A Checklist For The Age 19

  1. Decide that you will not be jaded. Be indecisive about most things but certain about this. Say to yourself, ‘I will not be a jaded twenty-something, I will have self-respect, I will become a minimalist and move to New York and I will never complain, I will recognize sweetness and I will make it last.’ Mid-mantra, experience near-fatal blows to your beliefs about the integrity of the world and your place in it. Arrive at realizations that everyone else has already reached, crude truisms you’d idealistically dismissed or ignored. Money is power, pretty is good, sexism is the status quo. Adults don’t know what they’re doing, most mistakes matter, and you will never be cool. Try to be realistic without growing disillusioned. Bite the insides of your cheeks until they bleed.
  2. Avoid telling strangers your age. Wish that you were 20 already, because when you are 20 people will take your emotions seriously, they will take your ‘work’ seriously, and they will take you seriously. Simultaneously take great solace in the fact that no one takes you seriously at all. Find comfort in the reality that you are still a teenager and glaring errors are still permitted and perfection is still suspicious. On low nights, take shelter in lowered expectations and fulfilled clichés and bad alternative rock. Recognize that once you turn 20, no one will describe you as a prodigy, no one will call you ‘exceptional’ or ‘advanced’ or ‘gifted’ or ‘special,’ Craig Ferguson will not say “Wow, and she’s only 19!” when the entrance music dies down. Master the art of feeding yourself consolatory nonfat yogurt while wrapped in blankets and reading things on the Internet. Let your eyes grow wide.
  3. Begin a relationship with a person who feels more ‘real’ than your high school sweetheart, whose words sound heavier and more trustworthy, whose touch feels more intentional. Keep your feet on the ground. In an attempt at full disclosure, ensure that he sees you at your absolute worst. Be honest. Approach love consciously, in real time. Do not drift. Do not write poetry. Use words like ‘solid’ instead of ‘dreamy.’ Consider the concept of semi-permanence. Linger, savor, know now that there is no rush. Use your past as a parachute, then discard with metaphors and, for the first time, love someone in concrete terms. Feel like you could maybe spend your life with this person. Mail your parents a 20th anniversary card and realize that you have no idea what that means, no concept of how much ‘spending a life’ costs. Love on a day-to-day basis instead. Build slowly. Learn that this is more than enough.
  4. Panic. Frequently.
  5. Lack the chutzpah to drop out of your elite university, where you are currently pursuing a degree that entitles others to prematurely inform you of their latte order. When people over the age of 28 ask you what you will do after graduation, answer honestly. When they give you a look, that look, modify your reply. Turn the dial in the direction of money. Visualize corporate offices with potted ferns and floor-to-ceiling windows and expense accounts and fast elevators. Keep adapting your answer until their eyes mock less, until they nod, until they smile. Feel deep-seated despair when you hear the words ‘law school.’ Know that you are on track for successes that will always be secondary to that thing you really wanted but were too cowardly to chase. Imagine yourself surrounded by Excel sheets on 40-inch iMac screens and feel terror. Then, as the conversation drifts, remember that you are not a coward, that you are invincible because you are still 19, and tell them that you will [do that thing that you are not afraid to do], that you will make people feel less lonely, that that is what you are going to do. Do not recoil at the sight of raised eyebrows. Do not let pity sting.
  6. Try to be a better person. A better son, a better daughter. Try very, very hard. Try to express the respect you have for your parents. You’ve begun, if only tangentially, to understand the sacrifices they made, the lives they didn’t lead so that you could live yours, so that you could read books, so that you could explore boredom and restlessness instead of real suffering. Feel zero desire to raise a child. Try to ask nothing more of your parents. Still need money, still need health insurance, still need their approval. Cringe at your dependence and immense good fortune. Realize how lucky you got. Be grateful. Try to be worthy.
  7. Anticipate existential crises like screams heard from the back end of roller-coaster waiting lines. Have a conversation with a woman in her late-twenties who declares she’s still ‘just a kid.’ Decide that the only thing worse than being jaded is being in denial.
  8. Get excited about things like jogging and dinner parties and rooftop gardens and adopted mutts and raw foods. Start training for a 5K. Throw together an evening with sliced tomatoes and Charles Shaw and medium-rare, Forman-grilled steaks. Climb onto the roof of a two-story academic building at night. Visit the websites of animal shelters, point and click and say ‘that’s the one.’ Develop neurotic habits when choosing produce at Trader Joe’s. Craft convincing imitations of a world you’ve yet to enter. Exist in a perpetual state of preparation for a life you’ve yet to earn.
  9. Forgive. Forget. Fake it. Chin up. Wear lipstick, make lists, make sure your voicemail isn’t full. Mix protein shakes, send timely thank you notes, sip drinks more slowly, stare at adults’ eyebrows, smile without dimples, develop perfect posture. Be gracious, be kind, eliminate self-pity. Look in the mirror and shift your internal monologue from ‘How do I look?’ to ‘This is my face,’ from ‘What the hell am I doing?’ to ‘This is my life.’ Capitalize your emails, read the news, walk briskly, stay focused, and never, ever let on that you are somewhat lost and sometimes lonely and so completely confused (and would someone please just let me know what it is I’m supposed to do next, where exactly I’m supposed to go–). Just keep going. Go, and do not stop.
  10. Every so often, you will need to scream. That’s okay. That’s allowed. Scream. After all, you’re just a kid. You’re only 19. Thought Catalog Logo Mark
image – Ren & Stimpy

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