A quarter-century of wisdom (take it or leave it)

25

The internet is obsessed with being twenty-something—in list form.

Especially when it comes to turning 25.

A few choice headlines from Thought Catalog:

“The 25 Scariest Things About Turning 25.” “25 Things A 25-Year-Old Should Do.” “25 Things Every Woman Should Have By The Time She Turns 25.” “21 Immature Dating Habits You Should Grow Out Of By 25.”

(Couldn’t the author of that last one think up four more immature dating habits to make the headline a tad more consistent?)

I, too, am particularly moved by the significance of turning 25. Partially because that’s how old I turned today. And because it’s how old my mom was when she had me. (Whoa.)

But I don’t feel compelled to tell my peers what they should be doing, as so many lists suggest. What gives me the right? I’m only 25.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a lot worth sharing, though. My crazy gray hair that won’t quit clearly indicates there is some wisdom to be gleaned from my quarter-century on this earth.

For example, I’ve learned (thankfully early on) that it’s more important to be smart than pretty. And that it’s even more important to be kind than smart.

I’ve learned that it’s okay to say no when it truly is right for you, but that sometimes, you need to say yes when it would be easier to say no.

I’ve learned the value of finding and honing your voice, both written and verbal. After about 20 years of writing, I truly feel at ease in a voice that belongs only to me, and that’s a beautiful gift. It’s a lot more challenging to be vocal off the page, but talking about the things I’m passionate about has helped me find my voice in other important ways. Like everything else, this takes practice, and I’m getting better at it.

I’ve learned not to struggle against the uncertainty of life, because what’s the point? I’d rather see the beauty in it. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now, and I’m oddly excited by that.

And I’ve learned that there’s nothing “scary” about turning 25 (or 30 or 50), and that unsolicited advice about what you “should” do or be or have or aspire to is bullshit. Society tries so hard to tell us otherwise, and a lot of companies make a lot of money by doing it. But when I look at real people – the people I’ve grown up with, the people I’ve met and had a connection with and never saw again, and the people I hope to meet someday – I know that there is no such thing as the right or wrong way, but just our many, varied, flawed and beautiful ways of living our lives.

And no way of life worth striving for can be easily summed up in 25 bullet-pointed commandments.

So cheers to 25 and beyond – here’s to not having our shit figured out and being quite all right with that.

How to befriend anybody (even if you’re an introvert)

create a spark

I am a journalist and an introvert.

My job requires me to talk to a lot of strangers—including, sometimes, strangers who don’t want to talk to me—and my very nature dictates that I’m often perfectly content to keep to myself.

The challenges and pleasures of being forced into conversation with people I might not have much in common with has taught me a lot about befriending people in everyday life, and meeting new people has become all the more enjoyable for it.

The secret to befriending anybody? It’s not so secret: you just have to ask questions.

We introverts typically don’t require large groups of friends to feel happy and fulfilled. In fact, many of us prefer to have a handful of close friends and wouldn’t be sad if we hardly ever went to parties.

But what many of us do value is having meaningful conversations and making one-on-one connections. You can have those connections with almost anyone you meet, and you don’t have to suffer through small talk to do it.

Good conversation is a skill that can be learned. Before an interview, young journalists often will come up with a list of questions written perfectly neat in fresh notebooks and will cling to those notebooks for dear life, hardly straying from the order of their list. But the more interviewing experience they get, the more comfortable they become having conversations that flow naturally and asking smart follow-up questions.

As I’ve developed those conversational skills, I’ve gotten better at listening and picking up on the things that people will open up about, if asked. I’ve seen people’s eyes and body language become more engaged and less defensive by showing my genuine interest and endearing myself to them. You know what always does that trick? Asking someone to explain what they do: Not just “what do you do?” but “how do you do that?”

A few simple questions to keep the conversation going:

  • What do you like to do?
  • What is that like?
  • How did you learn to do/become interested in that?
  • That sounds challenging. (Not a question, but a good way to get someone to elaborate on the challenges of their work or hobbies – everyone thinks their job is hard.)
  • How did you two meet?
  • I’ve been meaning to check out new [books/restaurants/running routes]. Do you have any suggestions?

Of course, the more you talk to someone, the more specific-to-them questions you can ask!

If you assume the mindset of an interviewer, at the very least, you’ll learn something interesting about whoever you’re talking to, and chances are, they’ll automatically warm up to you. And if you’re talking to an equally thoughtful person who reciprocates the interest, you’ll have an engaging two-way conversation that you both can get something out of—possibly even friendship.

