Lessons from the Other Side of 21: The Little Things

In this new column, a recent college grad getting her footing in the world gives advice to her teenage self.

Dear JJ:

To be frank it’s hard to think of advice to give you. It’s partially because you disdain the advice of “wiser heads,” but also because I’m reluctant to affect you coming to conclusions about life on your own. People will comment on what they perceive as your well-adjustedness, but I maintain our well-adjustedness is simply a product of perspective. Ours.

In a few months, you will laugh and tell your parents that you will never grow up to be a great writer because you had a happy childhood. It’s true. You are not a great writer and you had a stupidly happy childhood. And a stupidly happy adolescence. And a happy college life. And (thus far) a boringly happy adulthood. You describe your family as “averagely dysfunctional” and mourn the loss of trials and tribulations that would have given you material to fuel your Great American Novel.

It isn’t as though you didn’t have trials and tribulations. To say you didn’t would diminish their impact on the person you became and will grow to be. But you have perspective, or at least, a broader one than people would expect of someone your age. And it will only get broader. But perspective means nothing without experiences to put into context and right now, you haven’t done a great deal of living. Not yet. But you will. Sometimes it will feel like you’ve lived too much, but more often, you will worry that you are not living enough. That life has so much to offer and you worry that you won’t have the time to sample all of its joys.

But that’s the big stuff. Let’s focus on the little things, because after all, life is composed of the little things—it is only afterwards we can see the big picture. Here are a few little things you need to know going forward:

1. Your hair will never, ever return to its pre-pubescent state of straight, sleek, and shiny. The sooner you accept this, the fewer costly hair-straightening treatments you’ll get, and the less damage your hair will suffer. You are only making the situation worse.

2. Acne? It is as much an adult problem as it is a teen problem. In fact, your acne will get far worse before it starts to improve. And I guarantee you it will get better sooner if you wash your face more often.

3. Enjoy your big boobs while you still think they’re sexy. In fact, hoist up the cleavage frequently. Because after a certain point, cleavage becomes inappropriate. And unprofessional. And a pain in the lower back. Tip: invest in expensive bras. They get cuter the higher the prices go, I promise.

4. At some point in your early 20s, you will stop taking awkward ID photos. You’ll even start taking good ones. But sorry, until then, you just gotta suck up the awful.

5. Yes, you really didn’t pass that math placement test. Really and truly. Even though you took calculus in high school. Get quantitative reasoning out of the way while you’re still excited about school in general, before it snarls up your GPA because you’ve left it to second semester senior year.

6. ¿Recuerdas como hablar español? Yo tampoco. Pero tu recuerdas más de mí porque yo no sacqué clases en un otro idioma a la universidad. So what if you passed out of a foreign language requirement? It would be so much cooler if you were still fluent in Spanish.

7. After a long, giggly night of illicit drinking in your dorm room with your roommates and the girl from down the hall, you lose the ability to form words correctly and realize exactly how the Irish got their accent.

8. The bathroom does not magically clean itself. Nor does your laundry. Neither does your laundry.

9. A large container of salt ‘n’ vinegar Pringles may not a nutritious dinner make, but damn if it doesn’t taste good.

10. None of this shit actually matters.

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    • Kristan

      “In a few months, you will laugh and tell your parents that you will never grow up to be a great writer because you had a happy childhood. It’s true. You are not a great writer and you had a stupidly happy childhood. And a stupidly happy adolescence. And a happy college life. And (thus far) a boringly happy adulthood. You describe your family as “averagely dysfunctional” and mourn the loss of trials and tribulations that would have given you material to fuel your Great American Novel.”

      Haha. BIG. FAT. DITTO!

      Love this post, and am really looking forward to this column.