Previously published in The Huffington Post.
Being a nebulous 20-something means freedom, but it's also frightening. You're halfway between being an idiot baby and a fully-formed human with hobbies and a spice rack. No matter if it's the start of a new year or not, there's always a fresh beginning that's yours for the taking if you want it, so don't give up on that second chapter.
Here's an incomplete guide on how to be young and alive in 2014:
1. Stop dating people you don't have chemistry with.
Dating has weird momentum about it. If it's good, it's like running downhill where you cease to control any or all of your appendages. When you're hesitant, if the person's not right, or the timing's wrong, you're the kid pacing in circles or twiddling his or her thumbs at the top of the hill with a helmet on. You shouldn't have to think so much about why you should or shouldn't date a person. If it works, it's already happening. His or her tongue is most likely closer to you than the average human tongue and it'll suddenly dawn on you that you have the capacity to love someone who once created a fan page for Sublime or some other lame, burn out jam band from the '90s.
There is an inordinate number of people in the world you can carry a nice conversation with who can crack a joke, but that does not mean you want them to be "your person" for an indefinite amount of time.
Don't feel guilty that a smart gentleman from a good family with a real-person job and a mattress with a springboard and everything makes you go "meh." However, don't banish someone because you didn't fall in love after a cocktail. Burning emotional bridges is immature and you're not a character from "Game of Thrones." Twenty-somethings need to be more comfortable with having "acquaintances" in their social circle. Nothing is awkward about not going on a second date unless you make it awkward.
Go out tonight and flirt it up because your hair looks amazing, and you have a functioning, breathing true body that won't quit.
2. Life is too short for longing.
OK, I stole that last line from O magazine and it sounded less pathetic in my head, but relationships are built when two people are all in. No matter how beautiful a snowflake you are, if the timing isn't right for either one involved, it "ain't gonna to happen," as Glowzelle would say.
3. Don't mistake certain inconvenience for romance.
Yes, every rom-com has characters running through airports, declaring love in torrential weather or bridging some great divide like being a vampire, but true romance is going out of your way to express your love. It's getting up when your partner gets up to start the car so it's not an icebox when she drives to work. It's shoveling the snow in the driveway, and if you live in California, it's trying to make someone laugh in traffic because L.A. at rush hour is everyone's personal hell.
Love never holds you hostage from being your best self. Stop pining over people who are emotionally unavailable or who are idiots and didn't get the memo you're a freaking catch-and-a-half. Being separated by geography makes things more challenging, but if a person is already emotionally distant, geography is only the excuse, the pericardial sac that absorbs your quivering, blackened heart. Of course this is easier said than done. When you sense the connection is over, it's over and it's only time before the spiral begins. Break ups begin when a person detaches emotionally.
Make the mistake of contacting him or her through the several channels we are rejected through these days. Vow to never call again, and then, call again, hating it, because (finally!) you recognize a pattern of falling in love with people who are unavailable because it protects you from becoming unhusked or kin to a larva whose exoskeleton hasn't developed yet. Through all this, see the value in your pursuit for the questions. It wasn't time wasted. It's where you had to go to turn the corner.
4. Don't ever be the person who says, "let's do lunch."
Eff lunch. Go on a glorified walk people these days call "hikes." Reach the top of something because friendships are victories and should be treated as such.
5. Have more sleepovers with friends and share a bed.
It's not a real sleepover if you don't wake up in the middle of the night annoyed because she's hogging all the covers. Everyone is always hogging all the covers. You're hogging the covers right now. In the morning, when you both wake up, immediately ask, "Whatcha dream about?" It's essential you recon your subconscious lives, hyper-analyze these symbols and then lay in silence because you can't have these moments with friends when you're married.
6. Be awesome at approximately three karaoke songs.
There's a part of your soul that's missing if you haven't traumatized yourself in front of strangers via song. Learn the lyrics well enough to sing them slightly buzzed. Get that Ludacris rap down pat.
Everyone deserves to feel delusional and almost famous for two-and-a-half minutes with people who will love them no matter what. Zooey Deschannel once said her go-to karaoke song was "Rich Girl" by Hall and Oates. That doesn't mean you should try it on a whim at a dive bar in Los Angeles because you will never be as good as the owner who ends the night with a rendition of Michael Jackson's "Human Nature," subsequently bringing everyone to tears. There were more lyrics in that Hall and Oates song than you realized and that high-five from your friend was really a high-five for all the other things you're really good at.
