Five years ago I lived in a sun-filled apartment in St. Paul. I frolicked with abandon with my best friends, did one too many Irish Car Bombs at O’Garas, and ate as many $2 tacos at Groveland Tap as I could stomach. I studied French cinema and linguistics; I learned how everyone speaks a dialect and how awesome women artists are. I read bell hooks every day and said fuck you to the male gaze which I had always recognized but never had a name for. I let dudes dictate my self-worth even as I preached feminism like a pastor. I met Lauryn Hill. I met lots of people. I had little to no fiscal responsibility, no career trajectory, lots of big ideas, a bed from Ikea that fell apart every other week, a notebook full of sad poems, and no sense of my own self-worth. The things I’ve kept from that time include two beacons of happy light in my life, Emma and Helen; an education that’s provided me the basis for this creative endeavor; and a love affair with $2 tacos which will never die. (Predictably, the Ikea bed is no longer.)
While I'm glad to have met my soul sisters, what I’ve shed since then are some preconceived notions about how the world works and my place in it. Age ain’t nothing but a number, but whenever I cross over the river, I can’t help but reflect on the things I wish I had known at that time. I'm instantly flooded with things I would have told 20-year-old me. Maybe every five years we should do this—take an inventory of what we’d tell our younger selves. I’m sure five years from now I'll have quite the hefty list. But for now, I can think of a few things I’d tell my younger self to make her life much better had she only known! She wouldn't have listened, but I would have told her anyway. Typical.
1. Don’t take anything personally...
Really. Seriously. It has nothing to do with you. Didn’t get the job? The dude? The opportunity? The apartment? Repeat this mantra to yourself a few hundred times: this has nothing to do with me. I know this thought process gets sketchy, especially when some people seem so intent on avoiding introspection. After all, don’t we need to examine our behavior and how it’s working or not? How it’s affecting other people? YES. Please do that. Please don’t ever stop doing that. If you stop doing that you will become a mindless blob who someone holds the door open for and you don't even say thank you. (The worst.) BUT. If your intentions are good (meaning you’re not acting in a way that’s malicious, plagued with jealousy or mal-intent) and you’re truly going after what you want with authentic joy and compassion, you cannot get your low-rise panties in a bunch thinking rejection of your ideas, love, or talent is a reflection of your self-worth. Taking rejection personally is a surefire way to become BFFs with your ego, who’s kind of like a flaky friend that makes up crazy lies about how you’re not good enough or people hate you. Other people’s decisions have to do with THEIR own mish-mash of thoughts; their individual choices are not a reflection of your value. People are not thinking of you that much, sorry to say. For the first half of my twenties who did I define myself as? A writer and an actress. Show me two career paths with more rejection and I’ll do a 5 minute improv on a topic of your suggestion. My 20-year-old self would have thought it cliché, but I don’t care: anything that’s meant for you is meant for you, and anything that’s not is not. Accept it and move on, booboocakes.
2. ...Because everyone is making up this life shit as they go.
While you’re busy worrying what other people think of your imperfections, they’re busy obsessing over their own. I remember being distraught over not graduating from college at 22. As if social-norms like that guarantee happiness or success. Or jobs. But I felt so pressured by long-held beliefs of insecurity and unworthiness that I considered myself a failure because of the mistakes I’d made, etc. (The crazy thing about being young is that you think you’re the only one who makes mistakes.) No. One. Has. It. All. Figured. OUT. If they did they’d be God. K? And if they pretend to (which some people certainly do) just know that, as Kelly Oxford would say, “everything is perfect when you’re a liar.” And when people nay-say your big life decisions by telling you something’s super hard, impossible, or downright foolish, just know it’s only because that particular thing didn't work out for themand then get to steppin.
3. Which means...you're only in competition with yourself.
Because nobody’s perfect, there’s no need to compare yourself to anyone, especially other women. For one, the illusion that someone—anyone—“has it all” is just a sick mind game, because nobody is perfect. (See #2). We all come with our own unique set of problems, but also, luckily enough, our own unique skills with which to solve them. Focus on tapping into those and less on the illusion that someone else has it all figured out. If I could tell 20-year-old Claire only one thing I’d say to be more introspective and less self-obsessed. There’s a huge difference between the two. Between spending quality time with yourself and wanting to better yourself and freaking out over every imperfection and what people think of you. At the end of the finish line, whenever that is, did you learn something? Did you become a better person? Did you evolve? Did you let life teach you things? In my humble 25-year-old opinion, that will matter more than “did you do better than her? Or him? Did you beat so and so at their own game? Were you praised for your achievements?”
4. While you’re working on yourself….don’t make time for people who suck.
You get to choose who you spend your time with. You cannot really “save” someone or change them, nor should you waste your time on people who are energy vampires—people who solely go to you to complain with a woe-is-me attitude that frankly, just stinks. Everyone has hard times. Everyone has opinions. Real friends get to share those opinions; they get to share their heartaches and their frustrations, as well as their triumphs and successes. But Jesus. If someone is always bringing you down, constantly stressing you out, and not giving you anything in return? Get out. You wouldn't stay with a man who treated you like that, and you don’t need a friend like that. Save your energy for people who lift you up, who see the good in you and the world around them and who bring something to the table. You know how Sheryl Sandberg rallied for us to "sit at the table?" Bring something to the table, too, especially in your friendships. Bring a smile, bring well wishes, bring your listening skills. Bring it.
5. And there's no need to justify doing what makes you happy.
If you want to sit at home and watch Lifetime movies on a Friday night, girl, there is no shame. You are not a loser, not even in an ironic, hipster way, for spending your time how you want to. Five years ago I would have felt the pressure to go out even if what I really wanted to do was go to Barnes & Noble and get a chocolate chip cookie from that sneaky little café located downstairs. (If you see chocolate stains on your next book purchase, it wasn’t me.) Now, I take unabashed pleasure in doing something that I actually want to be doing, however simple or ordinary it may seem. I can be just as content with a night spent in by myself drinking sleepy time tea and reading a book--okay, watching Bob’s Burgers--as I am bit von stompin around town ordering a whiskey neat.