In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, Y is for You

You’re the only you you’ve got.
You’re the only you there is.
You’re worth it.
You matter.
You’re loved.
You’re valued.
You’re cared for.
You can do it.
You can do it all night long.
You’re sweet.
You’re unique.
“You only get one shot to not miss your chance to blow.”
You are the reason.
You might be someone’s answer.
You never know.
You have the answers.
You’re able to find them.
You determine your future.
You are powerful.
You are strong.
You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.
You are who you are.
You know who you are.
You remember.
“You is kind; you is smart; you is important.”
You are never defined by one thing alone.
You are not what happens to you.
You’re a winner.
You’re a fighter.
You can always make it better.
You rock.
You’re funny.
You make me smile.
You’re enough.
You’re you. And that’s all you’ll ever need.

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Why it’s awesome to have no plans on the weekend

It’s Saturday morning and I wake up just after 7 a.m., thrilled that I’ve gotten to sleep in. It’s midday Saturday and I’m making brunch after a six-mile run, leisurely sautéing veggies before adding eggs to make a breakfast burrito. It’s Saturday afternoon and my laundry is almost done, so is my cleaning. It’s Saturday evening and I’m outside on the balcony, reading a book in the surprising warmth. It’s Saturday night and I’m taking a walk on the path by my apartment.

It’s Saturday night, and then I realize … when did it become so awesome to have absolutely no plans on a weekend?

When I officially reached adulthood, I guess.

Growing up, weekends were family time, filled with activities governed by the parents, the park district soccer schedule and whatever the siblings or extended family might have going that day. In high school, weekends were important friend time to do a whole lot of nothing — watching movies in someone’s basement, piling into someone’s car and driving around aimlessly, or better yet, wandering to that reportedly “haunted” road on one of the many edges where suburbia meets a rural abyss and hoping something creepy happens.

Some anxiety entered into high school weekends, too. What if if was homecoming time and you had no prospect of a date? Or what if it was any old Saturday night, and you had nothing to do but stay home with your parents, listlessly chat on AIM and watch the 9 p.m. news on TV? Disaster! Weekends became something to be filled with friends to prove you had friends, with adventures to prove you had adventures, with plans to prove you had plans for your social success, and therefore, your life.

College was a vast improvement, but those few weekends when it was tough to find anything real to do still posed a challenge. Huddled with a few friends from the dorms on a cold Friday night, you’d scroll through your phones, wondering if you could scrounge up anyone who was having a party, anyone old enough to buy alcohol, anyone willing to bring you warm cookies without requiring you to walk outside to the late-night cafeteria. The weekend remained something to be filled — until Sunday afternoon became mandatory homework time, which blended into all of Sunday night and at least two hours of early Monday morning. Ahh, the 2 a.m. sleep cycle … Now that I don’t miss …

But when I suddenly realized, at the soundly adult age of 27, that it’s glorious to have a free weekend, I knew times had changed. When I admitted I don’t care if I have plans every Saturday, because me-time is important, it allowed me to place a little more value on having a moment. And really, we all need a moment. Maybe it’s a moment to chill, sleep in, catch up on some TV; to read, relax, get organized, clean; even to make plans for future fun-filled weekends and be active on our own terms.

A free weekend with a blank calendar stretching out before you with 48 hours of unoccupied bliss isn’t a social snafu, a popularity fiasco. It’s something to be thankful for. And maybe, just maybe, one of these fantastic free weekends could be coming up … in as few as three more days.

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A twenty-something’s Halloween secret

Last year, I was nothing for Halloween.

Kevin and I wore khakis and white shirts and told people we were the “boring couple.” But we only made the joke a couple of times and it mostly just looked like we were in a plain outfit instead of a costume.

That wasn’t how the other twenty-somethings at this party in Chicago handled the annual ritual of costuming. Luckily, these weren’t people who went all-out in intricate zombie makeup, expensive and extravagant costumes or quirky full-body suits.
Everyone told us they found a simpler solution to what to be for Halloween: Last year’s costume.

One friend was a flapper for the second year in a row, in a flashy red dress and a feather headband. Another was wonder woman. One guy went as a repeat pirate, and he wasn’t even any pirate in particular. My brother borrowed my old soccer referee shirt and went as an official for the second year and I think a cat costume I encountered was a repeat, too.

None of them had any shame. They still looked festive and rocked their re-run costume, whatever it was. They knew they had saved time and money that they could put into other things, like more coffees with friends, longer bike rides and a new sweater to wear lots more times than the average Halloween costume.

