Life Begins At 22… your stories Leave a reply I’ve been collecting stories about women’s lives when they turn 22 – to show that no matter where you are, or what you’re doing, it’s always the first year of your adult life. (Oh, and also to celebrate the long-awaited launch of my new book series BROOKLYN GIRLS, which is about five friends surviving their 20s.) It’s kind of like New Adult non-fiction, and it’s fascinating. Inspiring and comforting and funny, all at once. These are a few of my favorite things. I did have an individual post for every entry, but it started to take over my blog, so now they’re all here in one lovely spot. Just click the thingy below to read them all. Want to take part? Email me your answers email@example.com AMY, New York City 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? I turned 22 in my last semester of college. I was working a crazy publishing internship, writing two theses, and riding an emotional rollercoaster while preparing to graduate. I lived just off campus with four guys—a lot of fond memories of that house. Then I graduated. I survived two sublets before landing in a lovely Cambridge apartment with two lady friends. I got a job in September as a project manager for an internet start-up. I was not meant to be a project manager for an internet start-up, but I learned a lot. More importantly, I spent an excellent year with my college friends in the “real world.” Adventures were had, not the least being the fake bachelorette party we threw for a silly girl’s night out. (We really committed.) There were also a lot of home cooked meals, thanks to a dinner rotation, and cozy little parties. A mixture of the expected and unexpected. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? 22 was a big boy year for me. It can probably be summed up by the phrase “learning experience.” I alternately sowed oats and tried to settle down a bit. Neither stuck for too long, but I wouldn’t trade the experience. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest? Combating the crushing sense of existential despair. I put a lot of pressure on myself to find meaning in what I was doing, but life unfortunately doesn’t stick to a narrative. There are plenty of detours. I figured out what I was supposed to be doing only after I turned 23. The best? Teaching myself how to write a screenplay was pretty cool. (I wrote an hour-long TV script as a part of my thesis, and it was well received by mentors I respected and trusted.) I also started a book review site that affirmed my future career path in publishing. Between blogging and jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, I internet-met a lot of neat people I now consider real life friends. People, new and old, were the best parts of 22. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? I’ve been consuming a lot of time travel narratives lately, and honestly, it’s gotten me a little paranoid about going back and giving advice to myself. You never know what change will unravel your entire life. Yes, I have a regret or two…Mostly it’s “don’t do that stupid thing that will hurt someone else.” (This is not confined to 22.) I can’t give 22-year-old me platitudes. She deserves more than that. I think I’d like to send her a vague sense that things keep going and could possibly turn out all right. (I’m not sure of that last bit yet, so I hope 32-year-old me is sending now-me a similar message.) Otherwise, I could maybe orchestrate an elaborate time travel system where I left déjà vu clues. They’d all say “I think you’re on the right track.” 5. What do you do now, by the way? I work in children’s book publishing, which is pretty rad. I may be biased, but getting to work with kids books all day is the coolest thing ever. ANDREA, NYC 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? Studying law and wondering what the hell I was going to do next. Had only chosen law as it was described as a ‘great foundation’ for anything and it was what my father had done and his father before him. I remember crying in my favorite professors office saying I couldn’t go straight to work as a junior lawyer – he suggested a masters and made a few calls and managed to get my late application reviewed and I secured a place to study intellectual property – freedom out of the goldfish bowl of my small home city beckoned. The same man then offered me a summer placement in Helsinki in Finland for four months working for the EU commission on a Internet project so I hopped on a plane and left my long term boyfriend behind. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? Yes. Was in a long term relationship with a guy who was very handsome, smart but wasn’t motivated in the same way I was. He was very charming and admired by many girls – i was constantly reminded of this by his legion of fans. One of those guys who was an excellent sportsmen but gave up despite his talent. Was not impressed when I passed on a summer in San Fran to go to Helsinki and to go to London to do a masters… We broke up six months later. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Hardest – Helsinki! Worse than law finals. Was 22 and looked younger the first thing my new employer said was how old are you? I was te youngest on the team by 10 years as they usually had a post grad student but my professor knew I was passionate about this type of law. I had no friends my own age and hated the weekends as I would go these cool Finn cafes on my own and wish I had someone to hang out with. One work colleague befriended me and had me to his house but that friendship ended when he and his wife asked me to join them in the sauna after dinner (sans clothes). Best – coming in the top 10 in my law year and beating the smarmy guys who were so full of themselves who walked around college like John Wayne and who used to make me feel like I had failed each exam when they were high fiving each other outside the exam hall and telling me I should have answered the questions differently. And moving to NYC with my best friend! 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Have more confidence and don’t look for affirmation from those around you. Also not to be so fixated by weight – I weighed myself every day and would freak out if I gained a pound. Also not to wear crop tops even though I had a flat tummy…less is more. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I work in finance. I ditched law at 26 when I hadn’t had a day off or a date in six months straight and had eaten take out every night. I gained a stone had the complexion of a twilight Cullen and was only able to sleep with a balloon of Chablis (on the other hand, the invention of net a porter meant that I could shop from my desk). I love my job, I work with great people, have a great boss and love the daily chaos the market brings. I get to travel a lot, which I really love. Plus I just had a baby boy and moved into a house so am now knee deep in diapers and loving this new phase too… LYDIA MANSI, freelance journalist and founder of countryfille.com lifestyle blog In my case, it wasn’t so much a case of life beginning at 22. It was more ‘starting over’ at 22. Flashback to 21, I was just coming up to graduation, I had the next stage of my academic career figured out and had found a man who felt so much like home to me, it never even entered my head that the marriage and babies part wouldn’t follow. See? Sorted. I’d even got the house, four blue-eyed babies, chickens, dogs planned out… the whole shebang. All in a neat 10-year plan. I guess the next bit is kinda inevitable; no one gets things that easy do they? Yep, one pulverized heart later, alone, in London and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I turned 22. Suffice to say, it was grim. I seem to remember sobbing into a packet of Marlboro Lights at a girlfriend’s house whilst necking a bottle of red (I’d lost 3 stone in 3 months on a regime of cheap red and fags – aka the heartbreat diet), while she held my mobile hostage so I wouldn’t call the ex for the umpteenth time to double-check he didn’t in fact want the aforementioned babies, dogs, chickens… Like I said. Grim. By then I’d taken a corporate job as a financial headhunter to fund my first mortgage on a glorified bedsit in the scummy end of Bayswater. My toes touched the cooker when I lay in bed, there were bars on the windows and it was in a damp basement so that winter I totaled 5 chest infections. As a newly graduated journalist and photographer, I felt like I was slowly suffocating in starched collars and financial jargon but I was still pretty numb from the whole ‘heart-ripped-out-of-chest’ predicament, so the 12-hour days and rather excessive drinking culture were a welcome distraction. Then came the internet dating. Suggested by a well-meaning friend during one particularly tearful ‘I’m going to die alone’ crying session. After being groped, stood up and lectured on glaciation trends in Norway, I booked a one-way ticket to the convent before you could say Christopher Plummer (or someone who looks like Christopher Plummer in their profile photo, but turns out to look like your short, sweaty uncle in a polyester shirt – BE WARNED). As it turned out, I swerved the convent and instead threw myself into my new job, in a publishing house. I came in the back door via the sales floor but made a bee-line for the editor’s room, charming my way into picking up the odd feature and eventually landing my dream editorial assistant’s role, six months later. Who needed men!? I was an employed journo flitting off to review spas, interview celebs and be paid to pick out handbags I liked for a shoot. I do think this serious boost in happiness levels, plus finally feeling content in my new single status, was the trigger to me actually finding the (right) one. The old ‘Richard Curtis’ adage goes that when you stop looking you’ll find them and there he was. When I least expected it, make-up free and over lunch with my best friend, he butted in and asked for my number. Happy and relaxed I thought I’d give the dark, broody-looking Italian a chance and second time lucky – BINGO. MADELINE FELIX, NYC What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? At 22, I was living in a shitty New York apartment with boy roommates who smelled like wet dogs and drug-dealer neighbors who sexually harassed me in Spanish. All of my friends were either drinking too much or clinging to sobriety: I was somewhere in the middle. I worked for a Broadway producer, but was quickly realizing that I didn’t want a life in the theatre. In a fit of angst and panic, I decided to move to Vietnam. This seemed a sensible solution. