20 Things It’s Taken Me 20 Years to Learn

By Gretchen Kast

In my 23 years on this planet, I’ve only recently made certain significant realizations about life. Things that probably should have been obvious. Things I kinda, sorta knew but chose to ignore anyway. For the sake of a snappy title (and the understanding that the first three years of my life were pretty much wasted learning how to achieve motor function), I’ve come up with a list of 20 things it’s taken me 20 years to learn:

1. Brushing your hair is not a sign of vanity or weakness
There was an embarrassingly long period of time in which I didn’t want to appear as if I was trying too hard. My mother calls it my “Mary-Kate Olsen period”. I wore a lot of oversized, ill-fitting clothes, and never brushed my hair. Then I moved to Paris for six months and came back a changed woman. I brushed, I combed, I blow-dried. Learning the difference between “trying too hard” and “general hygiene” is an important step towards maturity.

2. Accepting compliments on said newly brushed hair does not mean you are the kind of girl who needs compliments to validate her worth
Until recently, I was genuinely annoyed by anyone who offered compliments directed at my physical appearance. Not because I have ridiculously low self-esteem, but because I thought that it meant that I gave off a vibe that I needed people to compliment me. I’ve come to realize that this is even more ridiculous than having low self-esteem and that I need to practice just saying thank you.

3. Shopping alone > shopping with people
I know the image of a pack of girls laughing and smiling as they peruse the mall together is sort of indoctrinated into our collective consciousness, but frankly, shopping for clothes is just better when you’re by yourself. Navigating around the labyrinth that is Forever 21 is decidedly more manageable if you’re not worried about losing a friend to an unruly pile of sequined tops. When you’re by yourself, you can roam at your leisure and spend however long you please making faces at yourself in the mirror as you try on band-aid dresses. You won’t have anyone rushing or slowing you down. Plus there’s less of a chance that you’ll be peer pressured into buying a zebra striped jean jacket you have no intentions of wearing. I won’t say no chance, but a significantly slimmer one.

4. Liking something ironically is the same as genuinely liking something
Look, I love irony as much as the next nose-ringed Animal Collective fan, but there’s something we should just all get out in the open: there’s actively no difference between liking something ironically and actually liking it. None at all. And anyone who feels the need to qualify their taste choices by explaining a distinction should probably shut up. You’re embarrassing yourself. That being said, I think a veil of irony can be an effective tool for initially pushing yourself to participate in something that you’re not 100% sure will be accepted. If you’re not quite ready to admit that Taylor Swift speaks to your soul or that you think a long-sleeved velour dress is actually really cool—irony can give you the confidence to listen to or wear it anyway. It offers protection from ridicule—“I don’t actually like this guys. It’s just funny.” There comes a point, though, when you just have to accept that whatever your motive behind liking something, be it humor or pleasure, you like it nonetheless. A 23-year-old liking One Direction ironically is the exact same as a 12-year-old liking One Direction genuinely—you can’t pretend to be any better. And you shouldn’t have to! Own it!

5. Drinking a glass of water or going on a long walk by yourself are the best ways to clear your mind
When I’m upset or frustrated or annoyed, the first thing I do is drink a large glass of water. This is because I’ve learned that 90% of the time, my anger is directly rooted in dehydration. When that doesn’t do the trick, I go for a walk. Walking offers you the chance to escape, to try out your muscles, to take yourself out of an unpleasant situation long enough to think it through. The best thing about learning the water/walking trick is that both of them are free and significantly better for your overall health than drinking an entire bottle of wine and yelling at those around you (though sometimes that’s a pretty necessary combo too).

6. Eating microwaveable noodles/burritos for lunch and dinner everyday will make you feel like shit
They’re tasty, easy, and take less than 3 minutes to cook. You make one trip to the grocery store and stock up for months. But despite all of this ease and convenience, a diet of solely microwavable foods will not make you feel good. It will make you feel sluggish and bloated and malnourished. Go buy a vegetable. Or at least something that decomposes.

7. It’s important to know your limits and not let people sway them
Because, you know, sometimes you just don’t want to take a shot. Even if everyone else is taking one. It’s ok to tell them this. If they buy one for you anyway, try to pawn it off on someone else. If no one wants it, wait until everyone goes to throw theirs back and pour it out on the bar floor. No one will notice. And if they do, who cares? I’m sure they’d rather have tequila on the floor than vomit.

8. Staying in on a Friday night is not a novel idea to be lauded as a sign of maturity.
In college, staying in on a weekend night was such a radical idea that when, once in a blue moon, I decided to do it, I’d flock to social media to be all “Oh my god, I’m SO over bars, guys. Don’t even try to make me go out tonight! I’m being responsible and saving money.” These days, the decision to stay in is made when I look up from your fourth episode of How I Met Your Mother re-runs and realize that it’s already 11:30 and going out means having to put on pants. Realization: sometimes you go out and sometimes you stay in and neither option is particular notable or mature.

