20 Tips to Get Through Your Twenties

So, I’m starting a new writing job next week and doubt I’m going to have too much time for old Thought Catalog. I’ll probably stop in from time to time whenever I’ve got some creative itch I can’t scratch elsewhere, but this will be, I think, for all intents and purposes, a goodbye. To do so, I’m finally going to cave in and do one of those listicle things my editors have been ever so gently nudging me to write over the last year. Here it is: 20 tips to get you through your twenties.

1. The Internet is not going to save you.

 What do I mean by that? Well, let me start by saying that the internet is great. It’s really great, guys. It’s fun and funny and informative and all the other things it is. But it’s also time consuming, and can be sickeningly negative, and after hours sitting in front of the Internet you get that weird glossy thing with your eyeballs where the little fuzzballs pop up in the top corner, and eventually your skin gets all pale and sickly from sitting under fluorescent light, etc.

The internet is a tool. It can make you smarter. It can connect you with other people who bring you happiness. But it’s only that–a tool. It isn’t the savior in itself. Don’t put your blind faith in it.

2. Get outside.

Duh. It’s beautiful out there!

3. If you want to sit, sit.

I have read one too many articles about the benefits of a standing desk. If you want to stand while you work, cool. Just stop writing blog posts about it. And if you want to sit, fucking sit.

4. Stop sharing everything.

I know I’m sounding like Johnny Old Man here, but guys, come on. Not everything we do needs to be put up on the interwebs. Save some stuff for you, you know? Just a little something tucked away. Telling all your followers you walked 1.37 miles with RunKeeper doesn’t add much to your life, or theirs. It just doesn’t.

5. Don’t pay lip service to “following your dreams.” If you want something, work at it.

I cannot count the number of emails/DMs/Tumblr messages I’ve gotten over the past year with people asking me I had the guts to go out and become a writer. Didn’t take any guts. I literally couldn’t do anything else. I TRIED to be other things, things that paid me. Things that would have made my life a HELL of a lot easier. I was a shitty marketing executive and a shitty advertising pitch man and a shitty web designer and a truly, mind-bogglingly shitty pizza chef. At the end of the day, the only thing I cared about was waking up and writing. I did it every morning, from 5 AM to 8 AM, while my girlfriend and roommates still slept, and then I’d get dressed and go to my other job and do a really bad job at it.

If you have to ask how to make yourself write, or how to quit your job and write–guess what, writing probably isn’t your passion. Keep looking and find it. It’s somewhere. And when you find it, work your freaking ass off at it.

6. Stop trying to improve your “efficiency” and just work.

You all realize there’s a real central irony in writing/reading the thousands, literally thousands, of articles about improving your efficiency, right? I.e. it isn’t very efficient to spend hours upon hours of your time “improving” your efficiency.

7. Work.

I know this is a grandfatherly thing to say, but man, kids, we all got to work. Not just punch the clock until it’s time to load up the van for Bonnaroo. Not just keep tweaking the first 30 pages of the novel you started. I mean–work. Hard.

I tried to live the other way. The non-work way. I lived in New Orleans for a couple years after graduating from college and, in those years, I did my very best to drink all of the alcohol. I gave it a shot. It didn’t work. I felt empty, and tired, and alone. It was only when I packed up my car, moved, and started writing 2,000 words a day (no matter what) that I started to feel OK about myself.

I get a laugh when people take the phrase YOLO to mean you should go out and party all the time. I look at that same expression and think about it this way–YOLO, so you better go out and fucking work hard at something that will last beyond you. There are only so many EDM music festivals you can go to, so many bongs you can rip. Make something.

8. Don’t kill anybody.

There might be a time in your 20s when you encounter a situation where you’re like, man, I could totally get away with killing this person. Police wouldn’t have a motive. No one would ever know. But, I mean, come on. You’ll probably slip up and leave behind some clue and some young, hot shot detective will crack the case WIDE open and then it will be this whole huge thing you’ll have to deal with. Just avoid the whole shebang.

9. Call your moms and pops.

They raised you. Call ’em. Means a lot.

10. Quit all the irony.

When I originally came with my work to Thought Catalog, I thought I’d write a couple articles and then move on to the next thing. But then I met Brandon and Steph, and got to reading Chelsea and Ben and a bunch of other writers I admired, and began to truly understand what they were doing here. They wanted a place where earnest writing could live. Where you could pour your heart out, without all the irony that usually soaks up every single thing posted on the internet.

This is risky. When you write earnestly, it can be bad. Like, really fucking bad, guys. Like, rub-the-temples-while-you-shake-your-head-slowly-in-disbelief bad. You’ve read some of these articles on this site. Articles so bad they make you wonder what is up and what is down. Articles concerning, in exhausting detail, the loss of anal sex virginity (including sound effects!) and narcissistic thousand-word diatribes about how the writer’s first breakup was worse than YOUR first breakup and dumb lists and all the other crap we’ve been known to put out on this site.