If I only had went back into my stash of previous costume ideas, I could have been something much better than one half of “the boring couple.” I could have been a boy scout, a hippie, a garbage can — complete with candy wrappers taped to a black plastic bag. I could have dressed up as Avril Lavigne and rocked a cheap checkerboard tie and thrift store Dickies pants I bought a few years ago for the occasion. I’ve worn that yellow soccer shirt and been a ref, before, and I could have borrowed a set of my sister’s scrubs and been a nurse with no trouble at all.

Now I know the trick. When your mid-twenties hit, and if that means you no longer feel the urge to put much effort into Halloween, the secret answer is in the past. Dig back as far as you want and unearth something vintage. As they say, wait long enough and the old will be new again! Happy candy day!

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If the shorts don’t fit … be glad you’re out of high school

It feels weird to say this, but I think I’m growing out of my old athletic shorts from high school.

The weird part is the shorts are huge. They’re the super-long, basketball shorts that were my identity in high school. I didn’t wear the booty shorts of cheerleaders or pom pons girls; I shied away from the spandex of volleyball players and the loose but short shorts of runners. I didn’t wear those tight dancer capris, either. Just my basketball practice shorts, which practically went to the knees, and my soccer shorts, which were maybe a little shorter, but wider, roomier and airier.

The other weird part is it’s not just the size and shape of the shorts that doesn’t seem right – the identity they represent no longer seems to fit, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love to watch basketball (give me free tickets to a Bulls game and I’m a fan of yours for life) and I still love to play soccer (so much that I’ve considered refereeing on the weekends just to get back into the game). So it’s not that my sports identity has changed. It’s the high school connection between my sports of choice and my social self that I’m shedding as I approach my ten-year high school reunion.

In high school, wearing long, large basketball shorts was a sign of belonging. It identified you as a basketball player, a hardworking athlete, and not a super-girly one at that. It was a hard-nosed identity and it was the one I chose, despite also being a clarinet player in the band and a high school newspaper reporter/editor, among a few other club affiliations. Soccer shorts were the same way. Big. Not pretentious. Serious about sport, not necessarily about showing off to the guys – unless they happened to be impressed by your corner kicks or your status as junior varsity leading scorer.

All of that is in my past and I’m not ashamed of it, not running from it, not wishing I was someone or something else. I’m just saying it doesn’t fit anymore. And no matter how much I think it through, that’s weird.

It was the literal fit of the shorts that clued me in to this change. Seriously, they’re huge. I’m primarily a runner now, and I’m getting more used to shorts that are actually designed for running. They’re little shorter so there’s not too much fabric sloshing around between your legs. And in some cases, they’re a heck of a lot tighter so your legs won’t rub and chafe directly against one another. I still run pretty frequently in my basketball and soccer shorts, but I’m finding myself leaving them at the bottom of the pile more and more often in favor of the ones meant for running.

All I can do is let it be. Someday, my running shorts might not feel like a fit anymore, either. Maybe then I’ll have to move into old-lady shorts, super-long again to hide ugly veins or extra leg fat. Maybe I’ll become more of a bicyclist and choose those spandex shorts with a padded butt. Or maybe I’ll stay a runner and eventually wear those short runner shorts that made me so uncomfortable in high school. Only time will tell.

All I can do other than that is take stock of my identity and realize it’s shifted from where it was and who I was in high school. At my core, I’m the same, as are many of us in our twenties, but the adult is coming further to the forefront of what makes me who I am, and the teen is fading away. If I ever need to remind myself of who I was a decade ago, I’ve still got just the shorts to do the trick. So I say they’re worth keeping around.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, X is for: Stop being cliche

You know what’s full of clichés? The letter X.

X marks the spot. Solve for X. Find the X factor. Xylophone, because nothing else starts with the darn letter. eXtreme, because, you know, that sounds like it starts with this end-of-the-alphabet annoyance. X-rated. X-files. Ex-girlfriend. X it out and start over.

If only we could start our twenty-something lives over and X out clichés, these overused ways of acting, speaking or thinking that make us stereotypical, predictable, tired, bland – further from our true selves every time we fall into one of them.

If we could have avoided clichés, maybe there would be no negative images of lazy, entitled Millennials, tapping away on our iPhones in Starbucks while planning a three-month trip to Europe instead of getting a job.

If the world around us could be free of clichés, maybe so many of us who struggle with any aspect of ourselves – be it our body image, our sexual identity, our faith, our career aspirations, our family background, our mental stability – wouldn’t have to feel so wrong, unsure or lost. If only, if only.

There’s no way to avoid clichés entirely, and some say there’s a reason they become so commonplace and overused: because they naturally apply to a lot of us. Fair enough.

So let’s not aim for perfection, here, because that, in itself, could be seen as cliché. Let’s just recommit to being ourselves, original and as unique as can be. It’s not up to me to offer any advice on how to do that.

