In this new column, a recent college grad getting her footing in the world gives advice to her teenage self.
You suck. No really, you suck. You stupid, solipsistic, self-confident, self-contained sucky person. You’re the reason I sit here in front of my computer week after week being completely and utterly unable to think of things on which to advise you. (And it’s only the third week.) Stop being so damned well-adjusted! We could have had problems, baby, you and me. We could have been a troubled teenager. We could have had addiction problems. We could have had bad boyfriends (or boyfriends at all). We could have been a success story, one of those inspirational anecdotes in Chicken Soup for the Post-Graduate Soul: look how she’s overcome her late teenage existential crises to become a self-assured adult!
But the truth is life has been Easy Street for you and me since we were both young. In one of your slightly more woo-woo moods, you’ll get your birth chart read by an online astrologer who will tell you that you have a 12th house Jupiter, which accounts for your incredible luck. And not just the ordinary “I happen to find an unexpected $20 in my back pocket every now and again” sort of luck, but the “I ran out onto the battlefield and was shot through in the chest, but the bullet was stopped by a pocketwatch that my sweetheart happened to give me that morning” kind of luck. Well hot damn. You are lucky. Yours is the sort of luck that allows you to survive 1000ft falls off the edge of a cliff during a skiing accident. Yours is the sort of luck that lets you walk away from a minor parachuting malfunction with a hairline pelvic fracture. (Although others would argue that not jumping out of perfectly good airplanes for fun or participating in extreme skiing is a good way to avoid these things too.) That’s the big kind luck. But where you are the most lucky is in the little ways. Let’s start with the biggest of the little ways: our parents.
First, I promise our relationship with Mum improves dramatically. We’re actually friends now, believe it or not. I think you do believe it, but you might not know how it happens. I’m not sure how it happened either. It was bad once, wasn’t it? Our love for her was like toothache in the chest, best left to heal on its own, but every once in a while, we couldn’t help tonguing it a little, testing it, wondering is it healed yet? I don’t know how it happened; perhaps age has mellowed her some, or perhaps age has mellowed us some. Once it hurt to hear her say “I’m proud of you”. Now it hurts to say goodbye at the airport.
Second, it isn’t that our parents are the World’s Best Parents (in fact, they’re not), but they were the Right Parents for you. That doesn’t always happen, you know. Not many parents would be willing to put up with a 12-year-old singing all the parts to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (yes, all of them, trying your best to sing all the different roles in “Prima Donna”) on a 7-hour road trip to Sacramento. Not many Dads in finance would encourage his 11-year-old daughter to become a professional cartoonist after noting your penchant for drawing comic strips as diaries. Not many Asian Mums would let you play hooky from school on a day your bipolar disorder was going crazy by taking you to see The Two Towers in the theatres (for the third time).
Third, our parents are fairly well off. This is probably the subject with which you are the most uncomfortable. On the economic scale, our parents are on the upper edge of the middle, which means they made enough money to send you to private school, buy themselves a car to pass an outdated model onto you, join a country club, have a bi-monthly housekeeper and gardener, and pay for a weekend pied-a-terre for our grandmother. You know this, but you’re not quite sure where you fall on the scale of “rich” and “poor”. There were always kids richer than you growing up. But then there were so many others who were not.
I’m going to say this once, and listen closely: “rich” and “poor” are meaningless. The word you must understand is “privilege”. You know that you had a privileged upbringing, but you don’t yet understand that privilege is something that extends deeper and further than money. I’m talking about entitlement. You are an entitled, privileged fucking bastard.
There are many sorts of privilege, and in almost every way, you have them all. You have financial privilege. You have race privilege. You have cisgender privilege. You have heteronormative privilege. You have privileges in areas you never thought would be privilege, like clothing size, facial symmetry, and even nominal religion. The only privilege you lack is a penis, because society still values men higher than women, but at least here the years in which this sort of thinking would have been conditioned into you were spent in the cloisters of an all-girls’ school, where having a penis didn’t give you an advantage in anything.
These privileges are why life is easy for you, JJ. And it all starts with our parental jackpot, and how Mum and Dad raised us. They raised us to be entitled, to feel as though what we wanted mattered, that being happy was a goal that could (and should!) be attained. This is why you’re lucky, JJ. This is why you’re now at NYU, when you should have saved your parents the money and gone to UC Berkeley instead. This is why you’re at college at all, learning about Anglo-Saxon poetry and novels of manners and the nuances of “class”. This is why you have the luxury of bumming around one afternoon watching hour after hour of reality TV when you should be applying to summer internships. This is why even though life generally seems to have turned out okay for you in the end, you must be conscious that how you live is a gift, even when you have a negative asset balance, credit card and student loan debt, and a barely-affordable rent.
You will be living life on your own terms because the world opens doors for you. You’re a privileged fucking bastard and you shouldn’t ever forget it.
Yours on the other side of 21,