Before we begin: the original article on things you need to learn before you are 25 was published in 2005 and it is still relevant today as it was eighteen years ago. But in that time a lot more people have come of age, so I thought an homage wouldn’t hurt. (And yes, I write for myself as much as I do for you.)
1. Doing chores without complaining
Chores are a non-optional part of having your own space, like electric bills and not making renovations without checking in with the landlord first. Yes, ironing is work. Now you know how your parents feel.
2. “There’s no roaches” is not an acceptable standard of cleanliness
It’s unlikely that somebody will show up, cook a ten course meal, and then demand to eat it straight from your floor. You still want to be able to see the floor, have clean dishes, and a worktop that doesn’t have a six-month patina of dry pasta sauce and oil stains.
3. Putting things off that can be done in three minutes is unacceptable
The more you put something off, the guiltier you feel when you are reminded of it, the less you want to do it, the more guilt piles on. It’s a vicious circle. Just scrub the toilet and scan in the document to verify your medical insurance.
4. Respect people working in the service industry
I’m a former customer service rep, and now I teach alongside my PhD. Most of my friends have either worked or are currently doing some sort of customer-facing job. I can verify we are as human as anybody else. We are being paid to do work, not to take abuse. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and hold the curse words. It’s not that difficult.
5. Learn how to feed yourself
No, I’m not saying you should be a master chef or even versed in the fine art of reading nutrition labels. I’m saying, figure out what food you like, what it feels like to be hungry or full, then go about procuring said food so that you are fed at reasonable hours. Mooching off your roommates, or taking their stuff without replacing it, is not cool, and an invitation for someone to put laxatives in the milk.
6. Understand the value of a psychologist
I can write a whole piece on this. If you never have to visit a shrink in your life, that’s great. Shitting on people who do – not so much. A mental health professional is like any doctor. You wouldn’t ask any stranger off the street to do your root canal for free.
7. Your significant other/friends/family are not free emotional labor
Do people in relationships provide each other with support? Yes. Do they do that 24/7, nonstop, and unconditionally? No. Human beings experience compassion fatigue. The difference between your girlfriend and a counselor is that the counselor is trained to listen, and gets a pension out of it.
8. It’s okay not to respond to provocation
Chances are, the person egging you on is in more pain than you are. Pick your battles. Live to fight another day.
9. Knowing the battles you absolutely HAVE to fight for
Things like ending childhood poverty and ensuring equal workspaces for all ethnicities and genders isn’t “nice to do”, it’s something we should all be striving for because we live on the same damn planet, treating each other fairly is NOT too much to ask for.
10. Knowing your own boundaries
Conversely, you know that behavior that you hate but you put up with from your boyfriend? The demanding of emotional labor, the backhanded compliments or the outright abuse? What would happen if you told him to stop doing that? Or you asked your girlfriend to not talk down at you in front of your friends? Would they apologize and stop? Would they leave? Would leaving be such a bad thing?
11. Respecting divergent tastes, including your own
You like to read romance novels while your friends are into high-brow, cerebral murder mysteries? You don’t have to paint a coat of irony on top in order to justify it. And don’t go looking down your nose at people who love classic noir – you can think of Hitchcock as an overhyped misogynist bully without saying that Every. Time. Someone. Brings up. The birds.
12. Having the guts to ask for the things you want
A promotion? A date? Some peace so that you can study for your legal exams? Other people are not mind-readers, they can’t know what you’re thinking unless you tell them. Maybe your boss will say no, or that beautiful human you admire is in a relationship, but maybe they are not, and most non-arseholes will respect your need for quiet during a stressful period. You cannot expect others to guess your needs and desires. At some point, you have to stand up for what you want.
13. Learning to take ‘no’ for an answer
You don’t need a million life partners, friends, awards, or jobs (in fact, having a million jobs at once is highly discouraged.) What you need are people who are right for you and an occupation that you don’t utterly despise. Throwing a tantrum when you hear ‘no’ is what toddlers do. And even they get over it eventually.
14. Taking your safety seriously
Abuse is not sexy and if someone threatens you, take it seriously. Sock away money, hide, call the police, SAVE YOURSELF.