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? Depending on the day, I was on-again or off-again with a guy I had dated in college. He was an aspiring comedian. During the break-up, I may have mentioned that I didn’t think he was funny. In hindsight, I admit this was less than sensitive. (He has since married a redheaded acrobat. He’s doing fine.) What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest thing was realizing that I didn’t really want “the dream” I had been pursuing for all of college. The best thing was the same… What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? You’re twenty-effing-two. Chill out. What do you do now, by the way? I’m getting my MFA in creative writing and working on a book about the year I lived in Vietnam. There is an underwear-eating rat, and a cadre of communists, but mostly it’s about figuring out the kind of person you want to be while living in a country changing as quickly as you. SAMANTHA, New York City 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? Just finished college. Moved home with my parents and worked at a horrible teen magazine. I wanted to be a design intern but then they offered me a full-time position in the photo department for 30K which seemed like a lot so I took it. I was absolutely miserable. It was an awful job and taught me that I hate office culture. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I was spending a lot of time with my girlfriends who had all moved home after college since our families lived just outside of NYC. I dated a friend of mine from college who lived nearby but I knew it was not serious. I was kind of lonely and feeling lost in love and work. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest thing was moving home and feeling like my future was a total blur. I wanted to be an illustrator and studied that but was working in a dead-end job and feeling like I didn’t have a clear path ahead of me. The best thing that actually happend to me as getting laid off from that awful job. I’d only been there six months but it forced me to quickly figure out my path and move toward a more fulfilling life. I wound up going to grad school at Columbia and moving into the city and that’s when “life” began. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Every part of life is a short phase. All the good times will fly by and the rough times pass quickly too. It may seem like an annoying maxim when people say “when one door closes, another opens” but I believe it’s true. Treasure life’s wonderful little moments and push through the rough patches while learning from them. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I’m an illustrator, blogger, mom, wife, daughter and friend. DAISY AITKENS, Los Angeles What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? At 22 I was living in London and just out of my first acting gig (weekly rep in a 1950s style seaside resort. They sung the National Anthem before each performance!) I was renting for the first time. A pal from drama school had been bought a 2 bed by her Dad and I had the other room. She was quite the party girl and we were kind of going nuts, pointless partying with no purpose, with strangers we’d probably never meet again. I thought I was ‘wild’. I was actually just bored. there was no acting work to talk of and i was working in a clothes shop whilst girls who had done worse than me at school were starting on mega salaries. If I partied, I didn’t have any quiet time to wonder if I was choosing the right path. Then said friend decided she was bored of me and gave me a week to move out. Before I knew it, I was back in my childhood bed and (as lucky as I am to have had that option) man, it sucked. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? My first boyfriend and i had just broken up. We had been together 3 years and I was learning to be an adult without him. What did I like to watch on TV? What did I do in my spare time? Where did i like to eat out? Who shall I kiss tonight?!! I had no clue but it felt like I had been holding my breath under water and i was finally bursting through the surface. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest thing was being dumped for the first time. i had lived a charmed dating life of always being the dumper then I met this gorgeous, successful actor of 28 and I experienced the other, shitty end of the dumping spectrum. Dumped, dumped, so very dumped. We only saw each other for 3 months but I was wild about him. The actual relationship was pretty “meh” but the potentail, future relationship in my head was a fabulous affair. It was filled with sun drenched holidays, pictures at premieres and a single wedding picture that we would sell to Vanity Fair. Rightly so, he dumped this physco. I rememeber saying to my mate it felt like someone had ‘attacked my heart with a meat cleaver’. (Did I mention I’m an actress?) I cried and cried and slept and slept until my mother dragged me out of bed and took me to an exercise class to get some endorphins going. The image of myself in the mirror doing step aerobics with a load of sweaty, jolly, middle aged women was one of the saddest I had ever witnessed. Now, it’s one of my hilarious memories. The best? Getting my first TV job. It was The Bill, naturally. I was to play a coke-dealing school girl who rode a pink scooter. (Kate Moss meets Lady Penelope I decided). When I got that call from my agent saying I was booked I was close to certain this was the start of it all. The actual filming only took a couple of days but for weeks before and after, I was all, ‘Gad, I am so busy with all this FILMING. My skin is soooo tired of all the LIGHTS. If I hear ACTION one more time!’ I’m sure a lot of people presumed I was basically the new lead in The Bill. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Chill out sweetheart. Also, get yourself on Proactive quick smart. I wish I could have enjoyed that wonderful youthful innocence a bit more. I had everything in front of me, I was still childlike in my appreciation of silly, ‘adult’ moments. Smoking randomly was THE BEST fun! Having a girls night like SATC felt completely adult. I had no major worries and was cute… Advice to your younger self is a strange one. Perhaps my future 35 year old self is whispering this in my ear as I type. Isn’t it always, just enjoy the moment, it’s better than you think? I should start to practice what I preach. What do you do now, by the way? I’m an actress and writer. I’m currently living in LA. [Note from Gem: you can also see Daisy in her starring role in the book trailer we made for my first book THE DATING DETOX! Just for fun. I'm in it, too. I'm the girl crying on the phone. Oh what fun we had that weekend. Incidentally the director was Sam, the husband of the next entry, lovely lovely Amy.] AMY EASTALL What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? At 22, I was assisting a stylist in London. It was the heyday of pop music and music TV so we worked for bands like S Club 7, Girls Aloud and many, many more thaat never made it (mostly for good reason…). We worked all hours but got to be backstage at SMTV and Top of the Pops and attended the Silver Jubilee at Buckingham Palace (not sure what HMTQ made of S Club 7 but whatever). The music and fashion industries had money and knew how to throw it around (helicopter anyone??) yet it was before the advent of social media so the atmosphere was relaxed- no fear of things being tweeted and instagramed or whatever. So, yes we were naughty too! I didnt go to university so had been working my arse of to get to this point for nearly 4 years by then (mostly for free) and was actually paid decent money for the first time in my life, although in hindsight it was pittance. For me though, as long as I had enough beer money (now I think, how many calories?) and enough for the occasional splurge at Topshop I was happy. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? My boyfriend at 21-22 left me at 23 to move to Spain (never heard from him again). Since found out about his HUGE online porn collection and even bigger debts… What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Best thing was the career stuff– SO MUCH FUN! Worst thing was nothing major- probably just friend/ guy dramas. My first ever boyfriend (when I was 18-21, then 22, then 24….) was a hard habit to kick and he definitely reappeared in my 22nd year. And was as much of a douchebag as ever…. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Chill the fuck out….Also buy more designer handbags and shoes as those things get CRAZY expensive in the next 10 years. I remember splashing £200 on a pair of miu miu shoes when I was in my early twenties and almost passing out it was so much money. Now, that wouldn’t buy me a Miu Miu coin purse…. What do you do now, by the way? I met TLOML when I was 24, married him at 25 and have a child. Also a house in a leafy part of SW London with good schools (the sorts of things that now matter to me), a killer group of friends and a small white wine addiction…. Also a complete career change that involves me working at a Palace – but I have signed the Official Secrets Act so will be sent to the Tower if I tell you more. Lets just say, it is in stark contrast to spending Saturday mornings with Ant and Dec and Cheryl Cole…. KELLY, New York City 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? At 22 I had just moved to NYC to start in the wonderful world of finance. Actually, at that time it had a much better reputation then it does now. I was renting a 2 bedroom apartment in midtown (NOT the place you want to be) manhattan with three of my girl friends from college. There was a wall up in the living room to create the third bedroom, and my one friends slept in the “maid quarters”. The room could barely fit a twin bed… everyone was so broke that rents were negotiated down to the quarter…. I think one of my friends paid $940.25. and the 4 of us shared one bathroom. We also had two best friends whose parents lived in NYC, so they saved the rent by living with them, but you could find then on our couch most of the time. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? Um no. i don’t think i ever went on dates… I was always going out with at least five of my best friends, being over-served, spending all the money in our wallets and wondering why we never met any nice guys. It was a sad scene, but I certainly miss it! 