To refresh my memory about my own young adultness, I reread some journals lately, and was horrified at what I found. At age 22, for example, I was throwing myself at a guy who routinely left in the middle of a date at a restaurant, bar or party to “run a little errand,” only to return three hours later. I thought he was just unorganized. Turns out he was actually seeing another woman, something I didn’t discover for months as I berated myself for not getting him to love me. Ah, those woes of chase-your-own-tail love affairs gone wrong, but add to that the crazy tizzy of finding a decent job (What? All the funding is cut again? Well, off I go….), and place to live (I moved seven times in the two years when I lived in Kansas City which, in retrospect, was a good way to learn about the city and various bus routes).
As I chat with my kids — one still living here, one back in the nest after college and some jobs away, and one propelled 485 miles north of here — I realized that they, like their friends, are navigating a 2o-ish world far more complex and screwed up than the complex and screwed-up world I badly navigated. While that makes me somewhat blind to what it means to become an adult in a reality of Instagram, sexting (kids, if you’re doing that, please don’t ever tell me), and all kinds of virtual careers, friendships and meetings, I wanted to offer this humble list of what I would tell myself at that age:
- What you fear so much in your 20s usually doesn’t amount to hill of lentils. Afraid no one will ever love you deeply? You just haven’t met the right one yet. Scared you’ll never find the right job or best cobbled-together collage of work for yourself? Hang tight — you’re just getting started. Fear that you’ll never feel grown up? Welcome to my world, and enjoy the ride!
- Stability is over-rated, but it’s good to feather your nest to make for softer landings. There’s no “there” there. Seriously. As a writer, I have learned all-too-well that there’s no destination, only unfurling territory, like a three-dimensional map that envelops you. At the same time, it truly is a good idea to have some extra untouched money in the bank for the unexpected doctor visit, the work that suddenly falls through, and even (although hopefully not) bail money. Likewise, it’s good to have a place that feels somewhat beautiful, refreshing and orderly — whatever that means to you. Speaking of which….
- Make your bed. Now. Every morning. Five years ago, Anne told me about a guru who told her, “Clean bed, clear head,” and it got me to make my bed every morning. I would shout this advice from mountain-tops to my 20-something self because at those moments that you’re hanging on by a thread, it truly makes a difference to walk into your bedroom and see a lovely place to collapse and sob…..or just sleep your way to the next morning. You can tell yourself, “Life may be falling apart, but I’ve got a beautiful bed.”
- We get more sensitive and vulnerable as we get older. Ironic, isn’t it? I used to be sure it was the opposite, but the older I get, the more I burn through illusions of vulnerability (“I will just die if Mr. X stands me up again”) and hit on the real thing. We humans are delicate as hell, and the more we strengthen our hearts, the more we soften our hearts too. Which means that the older you get, the more deeply you can feel what’s real. In other words….
- Ask for Help, but Give Up the Trauma-Drama. Life is dramatic enough. Take tonight, for instance: towering pink and orange clouds soaring upward. Big wind. And now, cats stretched all over the hardwood floor with great pizzazz. Yes, there will be pain and suffering, but escalating it and giving it center stage booking will only enlarge the pain and suffering and obscure your resilience. You’re stronger than you think, you can ask for help when you need it, and you can trust yourself, or at least, act like you do enough to let yourself feel what you truly feel without pyrotechnics.
- Exercise. All three of my kids do this regularly with yoga, weight-lifting, running and more. I, on the other hand, lounged on couches, obsessing with friends for hours as we enmeshed all our problems into one big heap of intensity. If I could do it all again, I would have started doing then what I love so much now: move this body. Swim. Walk. Dance. Run. Stretch. Walk some more. Nothing helps us see the drama-queen nature of our moods as much as having to sweat and strain and breathe our ways into the physical world.
- Trust that life will give you all you need. Especially whatever you need to learn. What you yearn for most is already happening within and around you. What qualities you want to foster most in yourself are already blossoming before your very eyes. Or as they say in “Almost Famous,” a movie that is like a biblical fount of life wisdom in our family, “It’s all happening!”