Five years ago I was at a crossroads. I packed up my life into suitcases, boxes and plastic storage bins and bid the University of Michigan farewell. I left art school behind for a paid fashion design internship in New York City and I moved back in with my mom in Livingston, New Jersey. The night I arrived home, I stood in a Shop Rite, hysterically crying, thinking: What the hell happens next?
My whole life was head of me and I was scared shitless.
Three apartments, three jobs and over 30 dates later, I'm back at Michigan, sharing my learnings with current art students. As I look around the room, I see many different versions of my younger self.
"What do you wish you knew then that you know now?" asks the school's career advisor.
The thing is, I'm still learning how to navigate my 20s, despite having only three years 'til I turn 30. Note to self, you never really stop learning how to navigate life.
But what would I tell my younger self?
Own your quirks; they make you you. Being strange is a damn good thing. Not everyone will understand you, so surround yourself with people you can feel normally weird around. If you don't feel comfortable in your own skin, it's not you; it's the wrong environment for you.
Be kind and compassionate towards everyone you come into contact with. Talk to strangers (within reason), especially when you travel. Make connections and pen pals across the globe. It will expand your network and your perspective.
Art is a tool that helps us understand our experiences and the world around us. Being a creative person is a gift, so don't take it for granted. Use it! But know that your artistic voice is a constant work in progress. The more you use it, the stronger AND louder it gets. The more you use it, the more you will be heard.
Putting yourself out there gets easier as you go. Be fearless in your pursuit of the things you love. Instead of wishing for things, work for them. Make shit happen. But cut yourself some slack: Give yourself time, love and attention. Don't put pressure on yourself to have all the answers now; you'll figure it out as you go.
Don't apologize for being an ambitious, powerful female. You may feel misunderstood, so befriend other powerful females and create your own girl gang/cheer squad. Celebrate each other's passions and hard work every day.
Be proud of your singledom. Learn to love being alone. Learn to love yourself. See every date as a learning experience about who you are and who you want to surround yourself with day in and day out. Guys who take you for granted aren't worth your time, energy or effort. Stay on the lookout for a dude who's respectful, kind and equally ambitious. But in the meantime, experiment and focus on having fun.
It's OK to mess up once in a while. Don't stress yourself out. Find the learnings, embrace your mistakes and concentrate on how to find solutions. Struggles make us fiercer versions of ourselves. Using your vulnerability as artistic inspiration actually makes your voice stronger.
Life is much too short to do stuff you don't want to do. Learn how to say no to things, and don't feel bad about saying no. Also, use "sorry" sparingly.
Work on being present in the current moment. Find the beauty in the mundane. Soak up the simple sights and sounds that surround you every day. Often, they can inspire you in big ways.