I’m officially at that age where I have literally no fucking clue what I am doing with my life. So much so that I still use the word “literally” with complete disregard to the way it’s meant to be used. So much so that I put off doing laundry until I completely run out of underwear, and then I buy some more just so I can continue to put off doing laundry. I’m to the point where I know I should be thinking more concretely about my future: my student loans, my post-grad plans, etc. But instead I end up at the bar on a Monday night, alone, playing Stevie Nicks on the jukebox, surrounded by equally as lost souls just 10 years my senior.
I’m so lost that I chase after people who don’t treat me with the respect I deserve. Because sometimes I don’t treat myself with the respect I deserve. Because sometimes I don’t believe I deserve that respect. I still start sentences with because.
I smoke cigarettes. I drink socially, and not. I deprive myself sleep and sustenance all in the name of the “fear of missing out” because this is college and it’s the time of my life, yeah? Well the “time of my life” is quickly coming to a close and I feel the imminent collapse of my life and my decisions upon my entire being.
I have no fucking clue what I’m doing. I have a vague idea of who I am, what my purpose is, and who I want to be. But I literally have no fucking clue. And yet I am still going to condescend to you my musings on life thus far. Because what kind of 22 year old would I be if I didn’t think I already had some shit figured out? So here it is. Life lessons from a recently 22 ingénue. Read it and weep.
1) Tell people how you really feel.
Fuck playing the game. Fuck being coy. Fuck the rules of the hookup culture. Fuck protecting yourself. Like someone? Tell them. Did someone make your day 1/100th better today? Tell them. Do you admire someone for their strength/style/ingenuity/brilliance/heart? Tell them. I think we as people keep way too many secrets from each other. As if that is something to aspire to. As if there is power in it. Sure, you may feel some power in keeping these thoughts close to your heart. But I feel that kind of power is a delusion. Real power and strength comes from telling people exactly how you feel, from being vulnerable and honest and shameless in your conviction. Especially when those things are positive. Who are you to keep someone in the dark about their extraordinary qualities? What are you gaining from keeping this to yourself? Answer: nothing. At best it means you’re too self-absorbed to consider the impact your kind words could have on those around you. At worst it means you’re a fucking coward. So, what exactly do you have to lose by telling those around you how you really feel? I am a firm believer in giving those who deserve it praise abundantly and shamelessly. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. That probably means you need to do it more.
2) Confront those who treat you poorly.
I have had my fair share of toxic friendships, relationships, and lovers. Sometimes people treat you poorly to exert their power over you. Sometimes people are so insecure that the only way they can validate their existence is by putting you down. Sometimes people are so self-involved and oblivious to the affects of their actions that they don’t understand they are hurting you. People will treat you poorly intentionally, or as some byproduct of their own insecurity, or completely unintentionally. None of these things are ok, and if someone is treating you poorly, you need to call them on their shit.
I understand that this can be incredibly difficult and nerve-wracking. Personally, I am so terrified of jeopardizing whatever relationship I have with someone that I let them get away with so much bullshit until I finally can’t handle it anymore and it manifests itself into physical representations of stress. Don’t let it get to that point. If this person is treating you poorly unintentionally, they will be receptive to your thoughts and feelings, and they will respect the bravery it takes for you to assert yourself. If this person is treating you poorly intentionally then do you really want them in your life anyway? It may sound crass or too simplistic, but cut that shit out of your life. You don’t need it and I guarantee you deserve better. Without mutual respect in your relationships, you have nothing. Sometimes people need a fucking wake up call about their bullshit. Sometimes they wake up and other times they just continue to suck. Regardless, in the end you will know where you stand, and who enjoys limbo in a shitty feeling situation? I hope your answer is no one. Because I know you don’t deserve that merely because [almost] no one deserves that. In short, respect yourself too much to let others continue to disrespect you.
3) Do stuff alone.
I can say absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, that if you do not feel comfortable with your own company, you have no fucking clue who you are as a person. When I was younger I thought alone time was some sort of failure. Like, “well no one is hanging out with me, but I know such and such people are together right now, and holy fuck no one probably likes me, and I will be alone forever and my life is the complete embodiment of failure.” Sounds melodramatic, yes? It is. And it’s completely untrue. But I was also terrified at the thought of my own company.
What would I find out about myself if I was not constantly putting on a show for others? Would I like what I see? Do I even like myself enough to spend time by myself?
Eventually you come to learn that you’re not that bad. You take some baby steps in asserting your alone time. And you learn so much about yourself. There was a reason why people exhausted me so frequently, and it’s because I felt like I was constantly putting on a show, because I had absolutely no fucking clue who I was. But the moment I started taking the time to enjoy my own company and do some self-care, I started figuring out who I was, and I gradually became a more authentic version of myself. Being around people stopped being so mentally and emotionally exhausting. Most of the time anyway.
When you enjoy your own company you rarely have those moments of floundering in your own loneliness. It’s a really great form of self-care because not only do you get to take time for yourself, but you simultaneously learn about yourself. Whether its binge-watching House of Cards while knitting a scarf, taking yourself out for dinner and seeing the weird indie flick at the local theater that no one else wants to see, or walking around downtown at 4:30 in the morning listening to Courtney Barnett, you learn about yourself. Sometimes it’s good things. Sometimes it’s bad things. But it’s authentic and it’s real and it’s you and that’s fucking powerful. So do stuff alone, it’ll do you better than you might think.
