Hey. How are you? Wait, don’t answer that, let me guess… you think you’re “basically” an adult, and you feel like you have plenty of time. You can’t wait until you go to college, because you feel the near-certainty that comes with it: the inevitable independence, the guaranteed increase in knowledge. You’ve overgrown a city that feels like a small town, and your wings are beating against the ceiling of your sphere of understanding, aching to get out.
You’re looking outward, beyond that sphere, anticipating that the grass will be greener on the other side. You’ve always been this way, and it’s probably your biggest weakness. You believe that, “perhaps when I’m twenty-five,” life will make more sense, and shit, YOUR shit, will finally fall into place & be “together.” You look forward, because that is the only direction you’ve been taught to look. The answer to “Are you happy yet?” was always “Perhaps later.” We can’t even blame you, especially when the American Dream has been continuously drummed into your skull as the model way of being; when progress and productivity have overshadowed self-care and self-reflection.
Our society never taught you what it means to be content, because it taught you, first, to hunger. And that, perhaps, is the worst thing society could ever have done. It praised twenty-five year-old millionaires and laughed in the face of the poor. But at least your high school praised intelligence and hard work over socioeconomic status, and prioritized diversity amidst cries of “but it is unfair.” Faces blanched in the face of mandated racial ratio, because there was some misguided notion that increasing the number of minority people would inevitably result in the increase of “less qualified” people. Ironically, that same notion never considered that, perhaps, by decreasing the ratio of white people, fewer less-qualified people would make it through the ranks. But alas, you were born in a “post-racial society” where skin color still holds more weight than grades.
So here you are now, at sixteen years old, half minority and half privileged, and you still don’t know where the hell you fit in the jigsaw of relationships with others. You don’t know if you’re ungrateful for what you have, or if you should ask more of others. You constantly belittle yourself to be better, because that’s all you were taught to do. How else do people make progress if not to improve upon themselves, first?
I hate to break it to you, but at the brink of twenty-five, your shit still isn’t together. And a lot happens between you, then, and me, now.
You switched majors three times in college, and ultimately settled on something that you are passionate about. Most people don’t know what the hell it is you’re talking about when you discuss what your specialty entails, but at least it brings you joy. In fact, most adults don’t really understand each other at all, and it just gets worse with age.
On the romance side, you have to deal with a lot of bullshit before you become me. You eventually break up with the guy you’re dating right now, and the guy after that, because you have very different visions of the future, and ultimately, it’s no one’s fault. Well, it might be yours, honestly. Try to own up to your douchebaggery if you can. You become a jerk at some point. You date a bunch of people in college, but none of them really get you. You’re a fucking weirdo, to be honest, but you’re kind of cute sometimes so guys kind of deal with you. When you finally give up on men, you fall in love with this really hot guy that you think you have no chance in hell with (that’s how it always works doesn’t it). You two are complete opposites, personality-wise, and despite that, you both get along really well, date each other, and become best friends.
Here’s the best part: you marry him after college! He proposes to you on a beach after almost two years of long-distance dating (which SUCKS! But is also worth it). That part’s pretty cute, not gonna lie. You can look forward to that. You both go into the U.S. Army, he does it full-time and you decide to get a full-time job at Microsoft. But unfortunately, your jobs keep you apart.
Also filed under “Awesome people that end up in your life,” you DO have some lifelong kickass friends from high school and college that will stay with you for the rest of your life — like that scar on your hand that you got from washing broken glass.
Hey, if you’re still listening — it’s a terrible idea to wash broken glass. Just throw it away would you?
You eventually quit your decently paying job and move to Hawaii to live with the love of your life. It’s the first decision you make that has nothing to do with career-related success and has everything to do with sappy romantic love crap. It’s the single hardest thing you’ve had to do (other than choosing which parent you wanted to live with when they got divorced, that was tough, too…). But it’s also the single greatest decision you’ve ever made because you finally put your love for someone above making ca$h money or having a job at a prestigious company. (And honestly, your life is fuller for it.)
You go to graduate school, and you get your MBA. You do it because business school always seemed like the logical solution for you (or for people who don’t know what to do next with their lives). The next step after entry-level job is management, right? I can’t exactly say you’ll be passionate about it, but you’ll find some solace in hanging out with a bunch of other people who are your age or older, and who also have no idea what the hell they’re doing with their lives. But at least they’re fun to talk to and drink with!
Oh, about drinking — it’s not all that. It’s exciting at first, getting intoxicated and forgetting everything you’re worrying about. That’s how adults, who don’t understand each other at all, get to tolerate each other. They drink different beverages at different hours to deal with different annoying people. They drink coffee for mornings because they don’t sleep much. (You stopped really sleeping after college, so get ready for that.) Then they drink some wine or whiskey or beer or whatever in the evenings because the day was filled with caffeine-fueled annoying people. So everyone moves really fast, but just as stupidly. You wake up the next day, after a couple drinks, feeling like a truck hit you, and once again needing some coffee before dealing with more people. (Yeah, your tolerance tanks after college, enjoy it while you can.)
