A couple months ago, one of the Mochi staff members posted in our team Slack:’
“I’m turning 22 next week. Aunties, any advice for me?”
Whoooooof. That’s a full decade younger than me. It took me a minute to even remember being 22. But once I thought about it, I realized there’s a lot I would recommend and a lot I would do differently. And just because I can never do anything halfway (and because I love you enough to offer more than my one ridiculous perspective on life), I asked my Auntie squad to chime in.
22 Things to Do Before You Turn 22
1. Live alone.
I totally cosign on my friend Michelle’s advice here. Now that there’s a small human IN MY FACE before 7am every day, I cherish and crave alone time. But even if you don’t end up with children or a spouse, or even if you’re an extrovert, it’s really important to get comfortable with your own company. I spent most of my early twenties chasing relationships and achievements that I thought would make me feel like I’d “made it.” But the seasons of greatest personal growth all came when I had no one to impress or prove anything to but myself.
2. Make and keep a promise to yourself.
Women especially have a tendency to keep promises to everyone except themselves. So make a promise to yourself, and find ways to keep it. It could be small (read a book every month) or big (write a book in a year!), trivial (remove nail polish before it chips and looks terrible) to life-changing (quit a toxic job within six months). Just because it’s a promise to yourself doesn’t mean you have to execute it alone. If you’re like me and MUCH more motivated by external expectations than internal ones, find accountability partners and make a structured plan that will enable you to keep that promise.
(My pal Ophelia is much wiser than I, so the next five suggestions come from her.)
3. Practice saying no with no qualifiers or explanations.
So much yes to this one. Start by saying no in general, but then practice just stopping at no. We are often so uncomfortable with others being displeased by our refusals that we feel obliged to explain ourselves. When it comes to the boundaries around your body, energy, time, and resources, you don’t owe anyone any explanation.
4. Read some of Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America.
The history taught in most schools is incredibly whitewashed, and it’s up to us to find and learn our own stories and histories. If nonfiction isn’t your speed (or 529 pages is just…a lot), commit to reading #OwnVoices literature written by and for the marginalized identities held by the characters. It was really only this year, while doing the Year of Asian Reading Challenge, that I started to get a sense of Asian American literature as a body of work, and I know I’m only scratching the surface. Reading work by Asian Americans also reassures me that our stories are worth telling and worth reading.
5. Have people in your life that you can say you look up to. If you don’t have any, find them.
When I interviewed Nikki Soohoo for my podcast, she pointed out that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. (Maybe with the exception of the tiny humans in your care…or maybe not? Yikes.) So choose wisely. It’s hard to overstate the importance of mentorship, both in terms of inspiration and practical tactical advice. I am fortunate to have role models in all the major areas of life: writing, business, parenting, marriage.
6. Learn how to socialize in ways that don’t involve alcohol or require people to spend money.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with alcohol, but I wonder if using it as a social lubricant prevents us from really getting to know each other. (Not to mention the potential hazards of addiction, risky behavior, and hangovers.) You also never know what someone else is dealing with in life, so providing easy, low- or no-cost options for hanging out is a way to practice inclusion and the lost art of true conversation. Meet for a hike or day at the beach, play board games, or find free plays, concerts, and other events to attend together.
7. Open up a retirement account for yourself.
Through the magic of compounding interest, time is on your side! Assuming climate change or late-stage capitalism doesn’t wipe us all out in the next fifty years, your money will have plenty of time to grow even if you just drop in $5 a month. I’m no economist, but just based on rough numbers, I potentially would not rely too much on programs like Social Security or government pensions. (Thanks boomer.) Sock away as much as you can on your own.
8. Track your spending for a month.
Checks and cash may be nearly obsolete, but you should always know how much money you have coming in and going out, as well as where it’s going. A shady employer once tried to cheat me out of $4K in pay through bad bookkeeping, and I only caught it by wondering, “Gee, why does my bank balance keep going down?” This year I discovered a major problem with my business Paypal account during my semi-monthly reckoning session. My clients never caught that their payments had been returned to them.
