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Five Pieces of Advice for My 18-Year-Old Self

When I left home for college I didn't know ANYTHING. I didn't know shit. I mean, I knew how to work a washing machine (kind of) and a car (the basics) and a graphing calculator (irrelevant!), but I didn't know how to budget my money, I didn't know how to flirt, I didn't know how to deal with crises of any kind, and I'd had the same friends since third grade and I had no clue how to make new ones. (Sidenote: I still do not know how to budget my money.) I was a lonely, frightened, deeply self-conscious, inept baby convinced that everyone was staring at me and mocking my ill-fitting pants. Spoiler alert to 18-year-old me: Nobody gives a care about your stupid pants because they're too busy HAVING LIVES.

So, needless to say, I really wish I'd had this book — did I mention I co-wrote a book? — when I was a fresh-faced 18-year-old freshman marooned in Los Angeles. I could also have benefited from this book when I was a slightly-more-leathery-faced 25-year-old in Seattle, and honestly, I could still use plenty of these lessons now as a grizzled 30-year-old crone. Here are the top five pieces of advice I wish I'd had in college — excerpted from How to Be a Person:

1. How to Get with a Boy If You Are a Girl (I was so lonely!)

Put on some makeup (not too much). Show some skin (not too much). Find someone who can consistently cut your hair in a flattering way. Before you go out, listen to the dirtiest rap music you can find. Leave the house. Smile a lot. Convince yourself that if you were a man, you would definitely want to have sex with you. Believe it. Then project that confidence. Don't be annoying. Don't be desperate. Say interesting things but don't pander. Have fun. Congrats! Penis in vagina!

2. Problems Have Solutions (I was so inept!)

You're definitely going to fuck some stuff up. At some point, you're going to get a red envelope that's like "YOU DIDN'T PAY YOUR ELECTRIC BILL SO WE WILL MURDER YOU NOW." If that happens, you know what? You'll figure out how to pay the bill. If they shut your electricity off, you know what? The food in your refrigerator will spoil. If that happens, you know what? You can get new food. If you overdraw your bank account paying the bill so they'll turn your refrigerator back on and you can refrigerate your new food, you know what? You'll get a part-time job to make some more money. If you get fired from your job? Get another one. Flunk a class because you were working too much at your part-time job? Take it again. Yeah, it's annoying. Problems are shitty, and you don't know how to deal with problems yet. But problems have solutions. Almost nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Stop crying.

3. On Toilets (I was SO EMBARRASSED.)

You're young, which means you're probably still all weird about pooping. That's okay — you'll get over it, and the sooner you do, the easier your life will be. Pooping is not that big a deal. If you have to poop in a department store, just go into the bathroom and do your poop. You can try to keep your poop quiet if you like, but don't sit there and sweat all day waiting for the bathroom to empty out, because that is both creepy (you are sitting there with your pants down listening to strangers pee!) and a waste of time. Just do it. Own your poop. Did you know that literally 100 percent of the other people in the department store bathroom have also, at one time or another, pooped? It's true! Probably that very day!…Because here's the thing about pooping: NO ONE CARES. Not one person in the history of buttonholes has ever turned to their friend and whispered, "Did you hear about Kevin? He pooped. IN THE BATHROOM. Tell everyone. Let's make sure he never has sex again." The only person thinking about your poop is you.

4. How to Get Over a Broken Heart (I was so destroyed.)

There's baby-games sad-because-it's-over, then there's the real deal: Heart. Break. True heartbreak is unmistakable, because it hurts so much. It hurts like being sick — it hurts like you're going to die. Nothing means anything, nothing is worth anything, because they don't love you. If you're not the stoic type, you have to carry Kleenex around because you never know when you're going to start crying. If you're the stoic type, the tears you don't cry hurt just as much as the ones you do.

But there is something — one thing — that will help. That thing is time. You'll feel better with time. You don't believe it right now. You think you'll never get over this; you think you'll never feel better; you are in the depths of despair, and you will dwell forever there. Not so, friend. Time heals all wounds, even the broken heart.

5. Guess What? You Are a Feminist (I was so clueless.)

Feminism is not a radical movement or a fringe movement or an embarrassment or a fraud. Feminism is simple. The "patriarchy" does "exist." To identify as a feminist is to acknowledge that women are people, and, as such, women deserve the same social, economic, and political rights and opportunities as other styles of people (i.e., men-people). To be a feminist is also to acknowledge that the world is not, currently, a fair and just and safe place for women to exist. Because it is not. Obviously (see: everything ever). To deny these things makes you, at worst, a bad person who hates women, including but not limited to: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, your mother, Jennifer Lopez's mother, Jennifer Garner's Aunt Marcy, Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Cher, Julie Andrews, Kim Kardashian, Khloé Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Kraken Kardashian, Karphone Kardashian, Kickball Kardashian, Kornkob Kardashian, and THE VIRGIN FUCKING MARY. At best, it makes you a complacent idiot.

It's too late for me now, but we're hopeful that How to Be a Person can help out some other college babies (and, you know, adult babies too) who need a little wisdom here and there. We learned the hard way (by being dummies) so you don't have to.

÷ ÷ ÷

Lindy West writes about movies, movie stars, exclamation points, lady stuff, large frightening fish, and more. Lindy's work has appeared in The Stranger, GQ, New York magazine, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the New York Daily News,, and other places. She is currently a writer for

Books mentioned in this post

  1. How to Be a Person: The Stranger's... Used Trade Paper $7.95

Lindy West is the author of How to Be a Person: The Stranger's Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself

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