Notes To My 21-Year-Old Self: Lessons From Looking Back

raex
raex

I’ll start by saying #NoRegrets. However, I am the poster child for wishing you could rewind time. While there are numerous reasons behind that craving, so many of those situations were out of my control. The control I have now and wish I had exercised in my early 20s is the advice I feel wise enough to give at my ripe old age of 28. We can’t regret the missed phone calls or final goodbyes to ones we’ve lost and you cannot change the actions of others. While many of these notions will settle in once your frontal lobe develops, I hope this gives any early 20-something a leg up. That being said, the wise words I can share are from my experiences only and I invite you to consult your medical professional before practicing what I preach.

1. JUST SAY NO

You’re invited to birthday after birthday, drinks after drinks, coffee after coffee. You just got your first job (you’re probably an assistant) and all of this is so exciting. Meeting new people in this strange place you now live and escaping your tiny apartment with your fun, new roommate who you actually like! (For now.) Eventually you want to spend time with YOUR friends but the invites keep coming, especially from colleagues. But wait! Now these people are asking you to help them move, to come see their band play, or buy tickets to see their one-woman show.

You’re going to feel this immense pressure to do everything and to please these new people in your life. DON’T DO IT. That girl* you’ve hung out with 3 times who just asked you to help her move is never going to help you move. There will be an excuse every. single. time. She’ll make plans to have dinner with you and she’ll cancel at the last minute every. single. time. Next up is the “friend” who’s in a band. If they’re good and you enjoy yourself then by all means go and listen to some tunes. If you can’t take a reprise of the same 10 songs over and over again THAT’S OK. You can still enjoy this person and think their music is acceptable, but if you have something else you’d rather be doing (i.e. watching “Vampire Diaries” with a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape that cost a 6th of your paycheck) then go do it.

Finally, the best, most direct advice I can give anyone, is this: if someone requests that you attend their one-woman show and that you pay for it, they hate you and don’t want you to be happy. For that matter, if anyone guilts you for saying “no”, they’re not a good friend and you should send them on their way. It’s okay to say “no”**.

2. BE LOYAL TO YOURSELF FIRST

I realize this sounds crass, but hear me out. The only true regret I have that haunts me to this day is being loyal to jobs that never had any intent on being loyal to me. I was 22 when I got my first job out of college and I was thrilled. I was an assistant at a huge film production company and thought my career was off to a great start. Just before this I was interning at a different production company that was about to launch a hit TV show. TV is what I love and I knew then that this was what I wanted to do.

As it goes, I was one week into my new job and my friend at the previous company asked me if I’d like to be the showrunner’s assistant on this upcoming hit show. I was obviously torn and unfortunately my parents raised a loyal, upstanding citizen so I turned down the offer. I told my friend that I had just started this new job and it wouldn’t be right for me to leave. Looking back, screw what’s right. I should have done what was right for me, not this company. They would have found a replacement in hours of me leaving and they may have loathed my presence forever, but at least I would have been doing what I loved***.

Don’t be blindly loyal to anyone but yourself. As fate would have it I made a similar mistake again with another career move and that job took over my life. The day I stopped being loyal to them was the day I left and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Hard work and loyalty are not the same thing. Define yourself and be brave.

3. BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

You know those “friends” I mentioned in #1? Well, some of them can turn on you, and quickly. I believe this is cyclical. You find friendship, become close, and somehow get tangled in each other’s lives. You start to realize that some of these friends are competing with you, and you don’t know why. Or you can find a photo of them under FLAKY in the Dictionary. You may slowly notice some manipulation, passive aggressiveness, and maybe you somehow don’t get invited to brunch one Sunday and they make sure you find out. Lucky for us, this isn’t High School.

You don’t have to be friends with these people. (Repeat after me: You don’t have to be friends with these people.)

Yes, it’s much easier said than done. Breaking up with a friend is extremely difficult. Somehow they became your frenemy and yet they still want you to be their friend. This never made sense to me. I’ve had my fair share of girls who have said horrible things about me, and I heard about it. (Side Note: Just be nice. Try really hard to just be nice.

