25 Things I Learned On The Way to 25

Not a how-to guide to mental health.

13. If you are physically capable of it, get out of the house/apartment once a day. If you work outside the home, you’re already covered. If you’re unemployed or work from home, find some reason, any reason, to go out once a day. It doesn’t matter what it is: go to a coffeeshop and get a cup of coffee, go to the library and sit and read, take a walk around the block, mail a letter, anything. (If you’re lucky enough to live someplace where you can walk to any of these places, definitely walk.) This goes double if you’re unemployed, triple if you live by yourself. Nothing will drive you crazier than staring at your own walls all day every day. Fifteen minutes of walking around and seeing other humans will keep you sane.

14. Learn to cook a few things for yourself and for others. If you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend F*cking Recipes for recipes you may never have heard of and the most entertaining instructions possible, and Supercook so you don’t have to go shop for a specific recipe. Even figuring out how to make something simple like a perfect one-pan pasta is incredibly satisfying.

15. It is never, ever too late to change your mind. Never ever ever. I firmly believe this. There’s a strong narrative in our culture these days that successful people find what they want to do early on and then are completely devoted to it forever and ever afterwards — sports prodigies who started at age 5, writers who “always knew this was what I wanted to do,” etc. Bully for those guys! But I spent about sixteen years of my life thinking the only thing I would ever want to do would be theatre — and then I discovered that the things that make me the happiest are writing and driving a food truck. Not that I don’t still love theatre, but maybe it’s not where my whole life is going. A family friend of ours decided a few years ago that in addition to being a microbiologist, she wanted to be a composer. My boss went from doing IT in Antarctica to running a food truck. My sister went from being a physics major to being a project manager and executive assistant to being a glaciologist/astrobiologist.

Exploring and experimenting and changing your mind are not bad things. This goes for career, for education, and for relationships. You are never completely locked in to one course.

16. Always offer to help with the bill, and to do dishes. Goes double if you are someone’s guest. A significant portion of the time, your host will turn down the help, but you’ll earn beaucoup points for having offered. Sometimes they’ll take you up on it and you’ll have to pull out your wallet or wash some dishes, but you will still have earned beaucoup points. (Note: I was always taught that you offer to pay for your own stuff twice — if the person still insists they want to get the bill, graciously allow them to.)

17. Relatedly, if you’re going to need separate checks at a restaurant, inform the server at the beginning of the meal. Especially in a big group. College students, I’m looking at you.

18. Write thank-you notes. Welcome to the most hypocritical entry on this list! I fell out of the habit of writing thank-yous in the last few years, but I’m going to try and get back into it. Write thank-yous for being invited to stay at someone’s place, for presents, and for favors done. They don’t have to be long — they just have to be genuine, and they have to be sent.

19. Don’t make assumptions about a person’s personal life. Don’t ask if someone is pregnant unless you know they are and that the pregnancy is welcomed. Don’t ask if they’ve gained or lost weight unless you know they’d welcome the question. Don’t assume they’re dating a person of another gender. If they present ambiguously, don’t assume what gender they identify as. Don’t ask how the job hunt is going. These are all things that a person will volunteer information about if they want or need to.

(N.B.: The one exception in this list is gender pronouns — if you’re in a position where you need to know what third-person pronouns a person uses so you can talk about them, a polite “What pronouns do you prefer?” is appropriate. If you screw up and misgender the person, accept any correction, apologize, and move on without making a big deal about it. And don’t do it again.)

20. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s going to happen. You’re going to make them. Apologize without groveling and do your best to fix them, and try not to make the same one more than once.

21. Singing in the shower is a great way to keep your shower time down. This is a trick I developed junior year when I was sharing a bathroom with two other people and we were paying our own water bills. Find a good song, start singing it at the top of your lungs when you first get into the shower, and aim to be turning off the water by the time you sing the last note. I favor “Both Hands” by Ani DiFranco, because it clocks in at just about 4 minutes and I can generally get everything I need to do, done. If you need longer, I recommend you learn “American Pie.” (Knowing every word of that song is also a great party trick. Uh, for the kinds of parties I go to, anyway.)

22. Take care of yourself, and then take care of others. To be clear, this doesn’t mean “Take care of yourself and then let everyone else go hang,” it means “Once you have taken care of yourself, go help others.” If you are in a position to help others, do so. It’ll come back around. But you do need to make sure you and yours are taken care of first: it is incredibly hard to help others, financially, emotionally, or physically, if you are not okay yourself.

The only time you look in your neighbor's bowl is to make sure that they have enough.You don't look in your neighbor's bowl to make sure you have as much as them.

23. Read more books. No matter how many you’re reading now, and in whatever format (audiobook, physical book, e-book), read more.

24. Make your passwords based on initialisms. Meaning, figure out a phrase and use the first initials to create your password. You know, something like “Iiatuatasmipoafmbisoaw” — “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in search of a wife.”

Only don’t use that one, first because I just suggested it, and second because it’s really long and doesn’t have any numbers or symbols in it. But that’d be a really hard password to guess, right?

No. No. Listen. Don't listen to me. Listen.

This is how I feel whenever I give advice.

25. Nobody has all the answers. Literally nobody. Not your parents, not your religious leaders, not you, not your teachers. And definitely not me. The advice I’m giving is what works for me, but your life may lead you somewhere different, and not all of this advice will work for you.

People will tell you things and they will say them with such conviction and certainty that it will be hard to believe they aren’t right, especially if they’re older than you. Experts will have expert opinions and non-experts will also have expert opinions and they will contradict and you will be sitting there trying to figure out what’s right and what’s true and what’s wrong and what’s bad and it will be confusing and feel awful.

The fact of the matter is, those people saying things with conviction will be right about some things and wrong about some things. The fact of the matter is, sometimes there are multiple right and multiple wrong answers to any question. The fact of the matter is, the world is complicated and full of nuance and individuality and nobody will have every answer all of the time. There are exceptions to every single rule. I wish I could prepare you for them — I wish I could qualify everything I said above to make sure every bit of advice is universally applicable — but I can’t. There’s no such thing as universally applicable.

So read widely. Listen to people. Keep the good and discard the bad. Create your own worldview. Learn. Evolve.

That’s my $0.02, anyway.

Be good to yourself in 2014, everyone, and thank you for sticking with me throughout 2013.



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