Life advice for Millennials

Ella the cat

These things are always self-satisfied and pretentious but as one of the first of us to cross the dreaded barrier into my 30s (tomorrow!), I do feel like there are just a few knowledge darts I can throw back from the brink of the abyss.

1. It probably feels like having having high cholesterol, a thyroid condition that makes you permanently exhausted or skin cancer that needs immediate surgery is impossible. All these things and more are very, very possible. Listen to your body, get a physical, get blood tests — all of ’em.

2. If you get a kettlebell and a jumprope you never need to go to a gym.

3. White privilege, white supremacy, systemic inequality, the patriarchy, the 1% — all that shit is real. Read about it. Fight against it. Educate people. Vote.

4. Yelling at people about how they are wrong feels good to you. Gently guiding them into awareness and empathy is good for everyone. Most things in life are misunderstandings and not sports rivalries. But this is exhausting and you can’t be Mother Teresa all day, either.

5. Never expect that you know everything about anything. Always be figuring out what piece you’re missing. This is as true for writing music criticism as it is for arguing about global politics.

6. I guess 4 and 5 are really just “offer the help that you can.” This is important professionally: being competitive may be how you get a gig, but being nice, doing favors and building a network is how you create a career.

7. I really believe that there is a connection between the human brain’s glucose-driven struggles with decision-making and why people fall into religious and political paths where they can trust a dogma and don’t have to make a lot of choices. Fuck dogma. Eat almonds and make choices.

8. There are really no good or bad choices (except for, like, overdosing on drugs or gambling away your life savings — and joking aside, those are often symptoms of a disease, addiction*), there are just choices, no one knows what’s going to happen and if something’s not working out, go do something else. You can always quit a job or break up with someone or move back home. If you feel trapped, ask for help.

9. The thing about dream jobs is that you get the job and then you find out it’s still a job, and maybe the thing you wanted to do at age 15 is not how you want to spend ages 25-65. “What do you want be when you grow up?” is a shitty question. We’re all going to be lots of things. Step back, check in on yourself, make sure you’re happy and useful.

10. Hit the limits of what you can do with the tool you can afford, then go buy the better tool. I started with a point-and-shoot camera, bought one with manual settings, got my first crop-sensor DSLR and finally upgraded to full-frame. If you can go buy the best thing right now, cool, but the middle-priced thing is always the best thing, the expensive stuff is literally being made to sell a few copies to idiot rich people.

11. Get some nice headphones. Not Beats. It’s unbelievable how much better music can sound.

12. All those schmucks who retire at age 35 do it because they were making $120,000 a year, not because they were eating peanut butter sandwiches and ramen for every meal. Yeah, save your money, invest in an index fund, understand what an IRA is and how to do your taxes, don’t buy a BMW you can’t afford. You can still go to brunch.

13. Be nice to your parents. You’re going to fight, that’s O.K. Learn how to fight with them in a way that’s not toxic. Same thing for your relationship. Learn to catch yourself when things are getting out of hand, pause, go cool off. Don’t ever bring up old stuff, deal with the problem in front of you. Hug.

14. Adopt a friendly cat. At the adoption center, reach out your hand gently and the cat will come and sniff you and request head rubs. That’s the cat you want.

15. Money is power. Buy local. Support the businesses and community and art you want to exist. Don’t assume something, like your favorite band or a neighborhood restaurant, is going to be fine just because it’s still there.

16. The only difference between childhood and being a grown-up is grey hair and how many responsibilities you have, there is no figuring it out, we are always figuring it out forever, don’t worry so much.

17. You need Joni Mitchell’s “For the Roses” in your life and Wu-Tang Clan’s “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”

Photo: Ella the cat by David Greenwald.

*An earlier version of this post glossed over the potential role of addiction in these actions and I am sorry to have minimized that.