With online banking and autopay credit cards, it’s easy to zone out about finances, but I highly recommend sitting down at least once a year and going over your personal/household budget. (Maybe more often if your income fluctuates.) Write down every expense, from rent and groceries to manicures and your gym membership. Add it up and make sure it’s less than your paycheck and other income. If your expenses are more than your income, look for ways to trim expenses and/or earn more money.
9. Step outside of your comfort zone.
This is great advice from my fellow Mochi editor Kelly Moon. Nothing kickstarts personal growth like discomfort. (Though there is certainly an unhealthy level of discomfort that may indicate you are not heading the right direction…don’t ignore that or go looking for trouble!)
10. Learn something just for the hell of it.
Read a book on an obscure topic (Andrew Lam’s Saving Sight, a history of eye care, was surprisingly fascinating!), take a random class that has nothing to do with work, download a language app, or go down a YouTube rabbit hole and learn how to make a 3D paper Christmas tree. Like a muscle, our brain’s ability to learn gets slack with disuse, so keep finding new things to learn.
10. Go to an event where you don’t know anyone else.
I’m certainly guilty of going to the bathroom in packs long after ceasing to be a middle school girl. And I’m sure I’ve missed out on opportunities because I didn’t want to show up somewhere I didn’t know anyone. Challenge yourself to go somewhere you want even if no one you know wants to go with you: a party, a class, a new job, a new city. Making friends as an adult is tough but doable and very good for your social skills. Try it out!
11. Go to a movie or a meal by yourself.
This goes back to enjoying your own company. It’s easy to sit around waiting for someone to go with you, but if you want to go see Crazy Rich Asians by yourself at 2pm on opening day, do it! If there’s a new restaurant you want to try but can’t find anyone to accompany you, go for your lunch break. Leave your phone behind and really focus on the food or movie.
12. Be flexible, spontaneous and less frugal. There’s plenty of time later in life to act like an old person.
In her original message, Mochi managing editor Melody Ip mentioned how she and her husband used to eat dinner at home while watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy every night before they had kids. Which, honestly, sounds delightful to me, but I take her point. Eating out, going to movie premieres, skydiving–they’re all harder once you have less free time and more responsibility. Spontaneity especially goes out the window if kids and families enter the picture. Take (responsible) advantage of your unfettered time and check things off your bucket list now.
13. Take time to travel.
The one thing my frugal Asian parents splurged on was travel, and I’m grateful to have seen so much of the country/world by the time I graduated college. Visiting other places, even as a sneaker-wearing, fanny pack-toting tourist, broadens your perspective and teaches you flexibility. You might think you’ll travel later when you have more money, but honestly? You probably won’t. Take advantage of your young body, brain, and circumstances that allow you to survive a red eye flight or sleep soundly in a hostel. (Besides the inherent challenges of traveling with a small child, my own survival skills seem to have declined rather sharply with age. I now require blackout curtains, memory foam, and a sound machine to get a good night’s sleep.)
14. Visit your country/countries of origin without your parents.
Now I know transpacific travel is expensive, but there is something very empowering about bumbling through your roots with your rusty language and culture skills, and without the filter of your parents’ experience. Give yourself space to explore what it means to be an Asian American in Asia. Of course, visiting your heritage country/countries without your parents doesn’t mean you have to go alone. Join a group (HALLO LOVEBOAT!) or go with siblings and cousins.
15. Spend some time with your older relatives. (Steph Wu)
Way back in 2008, I went to Taiwan with a group from my church, then stayed on for a week afterward to visit both sides of my family. (This was the first and only time I’ve been to Taiwan without one of my parents.) I brought a mini cassette recorder and captured a halting conversation I had with my grandmother. She told me stories from when my dad was young, about the small produce stand she ran to supplement my grandfather’s soldier salary, about how she bullied a primary school principal into letting my dad take a prestigious entrance exam that had been disrupted by a typhoon. (So I come by my entrepreneurial streak and temper honestly, I guess.)