Here are some unexpected and amazing karaoke songs people never consider: "Too Close" by Next, "S8ter Boi" by Avril Lavigne, "Dancing in the Dark," by Bruce Springsteen, "Scrubs" by TLC, "Mr. Grinch" by Thurl Ravenscroft during the holidays and anything by Nickelback (but only if you have a true vendetta against everyone in the dive bar and you want to see them burn a fiery, emotional death).
7. Live your online life like your real life.
Google yourself and see what comes up. Erase the social data you don't want the public to know about or privatize the shiz out of the channels you want to monitor. People have the right to privacy unless it compromises the safety of the greater social contract.
Everyone should exercise their first amendment right online, but clogging up a newsfeed about every move you make makes people uneasy, leaving little to the imagination and reminds people of that stalker song by The Police.
If Facebook or Twitter were a party, who would you want to be? The Sweat Cat spewing irrelevant details of her life? Or the demur lady who has timely wit and leaves more to the imagination? Eat all the champagne and drink all the caviar you'd like, you fancy lady, you!
Share like a generous, helpful friend and sparingly divulge personal tales as long as the time is appropriate for personal or social betterment. Did you post some ignorant toolish statement that puts the human race behind half a century? We kindly ask you to leave the party, a.k.a. the Interwebz.
You would never leave your belongings lying around or pass your pin number out to a rando on the street, so don't save your passwords onto your computer or access confidential information via public clouds or WIFI. Hackers aren't as hot as that girl with the dragon tattoo but they will pilfer information and sell it indiscriminately to ruin your life.
8. Don't indulge in FOMA (Fear of Missing Out)
It's a weird made up social anxiety people worry about because of mobile social apps, over active imaginations and lower self-esteem. You're not the only person who didn't go to that party where everyone ended up jumping into the swimming pool with their clothes on, which looked pretty cool on Instagram.
A Facebook sociologist claimed the average user closely interacts with four to six people despite having hundreds to thousands of friends. Facebook helps you keep tabs on people, it's a virtual watering hole to keep up on social news and memes, but it shouldn't be a replacement for true human interaction.
By chance, when you run into a "friend" in the real world you can cut the small talk and see how they really are 10 pounds heavier, yet more beautiful because they are there in the flesh and not Photo-shopped on a screen. (Note: If you're the type of person who Photoshops his or her own photos before posting them, please stop.)
9. Live off the grid from time to time to rejuvenate from the "smart" world. Leave your phone at home, turn it off or simply put it on airplane mode to stop getting messages. In all our efforts to stay "connected" we strive to make far people closer, but it costs us the friends who are right in front of us to become distant.
10. Announce your goals to people. Start telling people what you want to pursue over your current day job.
You are not your means of paying rent, but you are your passions. Take on the "slash" when describing in your occupation. Accountant/DJ is probably the most obnoxious thing ever, but having that "slash DJ," "slash writer" or "slash mixologist" is a step towards making things happen.
Words manifest your reality; how you present yourself has everything to do with your self-esteem and outlook on the future.
At a party, it's far more interesting to meet a person who has goals rather than discuss the vagueness of his or her day job. Actually, no one ever truly wants to talk about work at a party unless you're an astronaut, and then this is all anyone will ever talk about ever again.
Remember, there's an exemption to this rule: if drug dealing is your passion, you are morally obligated to tell people you're a drug dealer so everyone can either a. plan accordingly or b. is well aware before pursuing any form of friendship. This also goes for magicians, clowns and morticians.
11. Don't use the word "just" and stop saying "sorry."
At work, far too many people apologize for doing their job or asking for clarification. "I just wanted to ask if..." prefaces so many statements and sets up this magnanimous power structure between two people. "Just" diminishes what you're about to say. The future of work is a progressively egalitarian place. Being tactful and polite is essential and it's your job to provide valid insight with confidence.
Only apologize when you are asking for forgiveness or taking responsibility for something. Instead, use the phrase "excuse me," because "I'm sorry" should be reserved for important moments.
Being accountable to your words is a step toward being a non-half-baby-adult. What we say is like currency, so spend it wisely.
12. Get your finances in order.
Imagine if Suze Orman ninja'd her way into your room and snooped around. What impression would you want to give? That's right: hyper-organized and hidden from view. That's how good your records should be kept.
Debt from college loans is an investment you are paying off. Debt from your online shopping addiction should inspire you to re-evaluate your life and think why you need more "stuff" rather than security in other forms.
If you're currently in a financial hailstorm start off easy by downloading your previous e-paycheck stubs, organizing them in computer folder on your desktop entitled "MO MONEY NO PROBLEMS" (think in abundance!) to prepare for tax season.