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How to do laundry: A twenty-something approach

I still approach laundry like a college student.

Oh, the hamper is overflowing? No biggie. It can wait a couple more days. This doesn’t all want to fit into the washer? Too bad. Stuff it down harder. It’s not quite dry yet? Oh well, I’m out of quarters – time to air dry! No more socks? Well these ones don’t stink too bad – throw ‘em on again! And why bother sorting anything by color or fabric type? Wash it all in cold and you’re good to go.

“Don’t worry if you forget to add the laundry soap,” my mom told me during one laundry lesson before my freshman year of college. “As long as everything gets sloshed around in there, it’s better than nothing.”

That “better than nothing” philosophy still permeates my laundry habits today. That’s why I’m not picky about load size, type or colors. And I usually skimp on the powdered laundry detergent, too, buying the cheapest or second-cheapest variety at Wal-Mart and never filling the scooper completely to the top before dumping it to the bottom of the washer and calling it good enough.

I don’t advocate for a “good enough” or “better than nothing” philosophy in other areas of life. I’m all about keeping my word and exceeding expectations in my career. I’m all about being thoughtful, caring and loyal toward others in my personal life, definitely not about doing the bare minimum in anything that matters. I keep my life organized (except that my to-do lists often become messy) and my apartment clean (except when I’m attempting to bake chocolate chip banana bread), and I take care of my possessions so they’ll last a long time.

But when it comes to laundry, I’m not a stickler. I’m not a germaphobe. I know people aren’t very observant, so that speck of blue ballpoint pen ink on my light khaki pants surely will go unnoticed. I know people are lazy, so if I show up to work in an un-ironed shirt that’s slightly wrinkly, either no one will notice, or they’ll smile and understand. I guess I just have better things to worry about than what temperature my clothes reach inside the shared washer at my apartment and whether my sheets are washed with my dishcloths or the T-shirt rags I use to clean the bathroom sink.

The college philosophy is great – give it the old college try. Stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep until 9, then still make it to a 9:30 a.m. class on time. Think ahead, but only to next weekend or next summer. Try new foods, classes, drinks, experiences. Meet new people and make them your favorites. But spend as little time as possible on dishes, cleaning, paperwork and laundry.

We’ve got all of our lives to manage our households and keep our things fresh and clean. So why spend any more time during the adult version of the “prime of our lives” than we absolutely have to worrying about doing the wash? Even college-style – crammed, procrastinated, mismatched and lacking adequate supplies – the laundry will get done. And that’s something to be thankful for.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, W is for Why

“Why?” is a question we all famously ask as kids.

Why do I have to go to bed? Why is the sky blue? Why are the dinosaurs dead? Why do I have to eat my broccoli? Why don’t grown-ups eat snacks? And my personal childhood favorite, Why do I always have to take the first shower? The list goes on.

Kids want to know why because they’re inquisitive, common sense tells us, and because they honestly don’t know yet. They don’t have the school experience that tells them dinosaurs are dead because evolution … or some giant meteor, the big bang or whatever. They don’t have the life experience that tells them eating vegetables makes you feel good and showering is a daily necessity and grown-ups do too eat snacks … just usually not Fruit Roll-Ups and Pop Tarts. Kids ask why because they want to know.

But why is still a favorite question of mine at 27.

Why do I have to wake up so early? Why is the ice cream gone? Why is the laundry machine always taken? Why can’t I just go to bed? Why can’t commuting be abolished? Why does work have to eat up so much of my time? Why am I always thinking about food? Some deeper “why” questions pop up, too, like Why do I still worry about things I can’t control? Why do I dwell on things I’m worried about and talk circles around them until I come up with some solution? Why do I still hold the occasional grudge? Why can’t I grow out of these bad habits? Why as I ending up so much like an exact combination of my parents? Why do I believe? Yet why am I a weaker optimist than I used to be? Why do I still get overwhelmed by long lists of tasks and long-term projects? Why don’t I trust myself more? Why can’t I change that? And why can’t I have this adulthood thing figured out, already?

There are a lot of whys in this world, but they’re all worth pondering. Because when you come up with the answer to “Why?” you come up with purpose. When you dig to find out why, you’re on a quest to find meaning and truth. And those things matter. Why? Because we’re human. Because the purpose of life is to find meaning. Because we’re all trying to find our life’s work and devote ourselves to it, to find what’s real and stick to it. To be alive.

Sometimes, if the question is “Why?” the answer is simple: “Why not?” Sometimes it’s disappointing (to a kid at least): “Because,” or “Because I said so.” Sometimes it’s disappointing and incomplete, even to the most adult among us: “I simply don’t know.”

And all of those responses are natural and they’re all just fine. I’ll leave it up to you to determine why.

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