“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.”—
“Each of us has the power and responsibility to heal ourselves, to be our own medicine man or woman. Awakening our innate powers of being, loving, knowing, seeing, and healing involves ongoing work at all levels and in all dimensions of our self. Exploring the range of rhythms and emotions, achieving insights into our conditioning and ego, moving through the energy levels of spirit – these are all activities to be integrated into our daily lives.”—Gabrielle Roth
One Saturday morning last year, I found myself crying on the bus. I was hellaciously hungover and late to meet a friend for brunch, and I looked down at my hand and noticed that the ring I wear everyday — a gift from my best friends in college — was missing. I knew I must have left it at the apartment where I’d spent the night, the apartment of a guy who I didn’t much like or respect but who I’d gone home with because I was lonely.
I rested my head against the bus window and let the tears stream down my face under my sunglasses. How did I end up in this situation? What was I making of my life?
Here it is: we are in our twenties. This has been discussed. Our stage of life is talked about daily, it is fretted over, it is palpable in all of our actions and emotions. Who are we? What’s the real purpose, the true passion, the right place? When will we find the person who completes us and the job that fulfills us and the apartment with the perfect reading nook?
Who knows? These aren’t questions we can answer right now. This decade of our lives is one with unique difficulties and doubt, but we already know that.
Let’s put it aside. We are alive! We may not have accumulated a lot of money (by this I mean: I have accumulated no money), and we may not be finding the things we thought we were looking for. But we are not without choices. We can be active agents in the climb towards our futures.
Let’s be the best we can. Let’s work hard. Let’s work hard at the jobs that pay us, and then let’s go home and work hard at the things that make us feel excited and alive. Let’s not give those things up. Let’s support ourselves financially, move out of our parents’ basements when we’re able, and get running toward our passions.
But not just that. Let’s be good to ourselves. Let’s realize that we’re aging (yes, aging all the time) and make choices that acknowledge our ascent. Let’s stop getting totally wasted. Let’s hold on to the fun we’ve gotten so good at having, but adjust it accordingly. Let’s treat our bodies like entities that require proper nutrition and rest. Let’s preserve them so that they can accompany us on the journey ahead.
And, let’s be good to each other. In college, friendships were easier to come by and easier to keep — a fight would be resolved eventually just by virtue of living in the same house and getting drunk during a Project Runway marathon. Now, a misunderstanding or an unkind word can remain in the air for weeks while we each live our busy, complicated lives. If a friendship is deep, let’s honor that. Let’s take the time to fix it. Let’s learn to be truthful with each other and see what comes of it. We will need these friendships if we’re going to succeed.
In relationships, let’s repeat this mantra: We Don’t Have To Keep Making the Same Mistakes. Just because we’ve been terrified of commitment, or we run away whenever someone likes us back, or we treated someone we love poorly because we can, does not mean we have to continue to do so. Just because we’ve gone through periods of intense desperation and let ourselves do things we regret does not mean we have to cycle back to that when things get hard. Let’s think deeply about how we treat the people we are interested in, or the people we love. Let’s do it differently this time.
Finally, let’s like ourselves. Let’s put away the negative thoughts we’ve invited to join us for so much of our youth. Let’s accept the fundamental shapes of our bodies and the sounds of our own voices. Frizzy hair is ours now, to have and to hold. We know which clothes make us feel comfortable and which make us feel like imposters — let’s wear the ones we feel good in. Let’s settle into who we’ve become.
The work is cut out for us and it’s certainly not easy. There is pain and suffering ahead, for sure, but it will be more bearable if we face it with our eyes open. This is the time to set ourselves up for happiness.
Let’s be the best versions of ourselves, and lay claim to our little piece of history with vigor.
“She saw herself, in the distant years, still in the attitude of a woman who had her life to live… Deep in her soul—deeper than any appetite for renunciation—was the sense that life would be her business for a long time to come.”—Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady