I bet I’m the millionth person to tell you this, but I’m going to say it anyway. You are gorgeous. Like, ridiculously gorgeous. Beyond that, you are creative, thoughtful, and always ready to try something that interests you. Your capacity to deeply feel anything and everything is admirable, and something that I have never been able to do.
Soon you will be 20 years old. This is a big deal. It is also insane to me, because I remember the day you were born. I wanted to wear my favorite dress the day I met you. It was a real gem.
I know that I’ve always been a little overbearing and demanding. When we were younger, I would have really specific scripts that we had to follow when we played Barbies or American Girl dolls, or even when we were pretending we could ski in the swimming pool in the back yard. Thanks for dealing with my neuroticism from a young age. Thanks also for dealing with constant need to show affection. I promise it all comes from a place of love.
Anyway, if you are online at all EVER, or have seen any movies about 20somethings, you may think that your 20s are all about living it up, having a blast, and trying new things. I would agree with that. Your 20s are a gift—and a fun one at that. However, your 20s are also when you begin to have all sorts of responsibilities and consequences, and are learning to really be a “grown-up.” There’s that side too, or at least there was for me.
So here I sit, thinking about what I wish I would have known when I was in your shoes—just a few (ok slightly more than just a few) years ago. They are things that I still stand by and strive to remember, and I’d love to share them with you.
1. Remember you aren’t bulletproof. Consider your health. Create a habit that you can keep up with forever… or at least until something comes along you love even more and makes you feel good. Find a healthy stress reliever and do it every day. Sleep a reasonable amount of time. Move every day. Occasionally sit around and have FRIENDS or Gilmore Girls marathons, because laughter is good for the soul.
2. Don’t stop learning. You might not have a final at the end of the semester, but keep your brain active. Read a book that makes you think. Read the newspaper so you know what is going on around you. If you’re curious about how something works, or how something came into being, research it. If there is something at your job you do not understand, find a way to learn about it. When you stop learning, you stop improving yourself.
3. Do something that terrifies you. I mean, seriously puts you into an almost panic attack. Move to a new city. Take the plunge and take a job that is going to be a challenge. This world is a huge and amazing place, and don’t let fear stop you from seeing what you want or achieving anything because you are more than capable of doing whatever you set your mind too. Don’t be paralyzed by what may or may not happen. Get excited about the possibilities. Hiding behind excuses of why something just won’t work will prevent you from success. You are so much better than that, sis. Want to know a secret? I was scared to move to DC for that internship. I was nervous that taking the job with AmeriCorps would leave me broke on the street. I thought that M was nuts that he wanted to seriously date a girl who is incapable of a serious relationship. Sometimes things turn out better than you could ever imagine but if you don’t put on a brave face and go for it, you’ll never know.
4. When you absolutely hate something, finish it anyway. I’m about to burst all of your bubbles, and I’m sorry, but as your big sister it’s my responsibility to let you know something. Sometimes work SUCKS. Sometimes life is HARD. Sometimes, you are going to be AWFUL at something and hate every minute of it. However, after taking on something you truly hate and conquering it, you’ll realize that you can do anything. Also, in life, you can’t do only what you love and only what you’re good at. Toughing it out through the tough stuff, bad times, and seriously terrible tasks makes you appreciate the good things that much more. It also shows everyone that you can’t be stopped and won’t settle. So, if nothing else convinces you to carry on, remember that everything has a finish line and will eventually end. You can do it, you just have to stick it out. This is a particularly hard lesson, but accepting it at the beginning saves time and heartache—I promise.
5. When someone shares an opinion about something that’s vastly different than yours, listen anyway. Really listen. Don’t interrupt, even if it is stupid or ridiculous, or if you just don’t like them. Do this because someday someone will think that about your opinion, and you should be given the chance to share your thoughts then as well. Who knows, maybe you’ll even learn something. At least you’ll have done something that is worthy of respect and falls in line with that wonderful character that you have. It isn’t your job to change everyone’s opinion to match yours, no matter how sure you are that yours is the best out there.
6. When you find something you love to do, stick with it. There will always be something that pays more or looks more glamorous. Remembering why you are somewhere helps when things get tough. A delight in life is making a difference and knowing that you are doing something that is fulfilling to you. That being said, remember you are never stuck anywhere. If you’ve given something a lot of thought and prayer, I believe that you just know when it’s time to move on. Don’t be afraid to do that, but make sure it’s what you really want before you give up something that you know you love to do.
7. There is nothing on your resume that trumps hard work. Create a reputation of being the person that gets things done. Beat deadlines. When you’re at work, focus all of your mind and heart into what you are doing. Ask if there is more you can do. Be honest when you are stuck or make a mistake—no one expects perfection. Fix errors that you can, accept and move on from errors you cannot control or correct. Accept criticism with grace and openness, knowing you are not perfect. Don’t let pride stand between you and a better, more knowledgeable self. If you’re having a bad day, no one at work should be able to tell. Sidenote: A coffee pot in your office is a godsend and worth every penny.
8. Don’t burn bridges. I credit Mrs. Callan from AP English with this. She also added that you never know who your boss will be. She was right. Make an effort to be kind to all and show great respect to everyone you meet. At the very least you aren’t screwing yourself out of future employment, but more than that, respecting others is a reflection of your character. Likewise, not respecting others—no matter their actions toward you—is a reflection of your own poor character.
9. When you don’t know the answer, ask someone who does. No one expects you to know everything. This piece of advice is something that I learned from experience, when I wish I would have learned it in theory first. So much time and effort and dignity is saved when you can just admit you don’t know. The result is two-fold: 1. You learn something and won’t have to keep asking. 2. You probably would screw it up if you just guessed, so save yourself having to do something over again. There is no shame in needing help.
10. You are not “too good” for any task. Remember your roots. Even as you get promoted to the highest heights, as I’m sure you will, remember that you are a person, the same as everyone else on this planet. There is nothing that you’re “too good” to do. That pride is dangerous and that attitude is obvious to everyone. You are not entitled to anything in life, and the sooner you realize that, the more successful you will be.
Oh, and always remember to call mom at least once a week. I still think she knows everything. The number one blessing of being in our family is knowing you have a support system always—no matter what. Leggings are never a substitute for pants, unless you’re wearing a long top that covers your butt or it’s an 80s party or you’re running a marathon. When your friend asks if she looks fat and she does, say the outfit just isn’t her color or style. Don’t date drummers; it’s a cliché for a reason. Have a designated driver or a cab ALWAYS- NO EXCUSES! Even though I know you won’t be having sex until you’re 40 and married, just know condoms are non-negotiable. Have daddy go with you to help pick out your first apartment so he can check out how everything works. Have mom go with you to make sure you’ll have everything you need, because she thinks of everything.
And I love you tons.