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Well, the month after I turned 22 was September 11, 2001 (yes, i’m old); I was in the middle of my Series 7 (finance exam) when the tragedy occurred. I guess most would say that things would never be the same again. I remember going home to my parents house every weekend following, constantly scared of threats to the subways system, the water, etc. Finally my parents told me i was no longer welcomed home. it was harsh, but the reality was that if i continued to run away then I was letting the terrorists win and it was time to move forward with my life. There were so many wonderful things that happened that year, living on my own in New York City was certainly a dream of mine. I was constantly surrounded by my best friends, going out, having a blast. Also, following the September 11 attacks, there was a real attitude change in the city. New Yorkers who had always had a reputation of being intimidating suddenly became friendly… people really came together, and it was a wonderful thing to witness. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Have fun, but maybe don’t spend every dime you make. 5. What do you do now, by the way? Career wise, I am still in the illustrious world of finance. Over the years, my job has given me several great opportunities, including the chance to work abroad. I am now at a place where I can work 4 days a week and spend 3 with my 2 young boys and at this point in my life, it’s the best gig around! LAURA LONGRIGG, London 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? I was secretary to a literary agent, based in South East London, living in a grim Victorian tenement in Brixton. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? No and I was really unhappy about it, felt I was probably on the shelf forever. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? I got fired by the literary agent for being a very bad typist. John Lennon was murdered, that was also incredibly shocking as he was my big hero. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Don’t be so hard on yourself for making a mess of things – and have better taste in music… 5. What do you do now, by the way? I’m a literary agent! VIOLET HUDSON, London 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? Just after I turned 22, I moved to London and got my First Ever Job, working in the delightful bookshop Lutyens and Rubinstein in Notting Hill. It was also my first time out of the provinces, my first time living with girlfriends and my first time not being a slave to academic exams. Needless to say, I went totally wild. It’s a miracle that I even managed to claw my way into work every day – but luckily, time there was among the most pleasant of my life. My routine basically consisted of sitting around all day reading books and chatting with customers, going home to change, going out with packs of friends to bars and restaurants and weaving my way to bed at the end of all of it for dreamless, alcohol-induced sleep. It was bliss, and exactly what I wanted. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I had just broken up with a Serious Boyfriend with whom I had been in a Long Relationship (four years) – so I was also single for the first time in my adult life. It had been a tricky breakup and I wasn’t sure it was the right decision, so to try and help make my mind up I flung myself headfirst into a series of utterly disastrous affairs. There was the guy who I only ever saw post-midnight, the guy who only wore green and smelt of patchouli, the guy who’d had a hip replacement due to childhood obesity and found it difficult to walk… endless heartbreak, endless sobbing, endless agonising over text messages and first-date-outfits. And also: endless fun, endless parties, endless giggling, endless excitement and intrigue. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? I don’t mean to sound like a total dick, but nothing very bad happened to me when I was 22. Sure, there were all the Bad Boyfriends and the Hangovers and the Crap Food and Bitchy Girls. But those are all par for the course, and they’re as much a fabric of life at 22 as they seem disastrous at the time. It was an awesome year: and little did I know, but it was the first year of the rest of my life. I became a Londoner, I moved jobs into journalism which is my Real Career That I Love, I bought clothes I still like and went on holidays I still look at photos from. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? These are things that I would say to myself at 22: if he still hasn’t called, he’s just not that into you. Crop tops look terrible on you. Potatoes do not count as a portion of fruit and vegetables. No, do you don’t need that last cocktail. Wash your hair. You hate festivals and will never have a good time at them. Don’t forget to call your mum today. And: you are young and pretty and all life is ahead of you. Don’t waste it hating yourself and feeling too shy to talk to anyone. 