Surviving the Worst Decade: A Mini-Guide (Five Steps and Ten Tips)

I've had the pleasure of interacting with some young twenty-somethings recently, and I'm starting to understand why old people are so obsessed with them. Dissecting them. Saying what they're doing wrong. Making outdated judgments.

Twenty-three. 

Twenty-three. 

I was talking to one of my young friends the other day. He dead-stared me with his big, brown, so-sincere-it-hurt twenty-two year old eyes and asked, "Did you cry, like, every day, when you were in your early twenties?" 

Without hesitation I replied, "Every. Single. Day." 

Then proceeded to tell him how every morning starting the day I graduated college, until about a year ago, I woke up, and instantly started make a two column list in my head. The first column started "Things I Have To Do Today" (which had a million tasks), and the second column started "Things I Want To Do Today" (which was always a resounding nothing).

I would quickly think about how one day I would write a book called Zero Desire: A Love Story. (How clever!)

Then, I turned on The College Dropout, listened to School Spirit (Skit 1) -- the song where Kanye says that you get to look forward taking messages for the secretary who never went to college because she's actually the bosses niece, and began the process of looking at all of my clothes, hating them all, and getting ready. 


My early twenties sucked. I'm sure I will talk about this again and again. I'm sure yours sucked (and are sucking!) too. My mid-twenties are weird. I mean, my dad  calls me periodically to remind me that the twenties are the Worst Decade Of Your Life. And he's right. 

Here's how to manage them -- because the only thing that doesn't stop is time -- and these shitty days won't last forever.

Step One: Don't Kill Yourself

We need you. My therapist has told me this so many times when I've wanted to die. She said it over and over to me. We need you, CP. We need you. Every single person is capable of doing something amazing. And we all need each other to get there. 

Step Two: Acknowledge We Are All Alone, Together

The thing about suffering is this: We are all alone in it. No one can make it stop. No one can take it away. We are all walking our own path, and it's lonely and hard and terrible. 

The difference between someone with a cakewalk life (no one), and someone who's clawed their way out of a hole (all of us, at various intensities) is that the person who fought their way out is better for it in intangible ways that give you a superpower you'll never lose. Every superpower is different -- and no one can take it away. And sadly, it only comes from the shitty life experiences.

Step Three: Everyone Is Doing The Best They Can

I mentioned in the brilliant work by Brene Brown in my Required Reading post, and in it, she talks about her therapist telling her that everyone is doing the best that they can, how hard it is to believe that -- but once you realize it, it makes everything so much easier. Everything is lighter - it's their thing, not yours, it's okay.

I've also heard it be explained as an exercise where you imagine every person you meet is an angel, sent there to tell you something important.

I know these sound like bullshit platitudes, but in reality, they help. 

Step Four: You Will Get Through This

The other thing about this strange, shitty decade is that you're going to experience heartbreak, loss, being broke constantly, and a whole host of other random unpredictable things, but they won't be forever.

My mom always used to tell me that bad times are inescapable, and they're better to get over while you're young, because it's easier to bounce back from. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to fail and fuck up. Figure your way out of it. Innovate your problem away. Fail forward. It gets easier the more you do it.

Step Five: Nothing "Just Happens" -- You Have To Make It Happen

I used to have this weird vision of this magical version of me that's like, skinny, well-adjusted, who happily wakes up early, and only changed my clothes once before I left the house. The Magical Version of Me. A person who didn't replay conversations and felt comfortable in  meetings. Actually, no. I wanted to just get INVITED to meetings.  

I thought that one day, I would just like, wake up, and BOOM. Here I am. Awake at 545 and ready to go!

If that's going to happen, I have to make it happen. Seeing the processes behind everything that gets done is one of those things that come with time. Your boss isn't just your boss for because s/he woke up and got a cake with their new job title on it. S/he made it happen. 

Everything -- every accomplishment, relationship, task, conversation, whatever -- is a process. It takes time to get there. The lie that things are effortlessly cool is one of the most pernicious lies we're constantly force-fed. Nothing "just happens". The sooner you realize that it's not "weird" to, oh idk, start a blog, take a class, learn how to braid, WHATEVER, the closer you are to becoming the you you're supposed to be. 

10 Tips I Learned Along the Way

1. Smile whenever you walk into a room. If you're at work, but really if you're anywhere. It's disarming, friendly, nice, and proven to make you feel better.

2. Related to the above, but slightly different: Be nice to everyone. You never know what that person is going through. 

3. Say "thank you" more than anything else. Don't apologize. You don't need to start every conversation with a compliment (my old move). You don't need do anything but continually say thank you. 

4. Quit the job that's killing you. My last full time job sucked. My bosses hated me and separated me out from all my coworkers by seating me in a cold empty room with the door closed. All day. Every day. They excluded me as frequently as possible. At the time, I lived an hour away, and my car's heater was completely shot. So every day, I drove an hour each way, without any form of heat, to sit in a room, completely alone, to do a job that was, shall we say, not the right fit. It was so bad; I was miserable all the time. Don't do that to yourself. 

5. Don't Hang Out With People (Men) You're Not Interested In

Theoretically, we as liberated women should be able to go / do / wear / hang out with / behave however we want -- and the reality is that it's still unsafe for us.

So, in my best Bryson Tiller voice: Don't. Doooon't. Don't hang out with that dude you're not into at all. I know that makes me sound like your paranoid aunt or something. But really, don't. Invest that time in making lasting friendships with women who get you. Read a book. Paint something. Go to the gym or paint your nails. Learn something from YouTube. 

It's more likely than not that you'll know your rapist. If you have no interest in a guy sexually / relationally, protect yourself and don't hang out with them. I tried to abide by this rule as a young one (generally I just live in my head and talk to people online, lol) but, I had to learn the hard way (and it was terrible). 

Stay away, babes. He doesn't want to just be friends. Buy the movie yourself. I mean, the whole thing: it's fuckin' awkward. It sucks anyway. You don't have to go. Stay home. I'm your feminist mom who wants you safe, lovebug. I wish I didn't have to give that advice, and I hope that one day I won't. <3

6. You can get out of that lease.

7. Call your family more often.

They always want to hear from you, and you still need them.

8. Keep learning new things.

It will keep you alive and awake.

9. It's lighter than you think.

10. Write. 

Your early twenties will not last forever; you are your problem; you are your solution. You can do it. We're all in it together -- be safe, and tell me how you deal with this in the comments. I'm learning by trial-and-error too. 

I'm tweeting ferociously at @girlstalktooo