15. Acting with integrity whenever you can
Aside from putting yourself in harm’s way (see point 14) being an adult means acting with integrity regardless of whether you find the task pleasurable or not. You want to break up? Don’t cheat as a way out of a relationship. You hate your boss? Look for another job, but don’t go undermining them or poisoning the water for everyone who continues to work there.
16. Holding off on unsolicited advice
Unless someone asks you for advice (or you think they are at risk of immediate physical harm) don’t give your opinions on other people’s lives. You don’t approve of your friend’s diet? Keep it to yourself. You think your brother is dating a loser? It’s not your relationship. Judging other people doesn’t inspire them to change their behavior, it makes them reluctant to come to you for support.
17. Recognizing when something is above your paygrade
Your friend wants to make health changes? Help them make an appointment with a doctor and take them there, but don’t give them advice you’re not qualified to give. Yes, even if you are a doctor yourself. Aside from the fact that this would mean readjusting your relationship, do you honestly want to clock out of work and then go hang out at the pub and do EVEN MORE WORK?
18. Respecting other people’s wishes
Your friend shares something with you under strict secrecy. You think other people need to know. How do you proceed? The sad state of affairs is, there are very few cases when making a unilateral decision to break secrecy are justified. Knowing your boundaries might help you field off any situations where you feel like your personal ethics might stop you from respecting other people’s wishes, but don’t assume you know what is best for another adult.
19. Relationships are WORK
It’s not uncommon to fall out of contact with university mates, childhood besties, and beloved mentors. Life is an egg juggling act where you are constantly subtracting or adding items. Sooner or later you will drop some eggs. Try not to beat yourself up if you lose touch – if you want to reach out again when the juggling eases up, you absolutely can.
20. Trust that others will put in the effort for you, too
Here’s the thing: some relationships ARE lopsided for reasons that we have no control over. Bodies get sick, emergencies hit, and the weather does not give advanced warning to anybody. There are times when we are the ones doing the heavy lifting to maintain a relationship. The problem is when you are ALWAYS the one sacrificing “because it’s what friends do”. What if you stepped back and let the other person put in the effort, too? Is that a scary question? Why?
21. Calling bullshit on what it is
You want a relationship and some dude tries to negotiate down to FWB? Call bullshit. Your friend makes plans with you and expects you to foot the bill? Call bullshit. Your boss is calling you 24/7 on your sick days as if you are working from home? Politely tell them that you would not want to risk your team’s performance when you are not at 100%, and if they persist with that behavior, start exploring (covertly) your options. Don’t be a doormat (yes, I am talking to my 24-year-old self. WTF were you thinking?!)
22. You can absolutely survive without narcissists
Necessity, systematic oppression, and illness are all real factors that impact our lives differently. Some people DO have to put up with a lot of shit for the sake of their survival. But there are also many (many many many many many) others who accept terrible treatment at the hands of narcissists, because they are convinced they cannot survive without them. Don’t fall for this.
23. Knowing what matters to you and working for it
Yes, yes, budgeting is important. I know that you know. I’m talking about the bigger picture – where do you want to live? How do you want to live? What sorts of things matter to you? Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 15, 20 years’ time? I realize I sound like some preppy blogger with shiny hair, telling you to Make A Plan, but guess what? Keeping your visions of the future vague and undefined makes you seem like you don’t care about anything. In job interviews? That’s deadly.
24. Progress is not always linear
Sometimes you will take a step back. That’s okay, that allows you to heal and reevaluate. You wouldn’t expect someone to keep running a marathon if they twist their ankle on the second mile. You would get them some ice and a cupcake and tell them they will annihilate their PB next year.
25. It’s all just a number
Sometimes age matters, such as when you are evaluating your retirement options or when you work with a lot of children and teenagers. It also matters when you try to figure out why a man would only date girls who are half his age (answer: because no woman his age would put up with that bullshit). Other than that? Age doesn’t have to Be A Thing. Don’t make it one, and don’t let others take issue with it either.
We’re just getting started here. And we can make it awesome.