This method is good for anyone, and introverts especially will love this style because it puts the focus on the other person and on having a genuine dialogue. You’ll come off as outgoing and engaging by simply asking questions.

What tips do you have for making friends? What are some of the most surprising connections you’ve made as a result?

 

 

 

Long live summer

Long Live Summer

The internet would have you believe that summer is over.

Fall fashion this! Pumpkin spice lattes that! they say. In fact, there are still three weeks and some change until the autumn equinox, and I’d prefer not to rush things.

Never mind that I went back to school this week (my last first day of school ever) or that it’s Labor Day weekend. Never mind that I, too, enjoy all the things that make fall fall. (Except pumpkin spice lattes. I just can’t get on that train.) It’s still technically summer. Long live summer.

These three short months of the year have always been my favorite, and it’s no different now that I live in Southern California. The season holds a certain kind of magic that doesn’t exist the rest of the year.

In recognition of the fact that it is still indeed summer, I plan on doing all of the following:

Going for long walks and bike rides at sunset. Nothing like soaking up the last rays of sunlight while walking around the neighborhood. My apartment doesn’t get much natural light past 5 p.m. these days, so late-afternoon walks make the days last longer.

Eating al fresco. Whether picnicking or hitting up the fish taco stand up the street, I love eating outside and people-watching.

Whipping up piña coladas. Actually, John is the blended beverage expert, so that task is delegated to him. I’ll be sure to offer up a salud.

Taking a day trip. Hopping in the car to explore a new (or old favorite) spot is the epitome of summertime adventures. You can find me at the beach on the weekend.

Checking things off my to-do list. The closet I’ve been meaning to clean out? That recipe I’ve been wanting to try? There’s no better time to do all the little things that need to get done. I like my summers productive as much as I like them leisurely.

So for all you fall lovers, be patient.

You’ll have your chunky-knit sweaters and color-changing leaves soon. (When you do, will you send some to L.A.? At some point, I’ll begin to crave them.) But for now, enjoy the summer. Don’t rush it out the door.

How will you enjoy these last few weeks of summer? Have you made the most of the season?

 

How to be a good host (in a tiny apartment)

A small apartment feels significantly smaller when there’s an extra person taking up space.

And yet, when you finally have a place all your own—a place that’s yours to decorate, and I’m talking grown-up, the-art-on-the-walls-is-actually-framed place—you want to invite the people you love into that home, no matter how small it might be. Still, it can be a challenge.

Last week, my randomly-paired-college-roommate-turned-best-friend Justine came to visit all the way from New York. My and John’s apartment is just big enough for two people (and a dog, ideally) to live comfortably, but with three people, it becomes a little tight. Luckily I had months to impatiently await and meticulously prepare for Justine’s arrival, and I learned a few key things.

how to be a good host in a tiny apartment

To be a good host in a tiny apartment…

Start with the bed. Whether your guest is staying a night or a week, they’re likely going to be exhausted, yet sleeping in an unfamiliar place can lend itself to crappy rest. If your parents or any older relatives or friends are coming to stay and you don’t have a spare private bedroom, offer them your bed with fresh sheets and take the couch. For other guests, make sure you have all the bedding essentials (don’t forget a pillow) and try to create some privacy. We have a $50 air mattress that we use while camping that Justine slept on, and every morning after she got up, she folded up her blankets and put them off to the side, and we leaned the mattress up against the back wall where it would be out of the way. That way, our living room didn’t feel like a bedroom the rest of the day.

Designate spaces for the basics. Outlets and closet space can be hard to come by in a small apartment, but make the effort to free up an outlet near where your guest will be sleeping so they don’t accidentally unplug your only light source or TV to charge their phone. If they’re staying for several nights, go the extra mile and make a few closet hangers available for them to use. When Justine was here, I also let her borrow my (clean) robe so she could go back and forth between the tiny bathroom and her suitcase comfortably. I let her change in the bedroom, too, so she didn’t have to get dressed in the small, steamy bathroom post-shower.

Show them how they can help (and how to help themselves). Dishwashers don’t come standard in most apartments in L.A., so we wash everything by hand here. After showing your guest where all the food, utensils and coffee are, encourage them to wash up afterward and show where clean dishes can dry. If they’re good houseguests, they’ll be happy to help out, and your apartment won’t suffer from piled-up clutter.

Help them spend as much time out of the apartment as possible. Even though they might be here to see you, it doesn’t mean your guest wants to spend their whole visit at your place. (We’re talking tiny apartments, not hillside villas.) Get a sense of the kinds of things they’d like to do before they arrive, and whether they’re exploring off on their own or you’re playing tour guide, have a loose itinerary planned. Think of your apartment as their crash pad to cater to their basic needs, not the main attraction.

