It’s my 23rd birthday soon. And as the date approaches, I have been thinking about all the things I would like to tell to my 22-year-old self as I wave my white handkerchief. In fact, I think these are things that I would like to tell all 22- year -olds out there.
LESSON 1: SAY YES TO LIFE. AND CHEESE.
“22” sounds big, I know. It’s six freaking years after Holden Caulfield was feeling lost in adulthood, four years after you were officially considered an adult, and one year after you could order a Budweiser in all 50 states of the USA. But it really isn’t that big after all…You still have eight more years to roll around in your 20s, two more years before it will become embarrassing to apply for your driving license, and perhaps a week or two before you actually turn 23. So trust me when I say it is okay to feel lost. It is okay to have no idea where you are going. It is okay to feel like Rose in the last scene of Titanic when she was stuck in the basement of the ship and felt the water rising up to her throat. Except, it’s not water, it’s experiences, it’s knowledge, it’s answers.
It’s getting drunk to the distant sound of girl chatter and walking barefoot while holding your neon sandals, then having mac’n’cheese at 3 a.m. It’s snogging to a sunset far away and swimming naked in the sea under the opalescent moon. It’s buying a one-way ticket and listening to Boney M on your way to NYC. It’s learning the names of all the good film directors, mastering your SAT words, and getting to the bottom of your reading list; yes, that includes War and Peace. It’s figuring stuff out and living life all-out.
And these things won’t really happen unless you learn to say “yes” to life. So dear 22-year-olds, get out of your cocoon and allow me to do so with you, even though I will soon be 23.
LESSON 2: THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
One rather mundane morning in February, you will awake and think you’ve found the love of your life. And one fine afternoon, you will open your mailbox and, contrary to how you felt at school, you will get excited about numbers written in red and think you will finally get a “yes.” Many consecutive mornings and afternoons you will think that all your countless hours spent in the library will be rewarded. And then… it will turn out… you were wrong! He might have been your love, but you were not his, the mailbox had nothing but Wagamama discount offers and feedback surveys, and even though you worked your ass off you still got a 2.1.
But, equally, sometimes you will spend weeks fearing that life will end, choosing flowers for your own funeral, and it won’t. You will fear feeling like shit the next morning as you roll in bed and can’t fall asleep, but you will wake up feeling just fine! You will call your mom thinking she won’t listen but then and there, she will recite the name of the guy you were seeing three boyfriends ago, and it will make you happy.
This phenomenon has many names: some refer to it as “balance,” others like Solomon repeat “this shall too pass” their whole lives and Mufasa sings “the circle of life.” Whatever you’d like to call it, it’s where it’s at.
LESSON 3: TIME IS ON YOUR SIDE
You will learn many things in school. And even more at university. If you’re enough of a nerd, you might memorize the whole ATP synthesis process, how to navigate a spaceship (that is, your calculator in math class), and even how to use SPSS to produce a comprehensible result out of fake data at uni. But the most important lessons in your life will come with nothing but the passage of time. The wrong beliefs that you have, the uprooting of traumas, the empty places— there is no course for that. But it is comforting to know that time is on your side.
LESSON 4: LEAVE FOOD ALONE
I have not known a girl who has not had a messy relationship with food at one point or another. They have either feared it or craved it, overeaten or starved, been too skinny or too fat. Ashamed of their pretzel legs or of their stretch marks.
But contrary to how our obsessive thoughts make it seem, food is not what life is about. Food is there to remind us that we are hungry for more, to make life more delicious than it already is. It is the chair we sit on to watch the performance. It is your own goddamn choice what you eat and you have the complete right to that.
Stuff your face with quinoa, down that kale juice, or have doughnuts for breakfast. Let no one judge that but yourself.
We are not what we eat. We are who we are and food is just food.
When I look back at you, at the beginning of the year, I think to myself: oh dear. My heart rate quickens and I want to run back and give you a squeeze and a pat and a talisman. But even though I want to do so, I am not sure I would. Because being there the way you were makes you who you are today. It grows you, builds you, transforms you. And as much as I wish I could give a hint or two, I don’t want to take that away from you.
I have no clue what’s ahead of you, or what awaits. Maybe it’s more mates, maybe it’s more dates. Perhaps it’s fun, perhaps a hill-run. But sunshine or rain, pain or gain, frankly, I don’t care. Why?
Because I trust, that you’ve got it.