Two weeks ago, I turned 27.
I spent my birthday alone, a temporary citizen of nowhere, dragging myself and my belongings through a series of airports. My tri-legged journey from Tampa to Dublin, the result of a crazy-sick fare sale and subsequent impulse buy, landed me in a 30-hour surreal panorama of metal tubes, bad carpet and skyward-facing windows, through which, when not clouds, plane tails could be seen slowly roving like shark fins.
There were also many strangers’ hands gripping novels whose titles start with “The Girl:” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train – why are these girls’ stories always relational to some extrinsic circumstance? I digress.
At Newark International Airport, there are intra-airport golf cart shuttles for the infirm and elderly — of which there are many — which were on that day operated by drivers who amiably chanted “beep, beep, beep” in lieu of the device’s horns, which, apparently, had all simultaneously ceased to function.
It was a weird day.
And 27 is a weird age.
Many have written lists of what they’ve learned by 30 or 50 or the time they graduated college, but fuck it: 27 feels particular to me, and it’s not because I’m pretending I can compare myself with the famed group of people who’ve tragically taken this year as their last. (Although seriously, apparently 27 does some shit to artsy folks.)
So here are 27 things I’ve learned in the same number of years I’ve spent floating, for better or worse, around the sun.
I can’t wait to see what the rest will bring.
1. Say yes.
It’s one of the most beautiful words in the English language. It’s full of potential and places you didn’t know you could, or would, go.
Take the risk. Give yourself permission. Nothing can happen without a first step.
2. But learn when to say no, too.
The thing is, you don’t actually have the energy for everything. And some days, sitting in front of Netflix is actually the most palliative thing you can do.
You need to give yourself the permission to say “no,” too.
3. Taxi drivers and flight attendants are the wisest people ever.
This year, my mother and I went to New York City and sat at a wine bar and met this amazing British woman – a flight attendant – named Annie, who’d been living on the Upper West Side for more than fifty years. She talked about the “kaleidoscope of humanity” as easily as she dismissed men in saying that if a woman had designed airplanes, there wouldn’t be that weird jolt in the walkway that makes wheeling the coffee cart nigh impossible.
I don’t think I can even name how many times I’ve gotten out of a taxi feeling like I’d learned a life lesson or five, but I will say the epicenter of chauffeur-imparted wisdom is, in my experience, New Orleans.
People who spend a lot of time around other people – masses of other people, undifferentiated other people, people who are hungry and tired and not at their best – have a wisdom that really can’t be acquired any other way. Talk to them, if you can, and listen when they answer.
4. Be hard on yourself — but not too hard on yourself.
Move, do, create and accomplish more than you think you can. Push yourself.
And then, relent. Because you can (and will) drive yourself crazy, and none of the productivity is worth it if you aren’t there to enjoy it in the interim.
5. Sugar will fuck you up.
I could talk about this one for a long time, but suffice to say: I lost sixty pounds in my early twenties, and finally dropped the last fifteen when I gave up sugar once and for all.
Sugar’s in almost everything — even stuff we’re trained to think is healthy, like granola and yogurt. The fact that it’s an addictive material becomes obvious when you stop putting it in your body. The last time I had a significant amount of sugar, I had a hangover for two days… and immediately began craving it like I hadn’t in weeks.
6. Protein is really good for you… but if you eat a lot of it, you’re gonna fart.
7. You have to take responsibility for your own happiness, but don’t beat yourself up.
Do what’s right for you, and prioritize finding things to enjoy in life…
… but keep in mind that feeling terrible about not doing enough – or not doing what makes everyone else happy, or appears to – is an A+ way to ensure you won’t be happy at all.
8. Find optimum FOMO.
FOMO is kind of awesome. It keeps you from being a big fat bump on the couch watching Netflix all day, every day.
But if you’re never satisfied with where you are or what you’re doing, you’ll miss out on literally your whole life.
I read a perceptive, if grossly overgeneralized, Yelp review of Marsella, the oldest bar in Barcelona, in which the reviewer says:
“American girls are never happy where they are–there always has to be a next bar that everyone is planning, and that will be SO much better.”
Don’t be that brand of American girl. Enjoy the bar. You’re there already.
9. See as much as you can…
I’m fully of the mind that travel is the actual best thing you can buy – the only thing your purchase that makes you richer.
10. … but remember you don’t have to do everything right now.
I run into this impatience all the time. I’m young! I should go see the world – all of it – right now!
Unfortunately, youth brings poverty with it right alongside blind enthusiasm. Give yourself time, and the time to raise the funds, to see the world and do the things you want to do. It might make you feel weirdly guilty and like you’re missing out…
… in which case, return to items 7 &8.
11. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.
Seriously. Unless someone has a gun to your head (in which case, Jesus, sorry), you don’t have to do it. Any of it.
Tired of dealing with jealousy and drama in your relationship? Monogamy is only one way to go about connecting with people. Try something new. Hate your work? You don’t have to go to the office. You can quit tomorrow.
Obviously, all of these decisions come with consequences, and a lot of those aren’t easy to deal with, either. But you do have options, even if they’re almost as difficult as the ones you’re bucking.
12. The Beatles were wrong.
Love is not actually all you need.
And unfortunately, love is not enough to save a toxic relationship.
This sucks a lot to realize.
13. There really are other people out there.
No matter how alone you feel, you’re not. That’s why books (and films, and video games, and random conversations with folks at airport bars) are so magical.
Even if everyone around you seems like a totally impenetrable stranger, pick up a good book and open it and see that other human minds are not just present, but incredible, unimaginably intricate – so much so that it’s heartbreaking to think about how many people are out there you’ll never get to know.
14. With creative projects: You’ve gotta have drive… but you’ve also got to trust that the important work will come out, even if you’re busy.
Case in point, I’m supposed to be writing something else right now.
15. OK, all of these are about balance, which everyone has been saying forever.
So sue me.
16. Give compliments.
Even small ones. They actually do help, and they’re easy to give. You’ll feel better, too.
17. And when you get compliments, just say “thank you.”
It’s not that weird. So don’t make it weird. Embrace a moment of harmonious human connection – they can be fairly hard to come by.
18. Dance as much as possible.
In bars, at weddings, in your own bedroom.
Literally everyone looks stupid doing it except for like five really lucky people, so just stop worrying about it. It feels so good. It’s not worth missing out on.
19. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing… except drugs.
By all means, throw yourself headlong into what you do, but remember that some shit will ruin your life.
20. Threesomes are super overrated.
Seriously. There are too many moving parts, and I can’t imagine a situation in which there’s enough emotional intimacy to counterbalance the logistical snafus that inevitably come up.
That said, you should probably at least try one out if it’s on your list. Just remember all that stuff everyone says about “communication” – it’s even more important in this case.
21. Hate actually is a really strong word.
Your mother was right about this one – or at least mine was. Probably the thing I admire most about my mother is her unrelenting attempt to find someone to love in everyone, even people who, in my estimation, really don’t deserve it.
You should try to distance yourself from hatred as much as possible. It’s pretty much never helpful, and it only serves to objectify other people – making hating them, and hurting them, even easier.
22. Unless your hands are inside someone’s body, your job is probably not that important.
Replacing someone’s heart? Your job matters.
Making someone’s latte? Probably not.
23. If the way you’re celebrating causes the next day to totally suck, maybe don’t celebrate that way.
Drinking has seriously diminishing returns once you start getting late-twenties hangovers.
Note: I completely ignored this advice during my own birthday party this year. Rules are made to be broken! Did you know you can be hungover for 48 whole hours?
24. It is okay to stop reading stuff before the end.
Oh man, this one took me so long to embrace. I’m an achievement junkie and a bookworm, so once I pick something up, it seems imperative that I finish it, if only for some weird and totally private sense of accomplishment.
But there’s just too goddamn much content. It was the case before the Internet, and it’s exponentially augmented now. You’re never going to get to it all and you only have so much time in this life.
If you’re not enjoying something you’re reading – or watching, or planning, or writing, or eating, or…
Let it go. It’s not worth your time.
25. And it is okay to prefer nonfiction.
It doesn’t make you boring! At least I hope it doesn’t, because I’ve finally realized I just don’t get fiction, in general.
Okay, there are some exceptions. And some of them are pretty guilty exceptions. Cough, The Hunger Games, cough…
26. The important people won’t ever go away.
You should nurture your relationships – a practice I’m still trying to get better at.
But when you meet the right people, you can have a two-year lapse in conversation and then start back up right where you left off.
I’m not saying you’ll meet “the right people” every day, however.
27. People are just people.
Again, my mother – and Regina Spektor – were right. The people who you think hold the keys to your career… well, might, actually.
But the weird digital networking community that is Twitter makes what is tacitly true explicitly obvious – everyone’s just a person, capable of a discrete amount of productivity and power. Some of us have more than others, and some of us (white, male, wealthy) have a pretty significant leg up on our counterparts.
But we all wear underwear and sing along to shitty catchy pop songs and feel like we have too much to do. We’re all afraid of dying.
So let’s not be afraid of each other, too.