Thought Catalog

A Checklist For The Age 19

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  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. TC mark
image – Ren & Stimpy

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    • Anonymous

      Wow. This is, in fact, my life right now (plus and minus a few things).

      Thanks.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        awesome, anna. thanks for reading

        • Vidzy Compulisive

          Have turned 19 dis august….its a age of mixed emotions…really don’t knw wat I actually want frm frm life..bt I knw somewhere down da line dat have to live it da large wae…I guess did age tells is dat its tym to b responsible…bt later on it feels v r juss 19 …y to bother so much abt da future wen v t not yet cleared of wat v want frm life??
          P.s amazing catalogue it juss explains dat v t juss 19:)

    • Erin

      This is exactly how I feel.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        hi erin, glad you could relate

    • Anonymous

      Make lists. Lots of lists.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        so many lists, lists lists lists

    • http://www.facebook.com/jade.orlich Jade Mitchell

      I absolutely loved this. 

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        thanks, jade, means a lot

    • Lauren

      number 9

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        go go go

    • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

      I hope I feel like this when I’m 19.

      • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

        I don’t think we’re the target audience anymore PC. 

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        cool, you might

    • Lily

      Took the thoughts right out of my head. Rock on, fellow 19 year olds.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        sweet, rock on

    • http://twitter.com/iamthepuddles irreverent puddles

      spot on. definitely captures the nutter sensation of being nineteen – legally an adult, but everyone still thinks you’re a kid teenager. and insert all the emotional sensations that come as a result

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        totally nutter. thanks, irreverent.

    • James

      annnnnnnnd accuracy award!

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        thanks, james :)

    • http://twitter.com/alinatrifan Alina Trifan

      Eh, I’m not sure. I’m turning 19 in a few months and I feel nothing like this.
      Except, of course, point 4.

      • BAM!!

        cos you’re not 19 yet DUH

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        glad #4 was relatable, alina

    • TurningTables

      Growing older sucks, want to remain in the early stages of late teenagehood forever. 

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        growing older has its perks, or as my dad says, ‘beats the alternative’

    • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

      You’re over thinking it. 

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        hi kyle. that’s my specialty

    • Egalalis

      I just turned 20 and number 2 accurately describes the past month of my life.   I’m going to miss the spit take look that accompanies “You’re ONLY 19???”  20 is just met with “Aww. Well. You’re still a baby” 

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        20 seems interesting/wild, excited to see what it’s like

    • Hayley

      This is fantastic! I’m turning 20 next month and this is precisely how I feel at the moment…

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        thanks, hayley :) happy birthday, next month

    • Eliza Nizzi

      At 19, I moved to a new country to get my college degree. This article hits home. Thank you. 

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        that’s very brave. thanks for reading, eliza

    • atxmeredith

      I’m nineteen-year-old college student and, with a few tweaks, this article perfectly describes where my life is right now. Thanks Jennifer!

    • atxmeredith

      I’m nineteen-year-old college student and, with a few tweaks, this article perfectly describes where my life is right now. Thanks Jennifer!

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        awesome, thanks atx

    • Niaka

      I’m 19 and I’m feelin’ #6.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        sweet, niaka, glad you’re feelin’ it too

    • Guest

      This just makes me feel old.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        don’t feel old, we’re all probably dead in dog years anyway

    • Rosanna

      This exactly summarises my life. Not certain if I want to get to 20, or rewind time and be younger. Number 8 – I bought a fridge and a light bulb the other day and have not been so excited in a long time.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        awesome, rosanna, glad you can relate. someone stole my mini-fridge the other day

    • http://www.wilfordlauren.tumblr.com Lauren Wilford

      “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.”

      I used to be obsessed with child prodigies while I felt there was still time to be one. Still hard to define myself as an adult and not someone with “so much potential.” Like, is this where the potential ends? What?

      Jennifer Schaffer, you are a Person On The Internet that I feel I really know, such as I can.

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        thanks, lauren, that made me smile :)

    • Kimx2030

      Not only I wish to be 20, my perfect dream age is 27.
      Because when you’re 27, you’re one of those who can judge 19 year olds and deem them worthy (or not)

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        hm, i hope i don’t judge 19 year olds when i’m 27… think i’ll judge furniture catalogs, etc. instead

    • Ag

      I wish I had seen this before I turned 20 this year. Wow, so good

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        thanks, ag, hope 20 is treating you well

    • Ted

      One of the better pieces I’ve read on TC

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        thanks, ted, glad you enjoyed

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jordan-Fields/100000625951408 Jordan Fields

           Much agreed.  keep your quality high even if your quantity is low.  There are too many on here pressured for regurgitating low-quality pieces. 

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans 371747

      I don’t remember ever feeling this way.  

      Well, except for the panic part.  But I still panic, like, all the time.  So it’s cool.  

      • http://distractionetc.blogspot.com Jennifer Schaffer

        cool, thanks for reading

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