This isn’t going to be your mother’s blog post about, well, calling your mother more often. Though, you should do that. Instead, here’s the life advice I’ve learned and what I really wish I knew when I was 22:
1. There are very few decisions in life that are permanent. Very little in your life will be definitional unless you choose to make it that way. You aren’t defined by your last success any longer than you are defined by your last failure. The only one super-focused on your story is you, so move on and keep going living your life.
2. People whose paths are linear are really fucking boring. For 20 years, I interviewed people and was blessed to hear the stories of their left turns, their right turns, and their u-turns. Each time I got to hear what they learned, how they grew, and who they became through each ding, dent, and failure. It’s not the perfection that makes compelling the individual, it’s the imperfections. Embrace the cataclysmic horror that is the strayed path; trust me, it will all make sense eventually.
3. Travel. For the love of god, you are young, unencumbered, and willing to fly at terrible times, travel terrible convoluted routes, and stay in terrible flea-ridden youth hostels, loving every minute of it. One day, you’ll be old and crotchety and spoiled, like me, and oh so encumbered, and it will be harder. See the world, eat strange foods, kiss a handsome stranger under the Eiffel Tower, jump in the Nile, and you will never be the same again.
4. At any given phase of your life, you will have varying supplies of time, money, and health, but very rarely a surplus of all three at once. Here’s the good news: you can steal from one to pay the other. Trade lavishly on your overstock of time and health when you don’t have money. Eventually, as your time gets more and more valuable — and it will with each passing day, every time you master a skill, make a connection, or expand your ambition — you’ll need to spend your money to buy the conveniences that give you more time.
5. You’re not that busy. Every day a young person tells me that they wish they could volunteer or workout or go back to school but they are just too busy. Busy with what? Busy being overwhelmed by the minutia that they are making into molehills. Child, please. I get more done before breakfast than you can imagine doing all month. What’s my secret? I want it more than you. It’s not hard. Set your alarm clock, put on your big boy pants, and come to the party.
6. Go big or go home. Commit to something. Really commit to it. Grab every ounce of life force from your vocation, your avocation, your super crazy kinky fetishized geekery obsession. Suck the marrow and then leave it for dead. There’s so much to learn and do and feel and experience in this world; stop tinkering around the edges. (P.S. If you’re on the fence, then that’s a pretty good sign that you’ve chosen the wrong thing. Don’t give up, just keep looking.)
7. Stop chasing the girl, the promotion, and the raise. Become the person who attracts the girl, earns the promotion, is worthy of the raise. Read the newspaper, learn the art of conversation, pick up a foreign language, go to cooking classes, teach yourself to code. Spend your time growing into a more interesting person, and the gravitational force of the universe will shift towards you.
8. Give back. Find a cause, let it fill you with empathy and compassion, and shape you into a productive member of society. It will make you a better person, and (following on #7), it’s hot as hell.
9. No matter how late you are, you can’t show up at the White House with wet hair. I was told this when I was 22. In the West Wing. Of the White House. Seriously. #Awkward. The lesson here is that if you are already late, at least pull your shit together and walk in under control rather than late and frazzled. Late is late; don’t add insult to injury.
10. No one gets a vote unless you give it to them. Stop looking for approval from your friends. Stop looking for approval from your parents. Your approval is the only vote that matters. Giving power to those who have historically held power is akin to asking someone from the third grade to judge you based on whether or not you once ate paste 14 years ago. They don’t see you through the lens of your almost fully-formed frontal lobe. So, stop putting value in their opinion of you. And, for fuck’s sake, put down the paste.
Here’s a bonus lesson: It’s all going to be okay. Really, it is. I promise.