Anyway, back to our narrative. At twenty-five you’ll have an MBA and a lot of people will think it’s a big deal. People think that expensive letters before or after their last name are really important (letters like Dr. and PhD and MBA). But honestly, nobody knows you have them, and if you’re a dick to others, people won’t give two shits about your degree anyway. You can’t buy decency, it turns out.
Despite how much you invest in your future and yourself, you will still spend more time cultivating your professional identity than your own creative and personal interests. You will fall into recurring short bouts of depression and/or anxiety because you never really feel fulfilled and you always feel like you’re overwhelmed or underperforming — either with the high expectations you’ve placed on yourself or with the uncertainty that you can keep up the façade that you “know what you’re doing.” You don’t know if you want kids yet or not, and a lot of people pop them out in the period of time you decide to think about it. You imagine your mortality and your fertility ticking away like a slowly draining bathtub filled with dirty bathwater. It’s not a pleasant thought, but one you must acknowledge anyway.
At this point, I expect you probably think you’re sort of hopeless, because twenty-five was supposed to be the glimmer of hope — Gatsby’s green light in the distance. Twenty-five was the opportunity to redeem yourself and all your stupid angst of growing up. Twenty-five was supposed to be the age of “the grownup.” I mean, I guess I’ve at least appeased your fear of being alone forever and living with a bunch of cats. (Well, you do live with one cat. She’s obese and sometimes pees on your rugs.)
That said, I do have some good news for you.
On the brink of twenty-five, your priorities change. Your life sort of pauses. I don’t know how to explain it, but you have about two seconds to catch your breath before time threatens to speed up and your years start to flash by you, like cars on an interstate (and believe me, you’ve gone from residential road to three-lane highway by now). This is that moment. This is why I’m writing to you now.
I’m writing because I want to tell you that you need to not give so much of a fuck.
Yes, I’m cursing you out, sixteen year-old me. STOP GIVING A FUCK! Or at least manage your “giving a fuck” budget!
The truth is, there are important things you need to give a fuck about. You need to care about others. And not in the way that you smile politely and nod when you don’t believe a fucking word coming out of their mouths. You need to genuinely regard everyone’s well-being as a human right. You need to stand by your minority friends because they have to rebel against a world that doesn’t believe they have a legitimate right to complain. You, as a half-privileged, half-minority female, will feel very affected by the things that will happen in the coming years, because there is a legitimate movement of political bodies that believes you don’t have a say.
I’m here to tell you, give a fuck about that. Say what you feel. Don’t let your fear of a boss shame you into being silent. Besides, do you want to work for a misogynistic asshole? No. You don’t. So fuck it.
Next, give a fuck about what you want to do, and don’t give a tenth of a fuck what other people think of what you do. Unless it’s illegal, but even then, with politics the way it is, you probably will break a law in some state. I trust you. Use your judgement.
Here’s the best news of it all, when you’re at or near twenty-five, you do become a grownup. You still bumble around like a fucking fifth grader and taxes are basically a labyrinth (and if you make one wrong turn with them, you might get arrested), but you do become a gawky-ass grownup. Your boobs don’t get much bigger, and your butt does (unsurprisingly). Your face loses a little weight but you mostly still look the same as you do now. Despite all the imperfections and all the shit you have to deal with, you grow up. How you look, while still sort of important to you (let’s be real), isn’t the center of your narrative anymore; but how you act and what influence you have in the world, big and small, becomes your drive. I guess we both saw that coming, but you never really knew what that meant until now.
The biggest difference between you and me is this: you eventually realize that the script you’ve been living by has been one you never wrote. You’ve adopted pieces of everyone else’s literature but never wrote your own. It’s ill-fitting. You have shrunken sweaters that fit you better than this life that you’ve crafted for yourself. And when you do realize this, it’s like prying off a soggy, wet t-shirt. The relief is surreal. You realize that there are boundless possibilities. And for once, the uncertainty in that doesn’t frighten you. Before, you were terrified of eminent failure because you weren’t sure you could abide so closely to the idea of success that you held. Now, success has a fluid definition. That doesn’t make you “softer,” but instead, it gives you so many more opportunities to succeed than you were afforded previously.
Make time for yourself. Make time for interpersonal interactions. Make room in your heart for friendship. A manicure isn’t a substitute for human connection. (It does feel nice though.) You may not have your shit together, but you’ll at least know the state and location of your shit. You’ll know what you care about. You’ll know what you value. You’ll know when you need a break. That’s half the battle. And with the love and support of others, a glass of wine, and a good book, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to shit ever really being “together.”
So, go forth, spread your wings and go to college. Make the mistakes you’ll inevitably make, and don’t hold them over your own head. Remember others and how much they mean to you. Fight for them when they need you most. Use those experiences to grow your roots. Eventually, your flowers will bloom in turn. They’ll bloom when you stop caring about what the flowers will look like. They’ll bloom when you’re ready to fully “be” who you are, sans fucks given. The truth is, your past is as important as your future in making you who you are.
And for the love of all that is holy, follow your heart and go to Cornell. You won’t regret it one bit; of that much, you can be certain. There, your life will really begin.
See you soon.