Here at our house, we tend to live in a pretty communal manner. So for the teens and twenty-somethings who come through our wide open door I have three basic rules:
- No one makes me go to the ER on national holidays. (If you blow your finger off with illegal fireworks on the 4th of July you are on. your. own.)
- No one throws up on my carpet. (There’s plenty of beer in the fridge–but either don’t get that drunk, or make it to the bathroom.)
- No one comes home pregnant. (I’m pretty firm on that one. Safe(r) Sex is a non-negotiable.)
I think those cover the basics, at least in my narcissistic corner of the world where it is largely about ME. But in that twenty something world where it is all about–well, YOU-perhaps a few more tips are in order. So, carrying on with our goalÂ to turn our regrets into powerful insights for the next generation(s), here is my list of *8 Things Not to Miss in Your Twenties.
- One Word: Travel. Go on European quarter; take a gap year in India, road trip across the continent. Your body will still let you sleep in cheap beds, the noise at the hostels won’t bother you, and you can live out of a backpack. Now is the time. Nothing will shape your future self like travel.
- Avoid Consumer Debt. A modest school loan is one thing, but credit card debt–and I would even say car payments–are something I would try to avoid. I you must buy a car, do it used and make sure the payments are low. Now is not the time to be flashy. Save it for your midlife crisis.
- Experiment. In the words of the wise Homer Simpson, “There is a time and a place for everything, and that place is called college.” I would like to second that. If you want to try risky things, now aint’ a bad time to do so. If it doesn’t work out you’ll recover more quickly and have more time to make it right.
- Get High With a Little Help from Your Friends. Okay, I am SO of two minds about this, but I’m trying to acknowledge that most people are going to try things out at some point. This age seems better to me than high school. Why? Because you are a little older and a little wiser and are far less likely to do some dumb-ass thing while high. (Guess who works with teenagers?) One of my coach-the-teenagers partners has this rule, “It has to come from the ground.” After seeing the effects of a wide range of drugs on young peeps, I think this is good advice.
- Don’t Rush Marriage and Children. Now is a good time to read, ask, and think about what it is like to commit to marriage and to child rearing. I don’t know about the men folk, but a lot of women default to marriage in the first post-college years, in part to create a path for themselves at a time when their lives feel unfocused. This is not a good reason. Fall in love, fall into bed…but don’t fall into a life you haven’t really considered.
- Learn About Feminism. I know the “women can do anything message” has been sung for awhile now, and most young people have gotten the message. But I’m amazed at how many young women think gender equity has been reached. That is just bullshit. When women still get paid less then men, still take most of the second-shift burden, and regularly give up their power, things are not as they should be. Educate your self. Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti of Feministing is a good place to start. And guys, this goes for you too.
- Get an Internship. Nothing will beef up your resume and prepare you for the ‘real’ working world like a good internship. Don’t settle for a work-study job in the cafeteria. Find something in a field you are interested in and explore!
- Live at (or close) to Poverty Level. This may not be for everyone, but if you are at all inclined towards living in a commune or in some other form of intentional community, this is a good decade to try it. I spent part of a summer in an inner-city commune in Chicago, lived a year earning just a few hundred dollars a month with AmeriCorps, and quit my full-time job to work part-time while running a teen shelter for free. The people I met during those times taught me more about dignity, resilience and justice than anything else I’ve done.