9. If you want to hang out with someone, you actually have to call them
Fate has this annoying way of only dropping the people you don’t want to see in your lap. For those you truly want to hang out with, you actually have to initiate contact. Otherwise you might accidentally not see them for months and they might accidentally think that you hate them.

10. If you want to meet new people, you actually have to leave your apartment
Stop watching Netflix. Go outside. Talk to strangers.

11. If you tell people you’re ok, they will believe you, even if you’re lying
This may seem obvious, but it was sort of a breakthrough considering I just always assumed everyone could read all of my emotions on my face. Turns out, they can’t! If you’re having a hard time and want some help, you have to ask for it. Conversely, if you don’t want anyone’s help, lying to people’s faces is apparently not that hard.

12. Don’t wear clothes that are two sizes too big, have holes in them, or are only half made
Even if they’re cute and or on sale. This is an eternal struggle of mine.

13. No one knows what they’re doing at 23
In the wise words of Blink 182: nobody likes you when you’re 23. And it’s because at 23, you fall into two distinct categories of people: the liars or the whiners. Either you’re constantly trying to reassure everyone that you’re a real person with a great job and framed art and the capacity to own a living creature as a pet without killing it, or you’re constantly complaining about how terrible your situation is, how everyone else is succeeding while you’re floundering. It’s time we all chill out and admit that none of us know what’s going on. Let’s all stop pretending and worrying and be ok with not feeling like an “adult”. “Adulthood” is just an elusive concept someone made up when they were freaking out about not having their shit together.

14. Whether or not you call yourself a feminist is of zero importance as long as you’re a decent human being
A trend in modern media these days is to ask powerful, influential women if they consider themselves a feminist and then, regardless of their answer, criticize them for their response. This is decidedly annoying. I’ve come to realize, though, that whether or not Marissa Meyer or Katy Perry or Hillary Clinton call themselves “feminists” isn’t really important, because they’re all successful in doing what they want to be doing. And feminism is all about working towards goals you set for yourself; making your own decisions and working hard to follow them through; not accepting other people’s expectations of you if they’re not in-line with your own; and working to make sure these opportunities are available to everyone. This isn’t to say that I don’t think feminism isn’t important, or that we’ve achieved full gender equality, or that I didn’t wish everyone proudly called themselves a feminist. I’m just saying that judging people by the way they choose to define themselves is unproductive.

15. Ignoring the fact that you are ill will just make you even more ill
You know the song “We R Who We R” by  Ke$ha? The one where she sings: “Got that glitter on my eyes/Stockings ripped all up the side/Looking sick and sexy-fied/So let’s go!” Well, in college I really took the “looking sick and sexy-fied” line to heart. Meaning, any time I was ill, I’d just slather on some make-up, take a shot of Dayquil, and go about my merry way, business as usual. I’d work a million hours a week, go out Thursday-Friday-Saturday nights, and not pay any attention to my nutritional intake. I thought this meant I was dedicated and fun! Nothing was going to stop me! Except that I’d always end up going home for Christmas break sick as a dog and spend two weeks in bed trying to get better. I’m starting to come to grips with the fact that if you just admit when you’re sick and take a little break, it will prevent you from getting REALLY sick later down the road.

16. “Dressing for your body type” is generally accurate, but also total bullshit
You know how magazines are always telling women what to wear according to their body shape? A-lined skirts if you’re pear shaped! Cuffed jeans if you’re tall! Well, for the most part, I’ve realized that you will generally look good if you follow these rules. Your slim waist will be highlighted or whatever. But, you know what? I think it’s also total bullshit. Because, frankly, I wear my clothes because I think they’re cute. Or amusing. Or comfortable. I don’t really care that my harem pants highlight my pear-shapedness. Constantly trying to remember and follow ever-changing trends and body-type rules is exhausting! So, I’ve decided they’re pointless. Fuck off, Cosmo.

17. Toiletries are expensive and your mom will eventually stop paying for them
There are plenty of adjustments to face as you get older and more financially independent. And while some of them are much graver than others, the most frustratingly shocking one to me has been how expensive deodorant is. I know in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that bad. $5 every once in a while. But you also need toothpaste and shampoo and conditioner and cover up and toilet paper and a ton of other shit. Not only do you actually NEED these things, but you also have to PAY for ALL of them. There’s no way of getting around it! And your mom isn’t going to be there to buy them for you! Frustrating.

18. If walking from point A to point B takes less than a half hour, then walking is preferable to public transportation
This might just be applicable to DC residents—but I’ve found that taking public transportation anywhere takes at least half an hour. No matter where you’re going. If you know that it will take under thirty minutes to just walk there, do that instead. The exercise and the fresh air and the $3 you just saved will make you feel better.

19. If eating a certain food makes your stomach hurt, not eating it will make your stomach not hurt
Sometimes this is harder than it should be, because problematic foods are always the best kinds of foods. But accepting that your body doesn’t like a certain thing gets a whole lot easier once you realize how much better you feel when you don’t eat it.

20. Unless you are a handsome older gentleman in a suit or Ellen Degeneres, you look stupid wearing a tuxedo vest.
Facts of life people. Let’s just accept and move on.