know everything.
Information is key to changing perceptions about detrimental social mores, even your own social mores. For me, three weeks doing fieldwork on child marriage taught me more than one whole year of graduate school. You learn when you get involved hands-on. Don’t be afraid of what you learn once you do. Contextualize, contextualize, contextualize.
Save up cash, and then get on your way. Go to places where you think you would have never gone. My favorite vacations were to Romania and to Poland- both out of the way places. I learned more in the backwaters of these countries, and in Bangladesh, than most of grad school.
24. A little kindness goes a long way. And kindness works in both directions.
25. Intelligence is underrated.
There are more online trolls than you could ever imagine. And idiots. Book smart is very different from street smart, and there is such a thing as the ivory tower of education, non-profit, for-profit, etc.
28. The world owes you NOTHING, but if you want to make a global impact, you HAVE to be a public individual.
You deserve to be heard, understand, mulled over, thought about, you have to let your light shine. The only way you can do this is by actually making an impact. Getting out there, speaking up while floundering. Speaking up, despite yourself. In spite of yourself.
27. Learn how to cook and eat nutritiously.
Experiment at great length and expand your cooking style, but always try out new things. From beef rendang to sashimi to ackee and callalloo, do yourself a favor, and learn the language of the different food components. Not only is it crucial to long-term sustainability, but your food choices DO and can affect your happiness.
28. Your 20s go by much faster than you’d like to think.
29. Don’t get stuck in a dead end job with a boss who belittles you.
30. Not everyone is out searching for answers to the difficult questions of existence.
Surround yourself by people who project that which you wish to explore. Grow.
31. Keep a diary and track everything you do with an eye to finding new ways of seeing the same old things.
32. You will keep being given the same lessons until you learn how to incorporate them into your world.
Love deeply. Even excessively… even, and especially when it hurts.