5. What do you do now, by the way? Now I am 25, a real grown-up, living in a flat that I jointly own with my sister and I have given up smoking and hardly drink anymore. I am deputy editor of a magazine called The Gentleman’s Journal and in a wonderful, stable relationship with a lovely man who does call when he says he will, has introduced me to his parents and can make a delicious chickpea stew. NAOMI [like totally not her real name], NYC What were you doing at 22? Two years after failing out of college because my parents wouldn’t allow me to major in acting, at 22 I was in my second year of working at Starbucks. Cleaning bathrooms and slinging coffee made me realize that college really WAS for me, even if I couldn’t be an actress. I was living at home with my mother and younger brother. (My parents were divorced.) Were you dating/in a relationship? I was having a fling with a married guy with whom I worked. He was in a band, so in my mind, cheating was par for the course and totally coooooool. I would flirt mercilously with the other guys in his band in order to TRY to make him jealous and be more serious with me. I do not know why I believed this would work – he was married. It is inherent that he could NOT be more serious. I ended up sleeping with at least two members of that band in the hopes of getting my married guy to notice, but he didn’t. He left his wife a few months after he ended things with me and took up with a stripper. I was devastated for about three years after that. Dev-as-ta-ted. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? See #2 What was the best thing? The best thing that happened to me that year was realizing that I needed to go back to college. Because of my horrific grade point average from my first spin at college, I had to begin again at a junior college. I thrived there and left after two years with a 4.0 grade average, ready to take on university again with a fervor I didn’t know I had. What would you say to yourself at 22? I would tell myself that a man who cheats is not a man. I would tell myself that I was worth dating out in the open and should be with someone who was proud as hell to be dating me. I would tell myself that the world was mine for the taking if I would only notice. I would tell myself that I was wonderful and amazing and THIN. What would you do now? Are you asking what different decisions I would make? I would still work at Starbucks, but I would have transferred to another store. I allowed my utter obsession with a worthless man to steal some of the best years of my life (23- 25). I do not mind that I flunked out of college the first time. In fact, I think it helped me realize that I could pick myself up from a very low point – that it didn’t ruin my life, that second chances are possible. I also wish I would have noticed how gorgeous and thin and healthy I was. I spent so much time thinking I wasn’t good enough that I didn’t see the beauty that was just there because I was 22. KATELYN DETWEILER, NYC What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? 22 was a massively (!!) life-changing year for me—I graduated college, went on a trip to Italy with my closest friends from high school, moved to New York City, and got my first real job and my first real apartment – the first apartment that I was wholly and fully responsible for subsidizing. It’s the first time that I was wholly and fully responsible for subsidizing my entire life, really, at least more or less, minus a few lingering (generous) handouts from my lovely parents. I was working as a marketing assistant in the children’s division of a big publishing house, living in a small third floor railroad apartment on the edge of Hoboken with my best friend since before kindergarten. Life was fabulous—at least except for the low paying job, the long hours, the nagging questions of “what next?” and “who am I really?” that no one (no one!) adequately prepared any of us for. But above all, 22 was an adventure. A terrifying, brilliant adventure. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? No, though I was still in a confused, complicated post-college “situation” that I think I held onto longer than I should have for security reasons. It was scary to be completely alone without the comfort of keeping that one safe person still in the background. New York has so many people, so many options and so many strangers, that it can all be quite overwhelming, no matter how long you live here. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? I had spent my entire life before 22 in Pennsylvania. I grew up in a 200+ year old farmhouse surrounded by fields, in a town where you knew everything about everyone and they knew everything about you. New York is as scary as it is exciting, as lonely as it is crowded and bustling with people. It knocks you down, again, and again, and probably even again—until you learn to get up, brush yourself off, laugh about it and try for another round. The best part was learning to love New York… realizing that I *could* pick myself up, time and time again, and that despite it all, there was nowhere else in the entire world that I’d rather be. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Be patient. Seriously. Just. Be. Patient. Know when you still have to pay your dues, know when it’s time to move on and reach for newer, bigger dreams. Know that all things take time—making real friends, friends that you’ll likely carry with you forever, and carving out a real home, a place that feels cozy and calming no matter how many sirens or heavy machines are blaring outside your Second Ave apartment window. What do you do now, by the way? I work at a literary agency that represents fabulous authors like Gemma Burgess. : ) It’s also a position, incidentally, that 22-year-old me would never have seen coming, could never have planned for, really. But it is perfect for me in more ways than I could have imagined. It’s a career—not a job. It’s something to be excited about doing. And for that I am extraordinarily grateful. ANDREA, Switzerland 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? I had just gotten an internship at PwC before I started university. