Life in your 20s is widely considered to be one long, vivid, Kierkegaardian horror in which you must answer a series of questions pertaining to who you are, what you are, and how the hell you’re supposed to pay back the student loan debt you were tricked into assuming by old people while also affording things like new underwear and food before you turn 30 then 40 then 50 then die. Or something.
But eff that noise. You can win this thing!
Last time, we took a first cut at some basics: don’t love people who don’t love you back, because that shit is distracting as hell and also I’m embarrassed for you; nobody cares about your college degree, so stop talking about it and do something cool; if the rules are unfair, play by your own rules.
But the philosophy of winning the shit out of your twenties, your life, the universe, can be distilled even further. There are only two things you really need to know.
In the first place:
1. You must give a shit.
Yes, the economy is bad. Almost everyone under the age of 30 has the same basic, pretty much worthless degree from a liberal arts college that they spent too much money on because every single adult in their told them they needed to spend that money, to go that school, to get that piece of paper. It was bad advice and I hear you. I hear this. It sucks. You’re a little disoriented, now, and burnt out. Finding the kind of gig that gets your blood pumping, and the kind of life you think you’ll be proud of, feels like a fantasy. But you haven’t even picked it yet, which is the hidden root of the problem.
Because the hardest thing is figuring out what you want, and there’s only one way to find that. You need to care about something.
Passion: this is your compass. Maybe they handed you a compass in your year two advanced seminar on sexuality that I never went to because LOL, what? If so, apologies for earlier shit talk. Definitely use that compass. Having two compasses seems redundant and silly. But if you were never handed a compass for navigating life in your liberal arts circle jerk, just as I was not given a compass for navigating life in my liberal arts circle jerk, you are going to need one.
So pick a thing.
When you pick a thing and live for it, when you stop fighting with one hand behind your back and commit to a cause, an idea, a vision that you have for the future, perhaps, that is marginalized, that you feel like you can join the ranks of, the world will become clearer. Providing shelter for those who can’t afford it, maybe; genetically modifying food and ending hunger, maybe; creating a new reality for us to inhabit in video games, maybe. Once you decide what you want, you will meet people doing incredible things who you will admire. You will want to work with them, or for them, and maybe for free. The important thing is not that you have a high-paying job with a sexy title in a sexy field that your mother can brag about at work. The important thing is that you believe in what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with. You will learn, then. You will begin to be exposed to opportunities you previously never knew existed. You will find your new boss, your new landlord, your new best friend. You will maybe find a cute Communist or Baptist or Libertarian working at some Food Co-op or Church or Spaceship-making factory, and you will date. You will begin to connect the dots of your life. That job, that place where you should live, that turn that you should make, will become apparent.
It’s a goal, and two points for you. You haven’t won your twenties yet, but you haven’t lost them either. You’re IN this thing.
But it’s like I told you, this is a balancing act. Because:
2. You must not give a SHIT.
“This is unfortunately not for us” — several hundred editors, publishers, and agents, to me.
I’ve been turned down for jobs, for internships, for schools, for leads in plays, for loans, and for so (uncomfortably) many ‘but do you ‘like me’ like me?’ situations. We all have. People are rejected every day. Earlier this year, I kind of had my heart broken. I’ve had commenters on pieces of mine tell me to never write again, please. This morning, a bus driver slammed a door in my face. But do you know what I do not?
I do not give a SHIT.
You will be rejected. You will be told “no.” You will be ignored when you cold email that hero of yours, and it’s going to hurt. It’s probably happened to you recently, because it happens all the time. Damn, did it happen to you this morning? I’m sorry, that sucks (really). Now get over it.
Your haters are so far beneath you they can’t comprehend you. You are a pimp. You’re the baddest bitch alive. You can’t be stopped. Unbreakable. He’s some guy in a suit with funny facial hair; you are KATNISS EFFING EVERDEEN with a BOW AND ARROW. Feel that. Know that. You are not a failure until you believe that you are a failure, and there’s no reason to believe that ever; life isn’t a thing that you can fail. Your life is an end in itself, not a means to an ultimate point. And it’s beautiful.
“I don’t want it,” he says.
Okay bye, you say.
“I don’t like it,” she says.
Okay l8r, you say.
“I’m sorry if I led you on,” he says.
You are a balding, corporate shill who believes in the healing power of crystals, you say (perhaps). I am going to be okay.
And you will be okay, because you’ve got this. We’ve got this. You know what you want, and your passion is unwavering; the haters are breathing down your neck, right behind you, always behind you, but you don’t feel them. The clock has not stopped, and we are glowing out there, kids. We are radiant tonight. You take another shot, and you laugh.
This is how you win your twenties.