The “What I Know Now” column is in partnership with Chrisina Vuleta, the founder of the excellent website 40:20Vision.com, where forty somethings share all things “they wish they’d known then” with 20-somethings. The following is a co-post appearing on both sites. May we all grow happily older AND wiser.
Hello, girls, gals, ladies, and friends:
I write this on the heels of my 31st birthday, squarely in the middle of my 20′s and my 40′s. From this vantage, I’m old enough to have fallen on my face, but I’m young enough that adult stability still feels new. At 31, I’ve learned what it takes to be who I want to be. I’ve also learned that nothing is constant or final no matter how old you get, how much money you make, or how wonderful the man is who loves you.
Alison Is 22
In 2004, right after college, I packed my car and hightailed it out of the Carolinas to start my life. On July 14th, I arrived in New York City with $3500, blonde highlights, monogrammed towels, and a series of pastel cabled Polo sweaters (care of my Southern mother). Halfheartedly, I used my creative degree to get a job in advertising.
Within six months, I’d hit a wall. I was working long hours and hating my job with an (almost) irrational intensity; I was hooking up with a total douche; and I was at odds with my roommates. Even better, I was dealing with it all by charging a new wardrobe. (To be fair, I had learned quickly that I really hated baby-blue cable knit sweaters.)
In college, where your parents pay for stuff, casual hook-ups were a sign of independence, and everyone is basically drunk all the time, no one knows who they are. But in my newly beloved, competitive hometown of Zoo York, I learned fast: it was all on me. So I acted. And inspired by the vibrant life around me, I decided to live by this mantra.
“The only thing New York asks of you is to be the very best version of yourself.”
In simpler terms, I quit my job, moved to cheaper Brooklyn and found a therapist.
The rest of my 20′s proved to be a wild explosion of late-night parties, a killer restaurant scene and self-growth. It didn’t happen overnight. But eventually, I got a better job, one that was a combination of my experience and what I loved to do, and then other, even better ones. I dated some amazing, smart men. I made wonderful friends. I learned how to manage my money. I also got really good at yoga, traveled, and threw kick-ass dinner parties.
While things started rocky and poor (and even stayed a little bit rocky and poor), overall I can say honestly my 20′s were great. Sure, I got hurt and dealt with some crap sometimes too…I got dumped, worked for assholes, and even lived in an illegal but so, so cheap apartment without a kitchen for four years. But at the end of it, I came out confident, happy and strong.
Alison Is 31
Today, I live in LA. I moved here in January because I met the guy I want to marry. For a year, he had been writing me letters across the country. (Dreamboat alert!) And all of a sudden, things are stable. I’m no longer on my own. I like my work and together we have “enough” money. Add to that, I know myself and trust my decisions in life and love.
Except, before, in those occasional dark moments when I was living hand-to-mouth in a state of cold New York loneliness, I would fantasize about the day when it would all be okay. Except, while my life is as close to okay as I’ve ever known, it’s still not totally okay. Therein lies the rub: Life is never okay. Because while living gets easier, life never stops. It will never stop throwing you curve balls; you’re not dead yet.
In the almost-year I’ve been “living the dream” in LA, the following things occurred: a massive computer crash, the surprise financing of major dental work, and major car wreck (no one hurt, not our fault, but still). I’ve also had to learn to live day-to-day with a partner I’d only been in a long distance relationship with. The good news is that as far as coping, I’ve got it in the bag. The bad news is that learning how to deal with the curve balls doesn’t make them go away.
So I’m in love. I’m happy. We have a sunny, yellow kitchen with a dishwasher and original vintage fixtures that I totally dig. (Live without a kitchen for four years and then see how elated YOU are.) Yet, the same questions remain. Who am I and what do I want, next? And, I’m grateful that, for the time being, I can answer that. Because if you stop challenging yourself with those questions and deciding on its answer, you’ve given up. So, I know that despite my perfect kitchen, as long as I’m trying to live my best version of my bad-ass life, I’ll be reassessing and taking risks.
My name is Alison, I straddle the middle between 20 and 40. That is what I’ve done and this is what I say.
Twenty-Somethings, Use your youth wisely. Decide what you want. Work for it. Build a foundation. Dreams don’t happen tomorrow and life is long. Also, enjoy it. You look great in shorts and you have no major responsibilities. Make out.
Forty-Somethings, It’s never over. Own that things still can and will change. Live like you’re twenty and do what you haven’t done yet. Take a risk. Trip and fall. Get back up. Stay out late. Make out.
P.S. My answer on how to fall in love? Own yourself.
Alison Steedman is the editor at Dating & Hookup. She lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their histrionic cat, Charles Dickens, where she still carries on a nostalgic and long-distance love affair with her 20's in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @yosteedman, and you can also send her your writing at [email protected], both of which make her very happy.
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