But this is the risk that you have to take if you want to avoid the pitfalls of the regular internet. The irony about EVERYTHING. I read an article, on another site that rhymes with Mocker, in which a writer looked back at an article he’d written the day after September 11 and MADE FUN OF HIMSELF for writing an emotional column the day after September 11. He literally went line by line and made fun of himself for writing earnestly about the people who died and wishing he could do something to help.

It was when I saw that article I knew I was in the right place. Irony is great and all, and funny, but at a certain point, when you carry it to its logical conclusion, as Mocker Boy did above, that it just becomes about the saddest and emptiest thing in the entire world. I didn’t want to get emptied out like him. I didn’t want to be the Irony Guy. Thought Catalog let me write with irony when I wanted, but they also let me write earnestly, about topics like the Boston Marathon bombing and pretty songs and about the need for love. Other sites wouldn’t let me do that. They did.

11. Stop writing/sharing about all the people you fucked.

This one is directed more at Thought Catalog writers but can apply to a lot of people, I guess.

Hey guys, enough. We get it. It’s very edgy and young and cool to write explicitly about your sex lives. At a certain point, though, it’s just Playboy fan fiction. We can’t all be Jerzy Kosinki.

12. Travel if you can afford it. Otherwise get the hell back to work.

If you have the means (and yes, 50,000 travel bloggers, I know it’s cheaper than we all think) you should definitely travel. Go see the world. Try something new. If you don’t have the means, though, work on something. Even if it’s just the money to try and save up and travel again. I’ve seen too many friends mope around their houses, living at home, working some dead-end job, getting stoned most nights and swearing, as soon as they have the money saved, they’re going to travel the world. You want to get your Roald Amundsen on, do the work and make some money.

13. Listen to punk music.

Why? Because it’s loud and fun and awesome. Because it isn’t the folk revivalists who don’t wear shoes and yell Yo Hi Heyyy and pretend to travel on trains. Because it isn’t the electro buzz bands. Punk is just more fun.

14. Listen to any music.

Ah, whatever. I take it all back. Listen to whatever you want.

15. Don’t become an addict.

This applies to drugs, yeah, but also to anything. Don’t become addicted to anything. Or try not to. You can be addicted to the internet, or addicted to being perceived as smart, or addicted to your looks/weight, or addicted to being seen at the club…whatever you feel yourself getting hooked on, fight it. It will take you over.

16. Stop overthinking.

This is the hardest one, I swear. At least for me. It took me years of controlled breathing exercises and philosophy books and some drugs to teach myself how to not think, but I’m getting there. I can sleep now, at least.

You can’t overanalyze your way out of a problem. Thinking about something for hours will not lead you to figure it out. It won’t tell you if your boyfriend is truly the one you love. It won’t tell you if you should quit your job. Think about something long enough to form an opinion, then get out. You’ll fix it soon, but staying up all night won’t do it. I promise you that.

17. Love hard.

Don’t cheap out on it. Other people have written about this topic better on this site, so go read their articles. But yeah, love hard. Love fully. All the greeting card shit.

18. Stop crediting Marilyn Monroe with 50,000 quotes she didn’t say.

Speaking of greeting card shit, guys, you all know Marilyn Monroe didn’t say ANY of the stuff you all credit her with on those glossy photos on Instagram, right? Like, seriously. None of them. She was an actress and a bombshell, she was not Zen Master Marilyn the Philosopher Queen. The amount of quotes misattributed to that poor woman simply boggle the mind.

19. Not everything is a battle.

If there’s one thing the Thought Catalog comment box has taught me, is that some people want everything to be a battle. They scan these articles looking for ANYTHING that could be perceived as sexist, or racist, or classist, or elitest, or any of the other -ists. And if the offending comment happens to correlate to their battleground turf is, they launch an attack.

Life’s too short, guys. If there is a real injustice out there, or you have a real argument to make, take the time to write something thoughtful about it, edit it, and submit it until it gets published. You will not change the world by arguing your point for four hours with TURDBOY6969 in the comment section of an article about the 17 Best Films Starring Jim Carrey.

20. Empathize.

It’s the only thing that’s helped me. Try to see what someone else is feeling. You will treat people better. You will be more patient. It’s the whole ballgame, really.

(And yes, I read the New Yorker article last week about the problems with empathy. Whatever, dude. I know what helped me.)

Empathy got me out of my own head. It helped me with overthinking. It helped me with stress. It helped me with narcissism. It’s really the only thing I’ve tried that’s worked over the years.

And it sort of renders all the advice before this irrelevant. If you need to fight TURDBOY6969 in the comment box to make you feel better, do it. (I doubt it will, but if it does, do it.) If listening to Mumford and Sons makes you happy, listen to those fiddling fools. If sharing that you walked 1.69 miles with RunKeeper keeps you motivated and feeling good about yourself, go on with it. The points above are what worked for me, but if they don’t apply to you, ignore them. I can empathize with that.

Thanks a lot guys. Your support and kind words and funny ass questions and even your vitriol has kept me delighted. It’s kept me sharp. I’m sure I’ll be around, and feel free to find me on the social media stuff and get in touch. This has been a lot of fun. See you around the bend. TC mark

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