You Don’t Have To Be A Hot Mess In Your 20s

Sometimes when I read articles on the internet about what it’s like to be a “young person,” I feel like I might be the most boring person alive. I don’t have a pill addiction, and I’m still not quite sure what Xanax is. Is it one of Jupiter’s moons, like Io’s wacky cousin? Or was Xanax the girl of the 21stcentury? I’ve never been that into partying or doing self-consciously wild things so I can nostalgize it later, like that episode of Girls where Hannah expects to have a Big Revelation after doing coke, only to find out the experience kind of sucks. I’m like a White Stripes song, single but not that broken up about it, looking but not desperate, lonely but I ain’t that lonely yet.

We look at this time in our lives as this point where we are infinitely uncertain and are still figuring ourselves out, where we are expected to try everything and make every mistake. In a weird way, it’s like we are encouraged to fuck up and be complete selfish assholes because we’ll learn from it later. When we make complete idiots out of ourselves, we have a way of bragging about it, as if we cracked the code. We’re unfinished now, but don’t worry. We’ll become finished later. However, for anyone who has seen Young Adult, engaging in bad behavior doesn’t mean you necessarily learn from it or grow, and being a hot mess for the sake of being a hot mess won’t do you any good. You need some consciousness behind it.

When I watch Girls – which is ostensibly supposed to be about people like me, the Generation Getting Their Shit Together — I look at people I fundamentally can’t relate to. Although my mother wouldn’t let me get a job in high school, because (even though we were dead broke) she wanted me to focus on my school work, I’ve had two or three jobs my entire adult life and had to pay my own rent. During undergrad, I ran two different student groups, started another one and still held down an internship and suffered through an ill-fated job at a brunch restaurant I loathed. And I did it with a 3.9. When I graduated college, I didn’t crash and burn. I stayed busy. Ain’t nobody got time to burn.

I don’t hold myself up for being different or unique; I’m perfectly average and incredibly dull. In fact, I pale in comparison to my classmates. I went to DePaul University, where kicking your own butt was the norm. Two of my classmates started non-profits before they could legally drink, and my old roommate helped start a campaign for Fair Wages on campus for the school’s underpaid employees. I knew students who organized rallies, conferences and university-wide interfaith dialogues while holding down jobs, applying to grad schools and trying to have one of those things called a “social life.” Instead of burning out, many of them went onto to do the Peace Corps or Americorps, work for the Mayor’s Office or the White House (!) or have kickass internships with the UN (?) and at least two people I know have written books since graduating. Assholes. All of them. Beautiful assholes.

A lot of the people I know aren’t busy immolating themselves with booze: they are staying up late to cram for exams, putting the extra effort in to get that A on a paper and pushing themselves to achieve great things. Some 20-somethings are staying at home with their cat or calling their grandmother to check in on her, cooking for a friend who can’t afford food this month or volunteering their free time to do something more than sit on their couch. Sometimes they just go to bed early. The more you live as a 20-something, the more you find out it’s not that different than any other age. You just have less money.

Of course, not everyone around us is out there changing the world, and I know people who do have lives that are reflective of the Ballad of the Sad 20-Something. I know people who are struggling and hurting, and there’s nothing wrong with not having it figured out and feeling like life will never make sense to you. That experience isn’t unique to your 20s. I once asked a therapist of mine how old she was when she got her life together, and she burst into spontaneous laughter. She asked me, “What makes you think I have it figured out? You might have it more together than I do.”

People like those above give me hope that we don’t all have to be numbskulls in our 20s, folks who seem to have had their shit together since popping out of the womb. Forgodsakes, a guy at a neighboring college who founded his own software company and sold it for millions of dollars, before he graduated high school, and Zadie Smith wrote her first book when she was a teenager. We like to believe that people like these are wunderkinds, the kind of genius that we can never aspire to, but we only tell ourselves that as a way to keep us from achieving things. It allows us to continue to be a hot mess and not do anything about it.

But at some point you have to stop believing the worst about yourself and those around you and stop being your own worst enemy. There’s nothing wrong with your flaws; they are beautiful and a part of you, and you will always be a partially broken, not-quite-formed person. That doesn’t mean you can’t still go out and achieve great things, or that there aren’t parts of your life that are put together. Me, I can’t do relationships, at all, and I haven’t the slightest clue how to trick a man into liking me or what I would do with one if I trapped him in a relationship. Is it a Boxing Helenasituation? Should I work on my avant-garde amputation skills?

However, being single in my 20s (or at any age) doesn’t mean I that I don’t still have it all, in my own weird way. We expect that we will reach this magical point in our 30s where it all comes together, and I sometimes joke that I can’t wait to be 35. 2023 is going to be my year. But why wait that long to push yourself to achieve your goals? Why put off being the best version of yourself to a decade from now? Why not make the 20s your decade? Instead of being the stereotype that affirms the rule, don’t you want to be the exception? The only person keeping you a hot mess is you. You need to believe that you can be better than that. You need to believe in yourself.

2023 won’t be the year of Nico. 2013 will be the year of Nico. Join me. Let’s have our year, together.

By NICO LANG 

Posted on 15 March, 2013

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    This makes me feel better about moving on from that typical 20-something life I had to a hard-working grad student....
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    "But at some point you have to stop believing the worst about yourself and those around you and stop being your own...
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