Doing My Best: A 12 Month Quest to Get My Sh*t Together

Updated: Feb 7, 2019

Hello everyone, and happy February. First off, thank you for clicking on this post. There are an infinite number of things you could be reading at this very minute, and I am flattered that you chose this. Welcome!

If you’re a first time reader and have no idea what’s happening, allow me to introduce myself. Hello! My name is Jay Alba. I’m 23 years old and in the midst of a full-blown quarter-life crisis. A few days after my birthday, I realized that this was the last year of my “early twenties.” I was one year away from graduating to the intermediate class of adulthood and I really needed to get my shit together before then.

So, I made a list of important tasks that I felt must be accomplished before I could, in good conscience, call myself a functioning adult. To honor the new year, I published the first post of this series (if you care to read it), almost as a contract, to hold myself accountable during the coming months.

To recap, here’s a quick rundown of the completed list:

  1. Learn what the hell I’m supposed to do about my taxes. Preferably ASAP.

  2. Start a retirement fund.

  3. Look into "investing."(You don't have to commit to anything, you just have to Google it.)

  4. Learn how your car works.

  5. Learn how to do your makeup.

  6. Go to the dentist.

  7. While you're at it, make a doctor's appointment.

  8. Master brussel sprouts.

  9. Buy everything on your “Now you can have nice things” list.

  10. “Put up, or shut up.” Write a book.

You’ll notice that some of these are very specific. For example, I think most 23-year-old women have mastered their makeup routine, but I have not. I suppose, also, that most 23-year-olds don’t have a strong fixation on brussel sprouts (although, this is more of a push to eat more vegetables). Also, I don’t believe that every early-20-something needs to write a book in order call themselves an adult. That’s a personal journey, one that I’ll get into later.


As January turns into February, I have some progress to report. Slow, painful progress, but progress nonetheless.

For efficiency’s sake, let’s just skip over the first three items. Because no, I have not made any major waves in the financial department. I have not started an IRA and I am still woefully unprepared for tax season. You would think that adding “ASAP” would spark a sense of urgency, but it doesn’t. However, my parents don’t seem worried about it, so maybe it’s not as time-sensitive as I thought.


I have also made zero progress on the "investing" front. I'm currently in the market for an Investing for Millennials and Dummies type of book, to get me through this daunting process. I follow a finance-related Youtube channel/website called The Financial Diet, which has been very helpful in breaking down this broad, intimidating word into manageable pieces.


I'm also building a working knowledge of what investing entails—or could entail, for a barely functioning 23-year-old. Over Christmas break, my family and I had a long discussion about their own experiences with the stock market. It was nerve-wracking, to be barely 23, and imagine myself with that kind of responsibility. But, it was also nice to have an engaging, intelligent conversation with my parents, as if we were (gasp!) all adults.


Moving on, let's get into some actual progress.


4. Learn how your car works.

(Photo: Netflix/Girlboss)

So, my bank account is still recovering from that—pardon my language—rude-ass reality check where I found out that my local auto shop was bleeding me dry. On the bright side, I have officially paid off those hefty car expenses and, true to my word, have taken on a more proactive role when shopping for mechanics. I have a “connect” (aka my friend’s car-savvy boyfriend) who is very generous with his time and accepts artisan beers as payment. I’ve also found an independent shop that is run by a kind older man, who gave me a fair price for replacing my radiator.


I’m technically cheating, since most of this happened back in 2018. However, my newfound diligence has been put to the test. January was defined by a slew of car-related errands. I had to officially register my car at the DMV. I had to screw off these very rusty bolts and remove my New Jersey plates. I also shopped around for the cheapest smog-check station I could find. It was two-day affair (most of it spent on line at the DMV), but now, my new license plates are on, my inspection has been passed, and my car, Riley, is officially a California girl.


So, after all this, what have I learned?


A lot, thanks for asking! First off, I learned the importance of doing diligent research into reputable shops. Second, I learned a couple of easy (aka blatantly obvious) hacks to make sure I don’t get overcharged for general maintenance in the future:

  1. Always get a second opinion (of course, I’m the last one to learn that lesson—the hard way, I might add).

  2. Call more than one shop for a quote. If you can, get a guy to call on your behalf. Or take up voice-acting lessons so you can fools these sexist a**holes yourself.

  3. Go to AutoZone when your check-engine light comes on. Other corporations are the actual devil and will charge doe-eyed 23-year-old gals for something as easy as hooking up your car to a computer, but not AutoZone. (Lesson learned, don't just pick a mechanic because it's the closest to your house.)

  4. Need to replace a faulty part? Save some money and buy it off Amazon. Then you can just take it into a shop and pay for the labor. Or call your friend's aforementioned car-savvy boyfriend . . . maybe he’ll do it for free.

This is common knowledge for all the functioning adults out there, but we’ve established that I haven’t reached that level. You know, I'm embarrassed. I don't want you to know the full extent of my incompetence. But I like to imagine that there's at least one naive 20-something out there who is learning from my mistakes. So for you (and only you), I will gladly fall on this sword.