When you say something horrible it will get back to that person, it just will. I’m guilty of this too – we’re all human.) These women still wanted to be my friend and fought for my friendship at certain points. Why, if you think lowly of someone, would you ever want to be their friend? If someone’s saying it about you, or you’re saying it about someone else, then you aren’t truly friends.

Break up with toxic friends, especially if they are making you toxic.

4. DON’T BE THE PUPPET OR THE MASTER

The most effective story I can tell to describe this is one of love lost. Preface: this guy is a great guy, we are great friends, and this is just a life lesson.

I really, really liked this guy and he agreed to drive cross country and drop me off for my senior year of college. This could have been a fun road trip. One with interesting people, maybe The World’s Largest Ball of Twine, and hopefully full of sex. Long story short, that didn’t happen. He was a man on a mission: 16 hours to Denver, CO, and sleep – 12 hours to our destination, and sleep. Throughout the trip he was cold, quiet, and made me feel horribly insecure. By the second night on my barely-there blowup mattress, when the “I’m tired” excuse no longer worked, he finally had the courage to tell me that he didn’t have feelings for me anymore, and that we worked better as friends. I was crushed. But after I was crushed, I was pissed. (Even if we were better off as just friends.) My friend, Kristen, could have done this road trip with me and we could have seen The World’s Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City, KS, if you’re interested), flirted with some cuties in Nashville, and you know we would have hit up Vegas (love me some Penny Slots).

Moral of this story: Don’t string people along. Even if you think you can soften the blow or somehow ease their future suffering, just be honest. Communicate with people. You’ll be afraid to hurt them but respect them enough to decide how they feel. On the flip side, if you think someone is stringing you along? Be brave enough to ask them.

5. LONELY CAN BE LOVELY

Learn to be alone. This is hard in your early 20s because there’s so much going on and you probably have a roommate or five. One of the best things I ever did was live alone. It was only for a year, but the space was entirely mine. Going home after work and having no obligations except for feeding myself felt really great. The time I had to myself to think, cook, read, or watch what I wanted, when I wanted, was the best. It can be very difficult for people to learn to be alone. Most of us go from a full house to a full dorm and live with roommates until we find our permanent home.

After a year of living alone, I moved in with a friend and found that I missed the solitude. That’s when my friend, Jocelyn, suggested I eat a meal alone. I had never done that, except while traveling. The idea made me uncomfortable, so I knew I had to try it. One Thursday I went to my favorite sushi place and ordered my favorite meal. They clearly thought, “oh poor, sad girl”, so they hooked me up with extra spicy tuna (#NotMad). When I started showing up alone every Thursday, they caught on to my tricks. The time I spent alone in that restaurant, with a large Sake (#NoShame) and a lot of sushi, helped me clear my head and focus my energy more than I ever thought possible. Maybe you can prepare your week. Write a little, or read a lot. I now live with my boyfriend and still enjoy alone time, I think everyone does. If you’ve never experienced it, Yen Sushi will welcome you with open arms.

Please don’t think I’m suggesting you close yourself off to people, dump all your friends, and go live in a hole somewhere. Through my cynicism I am still very open to new people and experiences, I just don’t take stock in them so readily. Even if you read this and take heed in what I’ve shared, you will definitely experience these things on your own. However, you have to stop asking yourself “What if?” because, if you’re as neurotic as I am, you’ll probably need to up your anti-anxiety meds. After all, our experiences, successes, and failures define who we are. While I do wish I had known these things in my early twenties I refuse to get caught up in the past, It’s wasteful.

P.S. Most importantly:

Aladdin
Aladdin

*To get rid of the mooch girl mentioned in #1, refer to #3.
**This also applies to throwing any type of shower in your late twenties+.
***On that note, I don’t condone being a flaky employee. 82 jobs in 2 years never looks good on a resume. TC mark

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