Wednesday, April 25, 2012

how-to: be a twenty-something.


I'm only 21, but already my friends and family have put their fingers on what they're calling my biggest (only?) success to date: being the quintessential twenty-something. Every time my dad reads another NYT article musing about why it takes twenty-somethings so long to grow up, I am absolutely the first person he emails it to. (Subject line: Well...?")*

Maybe every parent thinks this about their twenty-something child, but as many of my other twenty-something friends also think I'm the quintessential twenty-something, I'm pretty sure my parents are constantly the most perturbed by my "fledgling adult" brain. And since being a twenty-something is so damn interesting and new, I'm here to teach you how. Allow me to be your yoda.

1. Insist on moving to a city far away from where you grew up. You are not a real twenty-something if you don't feel trapped by the city boundaries and "expectations" of your hometown. I grew up in DFW and moved all the way to Washington, DC. Beat that. (Ironically, the only person I know who beat that is my mom, who moved from El Salvador to California to Texas, which is why she doesn't figure prominently in the exasperated parent role in this post.)

2. Watch too much TV filled with characters with unrealistic lifestyles. Don Draper is wildly successful and rich and all the work he does is drink and have sex on his lunch break! I want to do that! Ted Mosby is the youngest architect to build a building in NYC! He does work but he mostly got the job because his friend Barney Stinson, who doesn't do any work yet is wildly successful and rich, got it for him! I want to do that! The Real Housewives of Wherever don't do any work except marry rich and bitch at each other! I want to do that!

3. Be not quite sure what you want to do for the rest of your life. A year ago, I was still thinking I was going to go to law school at UC Berkeley to pursue international human rights. Somewhere, that turned into actually working in the field. That turned into my internship at a sexual violence crisis center, where I answer hotline calls. Around last June while I was in China, I woke up and said "eff all that, I want to do photography," and started my bad ass wedding photography business for bold and gutsy couples. At some point, I started thinking it would be cool to combine my love of photography and non-profits by doing all the photography that you see online that makes you cry and donate money. I would be good at that, but I have no idea how to start doing that. Since coming to DC, I've realized that I still want to take photos, but I also want to do social media for non-profits. Or for-profits. Yes, Dad, I want to do more than tweet for a living. Barely. And yet, for the past week or so, I've found myself turning back to my first love, writing. But here's the catch, and how to really make sure you're the best possible twenty-something: I want to do all of those things. And I want to do them now.
 3.1. Insist that if Michaelangelo could do ALL THE THINGS, you can too. Basically, this is my daily logic. I'm pretty sure Michaelangelo died alone though, so maybe we should all consider that. Let's be comforted by the idea that most twenty-somethings will change jobs seven times during that decade. Let's say it together, "This next job is what I really want to do!"
4. Fall somewhere between 'somewhat nervous about' and 'completely terrified by' commitment. The average age of marriage is skyrocketing to well into our thirties and for the most part I'm okay with that.
4.1 If that doesn't gel with you, you have the alternate option that a lot of kids I knew in high school took: get married AND DIVORCED by ~24, then start insisting that you're going to "wait for the right person" as opposed to "the person I got drunk and had sex at prom with." SORRY NOT SORRY, GUYS. Someone had to say it.**
4.2. Be terrified by diamonds, but okay with co-habiting with a romantic partner. Blame this phenomenon on whatever you want: The addition of "moving in together" on the list of steps toward marriage, societal relaxation toward pre-marital sex, the outrageous cost of actually getting married, etc. Basically, it's much easier to just move out than divorce someone.
5. Live on your parents' dime. Many twenty-somethings will move back home at some point. But it's okay! You're just getting started - your business venture will totally succeed! And until then, it's totally okay to move home/have your parents pay all your bills. Don't worry about it! 

6. Think longingly of backpacking around the world. You read Eat, Pray, Love and now you want a chance to have your own year-long excursion around the world to eat pasta and write a book. I hear ya.

7. Fucking love brunch. I don't think I know anyone over the age of 29 that loves brunch the way twenty-somethings do. It's the perfect meal: It stretches anywhere from 10:30 am - 3 pm, you can have pancakes with a side of pasta, you get to drink before noon, it's perfectly acceptable to go back to sleep after it, AND NO ONE CAN JUDGE YOU FOR ANY OF THESE THINGS! God, why doesn't everyone love brunch? You know what? I swear to love brunch even when I'm thirty.

8. Work for free, even after graduation. People expect you to be an intern while in college - "You'll learn about the real world!" But the way to be a real twenty-something is to work for free AFTER you graduate, like I do. You're exploring a new field! Really you just don't know what a 401k is but think it sounds like a painfully long race!

9. Have your only 'real' goal be "Make a difference!"/"Change the world!" I'll be honest, I applied to Teach for America. (After reading my blog you're not at all surprised that they didn't pick me, right?) Other options? Peace Corps, City Year (whose tagline is literally "give a year, change the world." DOES IT GET MORE TWENTY-SOMETHING?), etc. Basically, we're all just forestalling "real jobs" and "real commitments" with one or two year projects that will make us warm and fuzzy inside. And that's okay! Go make the world a better place, twenty-something!

10. Blog about it. Put all these things together and blog about them, using a catchy/ironic label like "The Grown Ass Woman." Employ self-deprecating humor. Everyone loves self-deprecating humor.

*Since the NYT article is roughly eleventy billion pages long and full of psychological jargon that made no sense to me without coffee, I didn't read all of it. Naturally, my response to my dad went along the lines of this article.

**I feel not at all bad being the one to say this considering that one of my exes had married and divorced twice by 22. We don't talk, clearly.


  1. Hello, this is my life. Thanks for summing it up for me! *emails to parental unit*

  2. Hey there - Really enjoyed your post! My name is Megan Baker and I am the 20-something Digital Content Coordinator at City Year Headquarters (fancy way of saying I manage our social media). If you're really interested in doing social media for non-profits, I'd be happy to chat with you about it. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail at

  3. I missed most of these. but I'm only 23. so maybe I can catch up :/

  4. I loooooove this post! Every 19 year old needs to read it.

  5. I'm creeped out by how accurate this is. What about if you go to college far away from where you grew up, then move back to your hometown for a year, then move far away from your hometown for six months, and then move back to the same town where you grew up? Is that still pretty twenty-something..? Asking for a friend, obviously.

    I also vow to love brunch even when I'm thirty. This needs to be a movement or something. When I'm 30 I'll start a club and it will be called The Brunchables, and it will just be a bunch of former twentysomethings refusing to give up having brunch. Everyone is invited to be in it.

  6. This is brilliant! I am ALL of these. I moved to Germany to travel, took a job that pays nothing, call home for money all the time, perfect perfect perfect.

  7. Hmmm interesting! I'm 24 now, and some of these spoke to me. I hate unrealistic tv lifestyles.. "Oh, she has THAT apartment in the city? Yeah, right."


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