A couple weeks ago, in my letter to 20-year-old me, I was congratulating myself on not having been photographed topless. A few days later, I realized that wasn’t strictly true.
My roommate Jen Rector was a photographer, and she took a whole book of very reserved pinups. I’m amazed that I lived in an apartment with a photographer and a full bar and we still only managed to do 1940s-style damage.
It’s a testimony to how cautious I was, which is a shame because your early twenties is a great time to revel in stupidity. Play beer pong with bourbon. Pierce your tongue. Climb on the back of a motorcycle in Indonesia. What the hell.
When you’re young; you don’t have to make smart decisions to make sound decisions. You’re still mapping the territory, so failure is the quickest route between idiocy and enlightenment.
These are a few of the lessons I wish I’d started learning a little earlier. I haven’t mastered them yet, but now you get a head start.
1. Consider the source. If you’re worried about someone who dislikes you, first ask yourself whether they’re an asshole. If you don’t like them, and they don’t like you, that’s not a problem. That’s a mutual understanding.
2. Get off the couch. If you find yourself playing hard to get, don’t pretend to be busy. Just be busy.
3. Don’t waste your time. If you have to play hard to get, move on. You’ll know when you’ve found a healthy relationship because it won’t confuse you.
4. When in doubt, shut up. Silence is a smart negotiation tactic, the best option when you’re processing how to respond, and always more productive than lying about what you’re thinking.
5. Don’t complain. Maybe venting makes you feel better, but letting off steam can also lull you into maintaining the status quo. Unfortunately, the status quo is pissing you off, which is why you’re whining in the first place. If you’re frustrated, turn that energy toward fixing your problems, not bitching about them.
6. Don’t obsess. Worrying is complaint’s ugly cousin. Either use that energy to change your situation, or relax.
7. Find an age-appropriate style. No one wants to see a 20 year old in beige slacks and a wool blazer. Buy trendy clothes, wear the slutty dress, do something ugly with your hair. Be part of your generation, so you can laugh at the photos later.
8. Be polite. It keeps doors open, lessens the potential for misunderstandings, and increases the odds of getting invited back to the beach house.
9. But defend your boundaries. When someone isn’t taking no for an answer, clarify what you want, and then respond forcefully. Being polite to someone who isn’t hearing you is naive.
10. You look good. There’s no such thing as the hottest person in the room. Everyone is attracted to something different, so just take those odds and run with them.
11. Being nice is overrated. In fact, “nice” is the least interesting thing someone can say about you.
12. Keep it to yourself. “She seems nice” is an excellent thing to say about someone you don’t like. Particularly in the company of people you don’t know.
13. Know your audience. When you’re telling a story and someone interrupts you, let them.
14. Let your passion shape your profession. You know that thing your dad says? “If work wasn’t hard, they wouldn’t pay you to do it.” Please. There are professional rock stars, astronauts, puppy trainers, and bloggers.
15. Sex is personal. Don’t bother with one-night stands if they’re not your thing, and don’t judge people for enjoying them (or not). Waiting to sleep with someone doesn’t make you an uptight prude, and jumping into bed doesn’t make you a spontaneous adventure seeker.
16. Focus. The saying, “what you’re thinking about is what you’re becoming” isn’t just chilling, it’s a universal law. Be aware of how you’re investing your attention – including your words, and your actions.
17. Cut yourself a break. Don’t offer a running commentary on your own faults. When you do, the people around you listen. Give yourself space to change your character.
18. Don’t be intimidated. World travelers are just people who bought plane tickets. Pulitzer Prize winners are people who sit alone and write. You can break the most profound accomplishment down to a series of mundane tasks.
19. Choose good company. Ask yourself if a person makes you better or drains your life force. If the answer is B, you’re busy next time they call. And the time after that.
20. Enjoy your body. Odds are you’re more beautiful now than you will be again. Ask your roommate.