Updated: May 26, 2019
A few days after I turned 23, I was hit by the unwelcome realization that I really needed to get my shit together.
This is something I’ve said often throughout my early twenties. It’s a phrase that does well when written on mugs, t-shirts, day planners, and other things marketed for the millennial generation. We think of the cobwebs in our bank accounts and think, One of these days, I have to get my shit together. It’s a less of a rallying cry, and more of a mental addition to one's to-do list. One day, when you have time, please remember to get your shit together.
But things are different now, because I’m 23, which means I have reached the last year of my early 20s. In the scale I’ve conjured in my mind, your early 20s range from ages 20 to 23. Then come your mid-twenties, ages 24 to 26. Before you know it, you're 27, which is only 3 years away from turning 30—and if you don’t have your shit together by then, you have a real problem.
At 20, you hardly count as an adult anyway. You can’t drink legally. If you’re blessed/privileged enough to afford it, you’ll still be a college student. When I was 20, I felt like I was going through the motions of being an adult, but in a low-stakes, rudimentary simulation. When I was 20, I lived in an apartment with 3 roommates and a 30-minute commute to campus. I cooked my own meals, cleaned my own bathroom, took out the trash. I paid my rent on time, but with my parents' financial support.
Then I graduated college, moved to L.A., and turned 22. I was used to living on my own, but for the first time, I was financially independent. I was a real adult, but barely. For the next year, I did my best to keep the roof over my head and pay my bills on time. I adapted to the harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck, and the unpredictability of being a “freelance writer." I truly had no idea what I was doing, and for awhile, I decided that was fine.
I’m 22, I’d say to comfort myself. I was learning, and I still had plenty of buffer room for screw-ups.
See, that time has passed, which means I can’t pass off my general incompetence as a part of being young. When I turn 24, I’ll be entering the next phase of my life, and I can’t be the same person I am now, this blissfully naive procrastinator who hopes that she’ll eventually get her life in order.
When I turn 24, there are just certain things—important life things—that I should have under my belt. I should be cooking for myself on a regular basis. I should be comfortable making my own doctor’s appointments. And there's no magical software update that downloads this necessary information/experience into your brain. At some point, you have to roll up your sleeves and get it done.
So, let’s go on a journey.
Over the Christmas break, I made a list of essential life-improving tasks that I absolutely must accomplish, before I can call myself a functioning adult. Over the course of this year, I’ll be posting regular updates of my progress (and failures) as I attempt to cross these items off my list. Most of them, I feel, seem like universal goals, so I’d encourage anyone in the early 20s bracket to follow along. We can form a support group. It’ll be fun.
As a side-note, I’ve never been great with New Year’s Resolutions, so it seems a bit self-sabotaging to give myself a list of ten, but here we go!
1. Learn what the hell I’m supposed to do about my taxes. Preferably ASAP.
It’s been two years since I stopped calling myself a “dependent” on my tax forms. As a “freelance writer,” I’ve done whatever odd job will pay my bills, and I’ve collected a stack of W2-and-9s for my troubles. The freelance life makes tax season quite complicated, and I haven’t yet figured out what exactly I’m supposed to do come April.
I have this underlying fear that one day, two burly IRS agents will kick down my door and arrest me for tax evasion. I imagine myself hysterically crying, pleading for my freedom as I try to explain that I am not a criminal mastermind, just incompetent. When this happens, the first thing I do is call my parents, who are frustratingly unconcerned by all of this, but eventually convince me to stop worrying about it for the time being.
Until now! As tax season is right around the corner, this makes for the perfect deadline. I get it, the IRS probably doesn’t have a hit list with my name on it. But seeing as this probably won't be my last tax season as a freelancer, I suppose it’s time to take some goddamn control over my own life.
2. Start a retirement fund.
I am not a long-term planner. I’m very bad with time management, and I can only process pressing, time-sensitive tasks (like this deadline), and not “overarching, big picture” things. Like the idea that, one day, I will be an old, retired woman, and it would be great if I had some kind of cash fund saved up so that I could sit back and enjoy it. This feels like a task that I’ll eventually get to, you know, when I get a real job with a retirement plan. But, as I found out recently, there are plenty of accessible options for freelancers to set up their own retirement accounts, which means no more excuses. Time to roll up my sleeves and start saving.
3. Google "investing."
The word "investing" has always left a bad taste in my mouth, probably because it reminds me of my least favorite movie, The Wolf of Wall Street. It brings to mind images of decked-out bachelor pads and guys who wear sunglasses indoors. It's a word that, I feel, should never apply to me, an unemployed college graduate, part-time retail employee, and freelance writer.
Still, I have quite a bit saved up. More than, I think, the average 23-year-old film school graduate has saved up. Which is why I’ve started to think more critically about how I can improve my financial situation.
The goal for 2019 is very simple. All I have to do is set aside one day, and Google the word "investing." That’s it. That’s all I have to do. Just to see what’s out there. Ideally, I'm looking for an Investing for Dummies type article, one that can gently break down all these intimidating financial terms for me. The thought of taking on any more responsibility sounds terrifying, so we will stick to baby steps.
4. Learn how your car works.
I love my car. Her name is “Old Reliable” (Riley for short), which is indicative of our long, fond history together. She’s a 1999 Honda Civic that has been in my family ever since we first moved to the States. Riley was always my mom’s car, but she barely drove it anyway. Which was how Riley outlasted every other vehicle our family owned over the years. I got my permit with that car. When I moved to L.A., she came with me, because, well, I couldn't drive anything else.
