Needless to say, things haven’t worked out quite the way I imagined. I’m finding that my life is more like a 500-piece puzzle of the White Album, nothing fitting together and half of the pieces scattered in unknown locations. Of course, some things have fallen into place: I finished college, started grad school, and I have a job (though part-time) that I love.
And though I’m nowhere near having it all figured out, I have learned some important lessons in my twenty-three years. This is what I know for certain:
- Cherish your friendships. Stay in touch with the people who matter. Some friendships are always easy. But sometimes, the longer you go without talking to someone, the harder it is to jump back into the comfort of your friendship. So make the phone call or send the e-mail or show up at someone’s door unexpected. You won’t regret putting in that effort.
- Don’t waste your time on things that you don’t love. You’re young; you have plenty of time to be miserable further down the road. This is the time to figure out what makes you happier than anything else and pursue it with everything you’ve got.
- For every curveball life throws you, for every awful day, for every morning that makes getting out of bed seem absolutely impossible, you will also experience moments of overwhelming, sublime happiness. And the best part? You never know when these instances will arise: laughing at nothing with friends, jumping off of a roof into a pool, getting caught in the rain. Soak in this unexpected glory, because you’ll need to draw on these moments when the next curveball heads your way.
- Take risks. Take little risks and big risks. Ask your crush out, apply for the job that you’ll never in a million years get, go skydiving, get a tattoo, climb a tree, share something you’ve created. Don’t leave yourself looking back and wondering what could have been.
- You are stronger than you think you are. When you have no other choice, your mind and body will endure much more than you ever expected. And once you’ve experienced something truly harrowing, you’ll begin to understand the extent of your own strength.
It’s funny how we always seem to believe that the future holds the answers. We tell ourselves that if we can just get through this week or this month or this year, things will get better. And sometimes that’s true. Sometimes things do improve after time. But the fact is that there is not a magical age at which we abruptly morph into whole, happy robots. And maybe that’s a good thing. Not knowing what to expect means that we can live lives full of surprises. We can find pieces of our puzzles unexpectedly, in songs and books, in conversations with strangers, in new discoveries and unfamiliar places.
So far, my twenties have been an amalgamation of the great and the not-so-great. I’ve fallen in love and had my heart unceremoniously smashed to pieces. I’ve clawed my way, very slowly, back from rock bottom. I’ve felt both irreparably broken and happiness to the point of effervescence. And I’m only twenty-three. I mean, what’s in store for me over the next seven years? I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make: we have no idea where we’ll be ten years from now or a week from now or even a few hours from now (what am I going to eat for dinner?!). We can’t expect to magically reach a place where things fall together. All we can do is buckle our seatbelts and raise our glasses because we’re looking at another 60 years of all-out confusion, frustration, exuberance, and at times, great joy. And I’ll cheers to that.