I had breakfast the other morning with a pal who is almost exactly half my age. She is 21, and I am 44, but despite this gap between us we are genuinely friends. We share a bespectacled, busty brunette sensibility — a particular kind of hyper-responsibility and flirty trouble-making — along with a love for fat novels, greasy spoon diners, and Pat Benatar.
We joke that it’s a little like being buddies with an alternate version of ourselves — I call her “Past Me,” and she calls me “Future Me.”
She’s graduating college in a couple of weeks, and over breakfast we talked about what’s next for her. And I fully expected her to tell me she’d taken a job in some office, in publishing or advertising, where she’d sit in a cube and have health insurance and make a nice little paycheck and start climbing a ladder.
Nope. She’s going home to a beach town in California, where’s she’s going to be a waitress and make a podcast, and kiss every boy and girl who catches her eye, and read and write and stare into space. That’s for the summer. Then she’s coming back to New York City to give TV a try. And then she’s going to Greece, to work in a bookstore. And then she’ll see.
I’m not sure what she expected me to say, because as she laid out this plan I sensed a sort of defensiveness, or apology. But my response was simple. And it was this:
When I was her age, I did everything I was supposed to do. And I kept doing what I was supposed to do for a long time. I took a responsible job. I married my long-term boyfriend. I flossed. I invested. I was much admired for being so smart, and responsible, and mature.
I was miserable. I felt like I was dying inside, all the time. And then it all fell apart anyway. Spectacularly.
And so I say, to Past Me and anyone else standing on the precipice of choosing:
Be more stupid.
Do it! Be more stupid!
Don’t take that job in the office. That job is ALWAYS going to be there, waiting. But being 21 in a beach town, podcasting when you’re not making out with your boyfriend or girlfriend? You get one shot at that.
Don’t climb that ladder so fast. That ladder isn’t going anywhere. But being 22 in Greece? Gone before you know it.
Be more stupid. Make the foolish choice. Don’t be so responsible. Plan 2 months ahead, instead of 2 years.
That’s what I told her. And I promised her that I’ll hire her someday, unless she hires me first, but either way it’ll be fine.
And it will.
Because the truth is, the secret is, everything worthwhile tends to happen when you’re being more stupid. Your mistakes, your stumbles, your failures — these are the stories we tell, and the things we remember.
Be more stupid.
Next week, I’m taking her shopping for a graduation dress. And then I’m sending her off into the pink sunrise future, armed with her ambition and charm, her beauty and brilliance, her mischief and heartbreaking freshness.
Off to be more stupid. Fantastically.
I couldn’t be prouder if I tried.