I love my car, but I know jack-shit about taking care of it.
I know for a fact, that I have lost a few thousand dollars because of my blissful ignorance about cars. I don’t know how they run. I don’t know this bit does, or if it really costs $70 to replace it. (Spoiler alert—it doesn’t!) Recently, I took my car into the shop because the check-engine light came on—the first time I'd ever dealt with one on my own—and got smacked in the face with a $1,400 bill for a bunch of nonsense repairs that I did not need. And guess what? I paid it. Even though I drained most my checking account in the process, I paid every penny without complaint. Because what else could I do? What if my car was on the verge of catching fire? What if the battery died and I was stranded on the side of the road? How would I get home? How would I call a tow truck? How would I call my car insurance? Just . . . what would I do?
It took four months for me to pay off that $1,400 bill, and during that time, I found out just how much money those selfish jerks had conned out of me. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even blame them; I’d made things so incredibly easy for them. I’d been too trusting—too lazy, really, to question why these bills were so high in the first place.
So, after that costly life lesson, I’ve taken a more proactive approach to taking care of my car. The goal for the new year is to gain a competent knowledge of how it runs, and be more dedicated to finding the most cost-effective ways to fix it.
5. Learn how to do your makeup.
I’m 23, and I still don’t know how to do my makeup. I’m not saying this to be humble or self-deprecating. When I say, “I don’t know how to apply makeup,” I really, truly mean it. I don’t even own a beauty blender. Or foundation—you know, the fundamental first step for any makeup routine.
I blame 16-year-old Jay, who was stubbornly against it. I’m a tomboy, she said. I do martial arts, she said. Ugh, I used to be such a pain in the butt.
But now, I’m 23, and while I’ve been blessed with fairly resilient skin, I get break-outs just like everyone else. Except, when I do, I can’t use makeup to hide them. Why? Because it would look terrible. Because I would rather make a conscious decision to boycott makeup and show my zit-covered face to the world, than try to cover it up—and clearly fail.
So, what’s my current solution for skin problems? I don’t know . . . eat oranges, I guess? Wear sunscreen? I wash my face religiously, but it’s not a “fix-all” solution.
I have conflicting feelings about how to reconcile my feminist stance on unfair/unrealistic beauty standards with my decision to start wearing makeup. For now, I’ve accepted that the beauty industry will still rake in billions of dollars by preying on female insecurities, and my $40 contribution is just a drop in the bucket.
6. Go to the dentist.
This should not come as a major shock to anyone, but I have not gone to the dentist in a very long time.
7. While you’re at it, make a doctor’s appointment.
8. Master brussel sprouts.
Here’s something I thought I’d never say: I love brussel sprouts! I do. As a child, I only knew them as the demon vegetable from the hit show Codename: Kids Next Door. (Hold for resounding cheers from the early 2000s kids.) To the children of the world, brussel sprouts are not meant for you. They are everything you hate about vegetables; they're bitter, leafy, and you'd be happier sticking to broccoli. For anyone over 20, I’d say give them a fair shot. Your childhood is over, anyway. Try some roasted brussel sprouts.
9. Buy everything on your “Now you can have nice things” list.
There is a note on my phone where I’ve accumulated a “wish list” of items that would make my life a lot easier. Every time I manage to get a part-time gig, I treat myself to a practical, utilitarian gift, which contradicts the true spirit of the “Treat Yo’self” mentality . . . but I need a new vacuum, what can I say?
The “Now you can have nice things list” includes, but is not limited to, the following:
a new laptop bag,
a larger laundry hamper,
a better vacuum,
work appropriate flats,
and an extra mattress cover.
I know what you're thinking: all these items are so darn affordable. I could buy them all, right now, in one fatal swoop. But I haven’t, for whatever reason, so I suppose I have to commit to it in writing.
10. Put up or shut up. Write a book.
In the spirit of making this list universally accessible, this last point will mean different things for different people. For me, it means writing a book. Or, at least, writing a significant portion of a book. It doesn’t have to be good. And it definitely doesn’t have to be published by the end of the year—because that would just set me up for failure. But it must be finished from beginning to end. Those are the rules.
I’ve imagined myself as a published author since I was 12. I don’t like to share that with others, because it’s embarrassing. I can’t tell strangers at parties that I want to write books, when I have never—and I mean never—attempted to start one. As I got older, I started writing shorter pieces (like this one), and hoped that I would naturally lose interest in this book-writing endeavor. I tried to be realistic: Jay, you don’t have the dedication or patience to commit to something this difficult. Write some personal essays, make a short film, call it a day.
But no, 12-year-old me persisted. I want to write books! she demanded. I want this overactive imagination to be useful for something! So develop a proficient work ethic and get your shit together!
Side note, 12-year-old Jay did not curse, but it helps capture her hot-tempered spirit.
So, for the past few months, I’ve been writing . . . something. It’s not a good story. It's contrived, full of plot holes, and it’s not developed enough to call itself a “novel” yet. Yet, it's the longest project I've ever committed myself to writing. It has also taken up quite a bit of space on my hard drive, which I suppose counts as progress.
On a personal level, I hate the fact that I am sharing this with the world, because now I have an audience for when I inevitably fail. That is the scariest part of all. But in the spirit of the Get your shit together list, it’s time to muscle up.
Because I’m not getting any younger.