Or, keep a highly secured physical notebook that reads "SUZE ORMAN'S LITTLE HELPER" written in sharpie where you keep a record of your account information. The first page of this notebook should read: "STOP IT'S A TRAP!" Cast a gypsy spell over the trapper keeper that protects your boring, grown-up documents.
A really rich person on TV once said that people who don't do their own financial paper work will be played for a fool.
13. Prioritize yourself and wake up with the mantra, "You're a badass bitch from hell and ain't nobody going to bring you down."
What small goal can you accomplish today? What can you do before getting in the office that will make you feel like the day is yours rather than feel chained, withering, to a desk? Run for one more minute, sprint a bit faster, try saying "no" to what sabotages you and be your best advocate.
14.You're also a candy precious angel-human hybrid.
Scoff at the people who call you naïve or give you a condescending smile when you're confidant enough to say that you have a bigger dream than what you are currently doing. The people who scoff in the world are sad, jealous and older than you, feeling worldly because they've made some bad investments along the way. They made mistakes, the worst one being when they gave up on themselves.
Security isn't found in material things but the knowledge that, at this moment, you are doing everything in your means to chase after what you're meant to do. "Dreams" sound cliché and Lisa Frank-ish, but if you withhold yourself from developing your gifts, you are doing a disservice to the universe.
15. Positivity is magnetic and the best investment you can accrue for yourself.
Give up what depletes you and replace it with what energizes you. Eat well, drink water, be mindful, sweat daily, feel your feelings instead of numbing them. Focus on your greater goal rather than instant gratification. Be a good parent to yourself.
Some nights you will be cloistered in the shadows binge-watching "Scandal" or another DC-based drama. That's OK. Being alone sometimes helps you feel whole.
Focus on what makes you the best version of yourself and remember to keep your bangs trimmed. Self-care, like working out over going to happy hour, isn't selfish. Hogging a seat on the subway when you see a pregnant woman is. When an elderly gentleman in Starbucks is waiting in line with his walker, offer to get his coffee so he can sit and relax instead of standing in line with the rest of the clinically dependent.
Being "nice" these days is like being a silent goldfish that contributes nothing to the room; be socially responsible, actively compassionate and engaged with your community. Sometimes you have to be the bad cop and tell the bullies and meanie-pants to "knock it off!" Nothing scares the shiz out of someone more than when someone receives a stern "knock it off!"
Smile at the person who shares your commute. You probably see him or her more than you see your boyfriend or girlfriend. This is sad, but true. Your commute doesn't need to be an episode of Mr. Roger's, but it shouldn't be a death train to the zombie apocalypse.
16. Continue to build memories with the people that make you laugh and make you a better person.
Give them unexpected gifts like piñatas for their birthday, a weird doodle they'll keep in their wallet and an orange, because nothing is better than a cold orange. Remember exactly how they take their coffee and bring it to them unexpectedly with one vanilla petite scone because it's like having two bites of cake, and nothing is better than when your day starts with two bites of cake.
Friendship is thoughtfulness and remembering the details. When looking back, you don't regret putting in the effort.
17. Never leave a good party early.
Several people you love are enclosed within the same four walls. This is heaven on earth with a good Motown playlist. In group conversations, brag about a friend so she over hears it. Include fun details that you adore like how in middle school, she ate Flaming Hot Cheetos with chopsticks or her first screen name was inspired after her dog. This person is queen bitch in charge, a gemstone and the wisest, despite chipping her tooth for the second time this year.
This party is also when you will get to know people better. Never have small talk again if you've met the person before. Don't pretend you don't know certain things to seem coy or cool because we must finally unearth the fact that everyone stalks people on Facebook and it's not weird. In measure, social media can be the conversation starters or shared social currency.
Put the drink down, or the single (second) cigarette you're having tonight because your lungs are gorgeous and you are self-important, and grab your best friend by the shoulders to say: "You'll never get rid of me. You'd have to Old Yeller me, or say something like 'now git gone' and throw a tin can my way before I banish you from my heart."
18. There are mornings when you wake up strangely early; this is the world telling you to take inventory on your life, to think and better yourself, but most importantly to reach out to those that come to mind and say "I love you" in your weird way. Send them a forthright text before the sun comes up so it's the first thing they read. Call them after work and talk until the phone is hot on your ear. Be explicitly clear with how you feel. You will always remember the moment right before your friend opens the door to a party, looks you square in the eyes and says, "I always have the best time with you." There's not much in the world that means more.