Now that she’s gone, I wish I had recorded more conversations with her and other family members or taken more videos with my 2MP digital camera. It was always hard to feel close to relatives separated by 7,000 miles and even greater cultural and language gaps, but whenever I did see my extended family, the connection was there. Now with Skype, Facetime, and Google Translate, don’t let a lack of language proficiency stop you from communicating with your older relatives. (If you speak Mandarin, Parents Are Human is a delightful card game that offers bilingual discussion prompts to help bridge generations. Made by and for Asian Americans!)
16. Do something that won’t entirely endanger your life, but something your parents/families would definitely disapprove.
The thing about being addicted to approval is that you just have to expose yourself to disapproval enough times to break it. So take the advice of Reverend Tuhina Verma Rasche. Get a small tattoo, go on a date with someone your parents wouldn’t approve of, blow off studying for one night to go out or sleep in. No one will die. You don’t have to inherit all (or any) of your parents’ fears.
17. Go to therapy.
Therapy isn’t always about “fixing” what’s “wrong.” (Though it’s VERY good for that!) It’s just a way to understand yourself and your relationships better with the help of an objective, trained professional. Many Asian Americans grow up without the emotional vocabulary and skills needed to care for our mental health, but therapy is a great place to learn some of those coping skills.Therapy can also help you process the many life transitions and identity shifts that happen in your early- to mid-twenties. Find a local therapist (select cities) or progressive Asian American Christian therapist. (I also know someone who is working on a general APIDA therapist directory, I’ll update this post when that is live!)
18. Learn to cook a signature dish.
Sharing a meal is arguably the most basic act of human socialization. Having at least one go-to recipe that you’ve mastered will make you popular at potlucks and simplify your hosting routine when you graduate from the kids’ table. Your signature dish can be as simple as fried rice (my parents bring fried rice and pot stickers to basically every gathering they go to) but spend some time mastering the cooking and putting your own flair on the recipe.
19. Figure out a housekeeping routine.
You don’t have to go all KonMari on your apartment, though I personally do recommend a thorough decluttering. But tidy surroundings help you feel calmer and think more clearly; conversely, physical clutter often comes from and turns into mental clutter. Learn how to do basic chores and figure out a general routine for getting those chores done regularly. (You can use this chore chart I made a billion years ago when I thought I was going to be a mommy blogger.)
20. Spend a day without your phone and/or the Internet.
You can always do the “put your phone in a basket for the day” trick, or you can go one step further and shut off your Wi-fi. (In my household, we often just do no-Internet days where phone cameras or our grocery app is okay to use offline, but we aren’t scrolling any feeds or streaming movies.) What will you do the whole time?! Read a book, go to the park, make a new friend, or do one of the other 21 things on this list.
21. Discover what motivates you.
I used to think that motivation was simply a matter of willpower, but as I’ve gotten some more life experience, I’m finding that it’s more complex. We are motivated by a weird web of fears and desires, internal and external expectations, and what we value. As you learn more about your motivations, you’ll be able to figure out effective ways to get what you want. Here are some quizzes that can help (because I’m an INFJ and love personality quizzes):
- The Four Tendencies (How do you respond to expectations?)
- Enneagram (What are your basic fears and desires?)
- Life Values Inventory (What’s important to you?)
- MoneyType (How do you use and think about money?)
22. Quit something.
Whether it’s a relationship, job, hobby, or habit, quit something before you hit your mid-20s. Our early lives are spent pursuing and acquiring. But at a certain point (it was around 25 for me), you will need to start pruning what isn’t working to make room for what you want.
Quitting requires you to face the fears of uncertainty, failure, and disapproval. It’s a VERY good self-growth exercise for showing you that those fears are not as powerful as you might think. I’ve left jobs and entire career fields, and have never not been able to make a living. I’ve left or been left in many relationships, both romantic and platonic, and that has not destroyed my emotional or relational abilities. (Therapy helped put some of the pieces back together, though.)
Life will take many things away from you against your will. Practice quitting things on your own terms.
And remember: age is just a number. I definitely don’t want you to fall prey to the myth of, “My life has to be at a certain point by a certain time.” This was maybe the most limiting belief I held until I was about 28. Most of these are things you can do at any age, but I (and the other aunties) recommend doing as many of them as you can during your formative young adult years, however those are numbered.