If there are any other crucial pieces of information I’m missing, please let me know. I’m building a Google Doc.


On a personal level, I’m exhausted. I don’t enjoy penny-pinching and feeling paranoid every time I receive a quote from a mechanic. I don't want yet another reason to ignite my low-key feminist fury. If we were all getting scammed, regardless of race, gender, creed, etc, that would make me feel a lot better. Alas, the road to adulthood never claimed to be an even playing field.


So, can we cross this off this list? Let's go with yes. At the very least, my friend's boyfriend will always be there to answer my unGoogleable questions.


5. Learn how to do your makeup.

Speaking of unfair gender standards, I also have progress to report on my makeup journey. With my pockets stuffed with Christmas money (salamat, Mom and Dad), I went to Elf and bought my first actual set of makeup. I got primer, foundation, a blender, a highlighting/contouring-palate-thing, and two brushes. All together, it came out to about $25, which is practically a steal.


I’m committed to keeping my routine as short as possible, to save money and keep me from succumbing to the will of the beauty industry. Concealer and foundation are fair game, but things like mascara and eyeliner are off-limits. 16-year-old Jay didn’t have any problems with the shape/color of her eyelids, and neither do I!


Recently, I wore makeup to work for the first time and no one seemed to notice any issues with how I applied it. Even more recently, I went to a bar, and a good friend declared that my makeup looked “very natural” under the fluorescent bathroom lighting. So, I’m going to go ahead and check off that box. If I can confidently walk into a bar or a job interview with a perfectly applied layer of foundation, my work here is done.


6. Go to the dentist.


Again, progress—I am on fire!

On January 23rd (yes, I wrote down the date), I went in for my first dentist appointment in many years. The dentist took one look at my teeth and shook his head. I've been busy, sir. My Netflix queue won't watch itself. I got my first deep cleaning, but only on the left side of my mouth. So we're not quite done, but the next time you hear from me, I'll have a sparkly set of molars.


7. While you're at it, make a doctor's appointment.


Working on it. Next question.


8. Master brussel sprouts.

I wouldn’t say mastered, but I am proud to say that my brussel sprouts are gradually improving. I have made them twice since my last piece and was fairly pleased with both results. It's not a difficult dish. You soak the sprouts in salt, pepper, and olive oil for a bit, then throw them in the oven at 350°.


Lesson of the day: always choose fresh brussel sprouts. Frozen ones get soggy after they defrost and no amount of burning in the oven will change that. I'm optimistic for the future; give me one more month, I'll probably be able to cross this one off as well.


9. Buy everything on your “Now you can have nice things” list.


What's a word to describe the opposite of progress? Because, the list has actually gotten longer.


Here's the list from January 1st:

  • new glasses,

  • a new laptop bag,

  • a larger laundry hamper,

  • a better vacuum,

  • work appropriate flats,

  • and an extra mattress cover.

Here's what it looks like now:

  • new glasses,

  • a new laptop bag,

  • a larger laundry hamper,

  • work appropriate flats,

  • an aux cable (so passengers can play music in your car),

  • a new camera charger (to replace your broken one)

  • a poster for your room,

  • and a warm jacket (because it's fucking freezing out here).

Please notice that I have bought two items from the original list, one of which being the vacuum. It was pretty darn expensive, but luckily I found a Bed Bath & Beyond coupon in my mailbox.


Listen, I don’t need a lecture about how reasonably priced all these items are. I blew $100 on the first of two dentist appointments. Riley needed a smog test. A lot of life things got in the way. Getting your shit together is a financial commitment.


10. "Put up or shut up." Write a book.


(Photo: Drew Coffman/Flickr)

Oh boy, here we go.


How’s the book going, Jay? Make any fucking progress on your book, Jay?


Don’t mind me, just sitting here with my face buried in my hands, not wanting to talk about it.


In case you didn’t know, I’m writing a book. More accurately, I’m trying my best to write a book. This is a dream I’ve had since I was twelve, one that I haven’t come close to accomplishing in the eleven years that followed. For awhile, it almost felt like a dirty secret—this shameful little nugget I carried with me. I didn’t think I could do it, and I couldn’t tell people I wanted to write a book, because then they would ask all these questions. What was it about? How long had I been working on it? Or worst of all, how many pages had I written?


For the sake of accountability, I suppose it's time to grow up and answer two of those three questions. So . . .


I've been working on this (very secret) story on-and-off for a little over a year now, but only started taking it seriously a couple of months ago. I have written about 33 pages of backstory/world-building notes and 73 pages of a rough draft. A very, very, very rough draft.


It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be finished, I tell myself over and over again.


I've stuck to a routine of writing for an hour each day, which has been an enormous help. Even if I'm not writing anything that I would dare show another human being, at least I'm consistently working. For now, that's the best I can hope for. I can go into a whole rant about how my crippling insecurities are preventing me from pushing forward, but I'll spare you for now.


But strap in, because January's over, and we have 11 months to go. Childhood dreams don't magically fulfill themselves, and functioning adults don't sprout into being overnight.