4) When apologizing don’t bother trying to explain yourself.
This is probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned because it takes lots and lots of practice. Whatever it was you did, you fucked up. You hurt someone’s feelings and you need to apologize. Maybe it’s my undeniable desire to constantly be right, but every time I apologize my first instinct is to explain away my intentions: “well what I really meant was…”, “I wasn’t trying to make you feel that way…”, blah blah blah, no one gives a shit. Intentions are just that, they are left up to the perception of others.
So, regardless of what you meant, it is what you did that hurt someone’s feelings/pissed them off/whatever it may be, and you trying to explain yourself is not an apology, it is an attempt at getting validation for whatever it is you did wrong because you don’t actually want to apologize. My advice is this: bite your tongue, swallow your pride, listen to what the other person has to say, and sincerely apologize.
There are also a few key ingredients to a good apology, in my opinion. The first is naming the bad deed. No “if I hurt your feelings” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” bullshit. Take full ownership for whatever it is you did, even if you don’t necessarily think you did anything wrong, the fact that whatever you did is affecting this person negatively is enough reason to sincerely apologize, especially if you have respect for this person. The second is a sincere apology. Look the person in the eyes and apologize from the bottom of your heart. Your apology should radiate from your heart to your fingertips to your toes. I should feel your apology vibrating off of you. There is no need to wax poetic about it, but it should be sincere, and if you feel it the other person will too. And finally, the last ingredient is time. Depending on the severity of whatever it is you did it can take a long time for someone to forgive you. Sometimes the person will forgive you immediately and you can both move on. But definitely give them the time to reflect on whatever it is you did, their feelings, and your apology. Demanding immediate forgiveness really negates the authenticity of your apology; because it reads as insincere, and it gives the impression that the apology is for your own benefit and not for the benefit of the other person. These subtle changes may not seem like a big deal, but I have noticed a huge change in the dynamic of my relationships with people post-fuck up after adopting them.
5) Become a feminist.
This will probably be my most controversial piece of advice, which I find interesting because I find adopting a feminist identity to be a no-brainer for any mildly decent human being. There are a lot of misconceptions out there surrounding what it means to be a feminist. A lot of people think we are non-shaving, bra-burning, male tear collecting, misandrists, who spend all our time bitching about the state of the world while not actually doing anything about it. There are probably some feminists out there who are like that, and you know what, you do you. But at its core the feminist movement is so much more than that. In its most basic dictionary definition, feminism is a movement for the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. That sure sounds like a no-brainer, yeah?
However, it’s also a form of fundamental respect for people, their identities, their feelings, their opinions, etc. Sometimes people get pissed off because they feel like feminism is a movement grounded in being the most politically correct person all the time and that that infringes on their right to free speech (also known as someone’s undeniable right to be a fucking asshole), and to a certain extent that is true. But this form of political correctness stems from respect. We need to respect people and the unique hardships they face based on their sex, gender expression, sexuality, race, class, ability, religion, education, etc. We need to work together to level the playing field. To understand that a poor, queer woman of color definitely has a fundamentally different experience than I do as a middle-class white woman and because of that we experience different barriers and oppressions. I find it hard to believe that people feel so inconvenienced by feminism, because it really just means being a good human being and doing whatever you can to promote equity for everyone. If you don’t see the merit in that than you are probably an asshole and that’s really too bad.
Oh, and if you are one of those people who say that you believe in the goal of feminism but “it really should be called humanism” or “equalism” or whatever bullshit word you deem to be more relevant, you can literally fuck off, because that is 100% not the fucking point. I won’t apologize for the snark because it has to be said. So, just saying.
I realize that a lot of this advice comes from a place of privilege. I suffer from a very tolerable level of anxiety and depression, so that doesn’t color my world in the same way it does for a lot of others. Most of you probably already do a lot of these things. Maybe I sound like an idiot. Maybe you think I’m the asshole. Maybe you think my message would be clearer if I didn’t use the word fuck all the time, to which I say you can literally fuck off (lol just kidding, kinda). But regardless, these little tidbits are things that I have either discovered about myself or learned throughout my 22 years of existence, and I hope they are relevant in any way at all.
The majority of what I believe really boils down to two things, authenticity and vulnerability. I feel like people spend a lot of time not being an authentic version of themselves, either because it’s scary and they fear rejection, or because they don’t really know what being authentic looks like. But there is so much power, beauty and strength in authenticity. Being authentic does come from a deep place of vulnerability, but trust yourself and trust others enough to embrace that vulnerability. I’m sure a lot of us have been hurt before, and that prevents us from being vulnerable. And although that is a completely understandable defense mechanism, it also means that you are letting these incidents control who you are, and who wants to be defined by the things that have happened to them instead of embracing the vulnerable and the authentic and living your true life? Maybe that’s just my Piscean naiveté shining through, but so far, authenticity and vulnerability are my guiding principles, and maybe you would benefit from trying it out too. In any event, these are the life lessons of a recently 22 ingénue, feel free to take it or leave it.