It seems as if every time I write, all I can think about is aging. As 2024 begins, I am on the cusp of my 21st year. This milestone comes with its own set of hassles, yet 20 is a big year for most. For some, it’s the first time they are living away from home; for many, it’s a moment of self-discovery and finding their identity; and for most, it’s the start of accumulating existential dread for what’s to come (kidding, kinda).
Many of my recent conversations have been about my early 20s: the dream of endless dinner parties, board game nights and self-care days with friends. While it may not be as dreamy as Pinterest vision boards or TikToks, spending time with the people I love has been rewarding. And so, through such conversations, I have developed the all-knowing guide to surviving your early 20s: the perfect five-item list that I think everyone should swear by.
1. It only has to make sense to you.
Do your utmost within the boundaries of preserving your well-being rather than achieving goals at the expense of neglecting them. You can holler it to the clouds, cry on your college house’s kitchen floor or scribble it over the last two pages of your brand new journal: Find the things that make your soul dance inside your body.
2. Find people who interpret you accurately.
It’s so meaningful when someone says a spark of a phrase or utters the other half of your sentences. Find the people that resonate with you so intimately that you want to be a lover in an era in which you would rather be in solitude.
3. Every time you find the need to please people, remind yourself that you want to be loved like a person, not like a show dog.
Being unproblematic, likable and charming comes with a safety net of universal adoration. Why sacrifice ourselves to be loved? Perhaps it’s so people know you are not vulnerable, needy or angry. But at the end of the day, humanity is about being silly, singing loudly and getting mad. Life is truly too short to be worrying about what your Instagram crush thinks. Post the story, kiss people on the forehead, love all and be weird. Everything else is beside the point.
4. There will always be a point where you sit and think there is something fundamentally wrong with you, that you are unloved and unlovable.
Yet, it is almost always true that it’s probably just a Friday night in, your bangs sitting a little off because they are greasy from not washing your hair. Maybe it’s just a little lonely in your room, and the combination of those three things is what is causing you to feel a pruning hole in your chest every time you breathe. However, as the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, you survived the day and have survived everything thus far, so you will survive this, too. It may hurt and continue to hurt to breathe, but you will survive, even if you have to survive it many times over.
And my favorite, Mr. Number 5.
5. Feel the magnitude of your own worth (but don’t forget number 2 — your people are important too!)
Growing up, even to this day, the concept of a best friend is beautiful to me. Someone who you can share your life with, love with, grow with. While I have found the people I call home, some nights consist of me holding my loneliness. She comes in the form of a 16-year-old girl with puffy eyes and a stuffy nose, and all I can do is hold her and tell her I love her more than I have ever loved anyone. Sometimes, the person you need, the best friend that you share your life with and love with, is you, and you’ve been there as the person all along.
And in conclusion, to quote a fan-favorite Tumblr (Sarah Perry) quote: “drink tea, together with your friends; pay attention to the tea, and to your friends, and pay attention to your friends paying attention to the tea. Therein lies the meaning of life.”
Aashi Mendpara is a junior from Orlando, Fla. studying Neuroscience and Anthropology.