And just some good hosting etiquette in general:

Stock up on snacks and toilet paper. Show your guest where they are and they won’t have to ask your permission to eat (or, y’know, wipe themselves).

Give them your Wifi password. Why make them use up their data plan unnecessarily? Their phone will likely feel like even more of a lifeline when they’re traveling away from home, so help them use it for free.

Recommend local publications/guides/resources beforehand. Whether they want to scope out the nightlife or learn something about your town, your favorite go-to sites will probably be helpful to them, too. For the best Los Angeles-centric lists (of rooftop bars, places to eat brunch, hikes to check out), I recommend LAist.

Give them options. While I had a loose itinerary planned when Justine came to visit, I also made it flexible enough to accommodate different moods. Mexican or Italian food? Fancy drinks out or a casual happy hour around the block? If they’re relying on you for getting around and seeing the sights, giving them the power to decide in the moment what they’d rather do makes them feel like they’re not completely at your mercy.

Finally, cook for them or treat them to a meal out. No one knows exactly what to expect the first night they’re staying in someone else’s home. Treating them to dinner is your way of welcoming them and showing that you value their company. Even if you have a tiny apartment, it’s a nice gesture to give them a home-cooked meal. (John made pizza one night and Justine politely offered to help. I told her, “It’s too tiny for you to be any help” and refilled her wine glass.) A night out—your treat—is also a perfect way to welcome them and show them your town. They’ll remember your generosity when they’re cleaning up after themselves at home.

Have you ever played host in a tiny apartment? How did you make your guests feel comfortable? Or, if you’ve been a guest in someone else’s home, what gestures have you most appreciated from your hosts?

 

How do you prioritize?

priorities

When you think about your top priorities, do a dozen different things come to mind?

If so, we’re a lot alike. But I’ve realized what I call “priorities” pretty much encompass my entire life—everything from school to relationships to my health to this here blog make up all of my top focuses, which in fact makes it pretty darn hard to focus on anything, really.

Nicole wrote a very insightful post that made me reconsider what my priorities were. This particularly stood out to me:

“Before last week, since my mental health wasn’t my clearly identified top priority, other ‘priorities’ such as training, social and family stuff, and even work would often slip into that top spot and monopolize my attention. I didn’t have an iron-clad priority, which made everything seem like the priority, but the truth is that a priority isn’t a priority if you have 50 of them.

Simple, right? It was refreshing and kind of a relief to read this. I realized I wasn’t failing at life because I struggled to balance grad school, two writing jobs, my health, a social life, and my blog. I was just a normal person who had a lot on her plate and felt like she had to do all the things when in fact she should’ve focused on the first thing on her list: grad school. Are the other things still important? Absolutely. Are they the most important? Well, no. Not right now.

But how do you stick to one priority when other things are still important?

Obviously relationships and health shouldn’t go out the window just because school or something else gets top billing. The most helpful way I’ve come to think of it is to schedule your top priority in ink. Schedule the rest in pencil. 

In other words, plan time on your calendar that’s dedicated to whatever’s most important and stick to it no matter what. That way, even if you only accomplish one thing on your list, it’s the most important thing. Allow yourself to be flexible on the rest, and you won’t feel guilty if today’s cleaning session becomes tomorrow’s instead.

If you’re a master procrastinator, it also helps to identify your biggest distractors and schedule those, too. For me, scrolling through Twitter, Instagram and my blog feed is how I procrastinate. That not only takes away time from my top priority, but from my downtime, too. Now, I’m setting a limit on that time to 5-10 minutes in the morning and evening and 15-20 minutes at lunch. And blogs? I can catch up on those over the course of an hour on the weekends. That’s plenty of time to stay active and engaged online—but most importantly, that also leaves plenty of time to be active and engaged in the real world.

By keeping your number-one priority in mind every time you have to make a decision about how to spend your time, you’re a lot more likely to make the right decision and stay focused on the main goal. It helps to keep expectations for other aspects of our lives in perspective, too. In my case, that means from now on, I plain to aim on publishing two blog posts per week instead of three here at WTH. I have a lot of other writing responsibilities, and if I get too ambitious with my secondary goals, I’m unnecessarily setting myself up for disappointment if I fail to reach them.

August has been amazing and filled with lots of travel and quality time with family and friends, and now I’m ready to get back in the blogging groove—albeit at a different pace than before. Now that I have more realistic goals in mind for this space and can focus on grad school, there’s no mistaking what my top priorities are any longer.

How about you? What’s your top priority, and how do you work toward it every day?