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? At 22 I had just married a Swiss dude I’d met 8 months before ….. (insert hysterical laughter here). I was trying to get used to my life as a young married foreigner living in small quiet Switzerland. It was challenging! 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Best: The excitement of my first “big” paycheck! Hardest: Realizing what a dumbass I was by marrying a guy who casually informed me he had gotten into my account and used all my first paycheck cash to pay electricity bills. LOL 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Since I was already married at 22, this was a bit too late for me but at 21 I would have said: Run Forrest, run! 5. What do you do now, by the way? I am a 27 years old divorcee, who is thankful to have had the cojones to leave a crappy situation and start all over. I met the love of my life, we’re starting our own business and planning a family. Life is my oyster. LAUREL, Australia 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? 22 was 1999 - and i was partying like it, big style. I broke up with someone early in the year – we were living together, with another flatmate. It was awkward and ugly and kind of devastaing. And i’ll get to that. And so ensued a pretty tedious and peripatetic few months of couch, floor and double bed hopping (with my more obliging friends) until I found myself living in the same inner city Brisbane suburb i’d been living earlier in the year, with a friend of a friend of a friend called Boyd (not his real name), his super cuddly and Vegemite toast loving Rottweiler, Calvin (not his real name) and another dude called John (his real name, generic enough to withstand scrutiny). They were lovely chaps, very protective, loads of fun, tidy, great cooks. Oh, and Boyd turned out to be a bit of a drug dealer. I didn’t worry about it too much. His clientele was pretty upscale and i’d run out of patience for transience, despite spending most of my money in rent. Fortunately the parties usually came to us. It was my first full year out of university, business/marketing degree in hand, and I was working as a publicist at a theatre company. Then a marketing assistant at a contemporary art gallery. The Brisbane arts sector was a funny little incestuous series of revolving doors through which i’d continue to whoosh for the next few years until I tumbled into advertising. I was working for peanuts really, compared to my friends doing grad programs at multinationals and planning their Aspen ski trips. O/S travel was totes out of reach for me that year, but I was at the theatre or at a gig every second night and it paid to mentally calculate the value of all those free tickets when I was feeling depressed about my relative poverty. My ex and I had talked for years about heading to London the minute we graduated. Yeah yeah, what a unique plan you Australian university student you! But still, that had been the plan, and since i’d initiated the break-up I somehow convinced myself that they got London in the break up, and I got the shitty couch and had to hang back in Australia and let the dust settle. Duh. Like we couldn’t have avoided each other in a city of 8 million??! The world through a 22 year old’s eyes! I didn’t get to London until I was 28… 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? WARNING: MY ‘LIFE AT 22′ RELATIONSHIP TALES COME WITH A COUPLE OF INTERTWINED BACKSTORIES. I ALREADY FEEL EMBARRASSINGLY SELF-INDULGENT BEFORE I’VE EVEN STARTED TYPING THEM! YOU COULD PROBABLY EVEN CLASSIFY IT AS CHEATING. AH WELL, I’LL LEAVE IT ALL WITH YOU… I was dating someone and it ended super badly when we were both 22. You see, that someone was my best friend Amy. We’d met in the first week of university in the dorms. ‘Where are you from? When are you 18?’ was the standard ice breaker. Turned out we had the same birthday. And loads more in common to boot. We became besties in an instant. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, the best of friends in way I had never perceived as anything but platonic, that she told me she was a lesbian. Quelle surprise! She was super pretty, super girlie and super popular – albeit aloof – with the boyz. But hey, cool. Whatevs. I was all about the dudes, but whatever floats your boat. We’d logged endless hours debating the merits of many, many dudes so I was mystified by this revelation. We both had a particular penchant for the American exchange students (well, I thought we BOTH did). I’d recently been dumped by one who’d return to the homeland. And I’d also been politely rejected by someone with whom I was completely smitten (i’ll come back to him). So in that weird vulnerable moment that my best friend in the whole world told me she was into girls – and into me - I imagined a life in which she wasn’t going to be my best friend anymore because I wasn’t into her; and then something bananas happened. Straighty 180 old me said ‘alright, why not, let’s do this?!’ Insane, right?! But in that moment I felt like if I didn’t, I would lose my best friend and that really, really upset me. So I leapt in and decided to figure it out as I went along. Anyway, that was 19/20. Fast-forward through some very blurry times to 22, me finally getting the cajones to say once and for all I wasn’t into girls, and getting out of what had become a shitty relationship characterised by co-dependance on her side and an epic catalogue of excuses on mine – to work late, go out without her, flirt with boys and avoid, avoid, avoid intimacy – and frankly, being at home. Heartbreaking really. I had now lost my best friend, just as I’d feared, only it hurt way more because our friendship was 3 years deeper, uber complicated girlfriend/girlfriend thing notwithstanding. MEANWHILE. I’d met a chap called Tom at the dorm, a few years prior. He was kind of preppy and scruffy at the same time. Funny and kind, silly and rambunctious, but also kind of introspective and gentle. EXACTLY my type. We spent hours together listening to U2, talking about U2, playing Trivial Pursuit while listening to U2, getting drunk while listening to U2 and eating BBQ Pringles. But it was all so…matesy. Urgh. There were a few drunken snogs here and there, and I was tragically smitten, but he just didn’t want anything more of me than a friendship. Until I was 22. We bumped into each other a couple of times that year. At gigs mostly, music was common ground for us. What started as a series of bump ins morphed into a chaste but charged series of organised catch ups. And finally, FINALLY Tom told me that he dug me and had for a while. He knew that I was with Amy, he assumed I was happy and so what he was really saying was ‘Hey, I dig you, so we can’t hang out anymore’. So this was the end of me and Amy and the beginning of me and Tom. I won’t bore you with the mechanics, but strictly speaking, I did the right thing by both of them. But fuck me was that a painful and interminable couple of weeks!! 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The worst was losing my best friend. The best was getting together with the dude that would become my husband. Second best was hearing Prince’s ’1999′ play as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve 98/99 at the Wickham Hotel, sandwiched between a speaker stack and a drag queen. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? You haven’t lost your best friend. You just need to be patient because you will be great friends again. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I’m a copywriter and fledgling fiction writer. I live in Brisbane, Australia, with my husband and our baby girl Iris. We don’t really listen to U2 anymore, but we still get drunk and play board games. BARBARA, Seattle 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? I was almost done with college at UW-Madison, which is where I grew up. I was auditioning for graduate school programs, working at a research office and living with my parents. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I was ending a relationship with my “boyfriend” who was a sometime boyfriend and had dropped out of school (using his student loan money to buy a pot-growing light) and hooking up with him VERY occasionally. He was a drunk. I also spent the early part of that year living with my now-husband (as then roommate) before he graduated and moved to Colorado to be a ski instructor. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? I was working in the mornings at the student Union. I had to get up at 4:45 to catch a bus to work. I didn’t have a boyfriend. I felt left out living at home, since most of my friends had graduated, and I was on the 5 year plan. Sometimes I would steal a few bucks from the till at my job to buy a coffee or a sandwich during the day. I’m still ashamed of that. The best was that I went to Chicago for one audition and got into the school of my choice. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? DON’T CHOOSE UNC JUST BECAUSE THEY OFFER AN EQUITY CARD. Although, honestly, I don’t know if I’d do anything differently. Maybe I’d tell myself to believe in me more. OR, wait. I took a Kendo class that spring with ONE other girl and the entire UW Men’s Crew Team. I’d tell myself I was beautiful and go get those hot boys. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I live in Seattle with my husband of 18 years, my 2 kids, and am working to get published. I raise my kids (13 and 10), run, and ski. PHILIPPA, London 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? It was 2003. I had graduated from university at the end of the year before, with first class honours in English. I had really wanted to go on to further study but due to a combination of circumstance and general flakiness on my part I ended up in full time work instead. The two years that immediately followed university – ages 22 and 23 – were the most boring, miserable and unfulfilling years of my life.I lived in Hobart, Tasmania, where I had lived all my life up to that point. I was lucky if I went interstate twice a year. I didn’t even have a passport – I had never been abroad, the closest I had ever got to the equator was the Sunshine Coast. I always had big dreams of travelling the world and had fierce cravings for adventures and independence, but the truth was I was terrified of leaving everything that was familiar to me. I didn’t know anything else.I lived in a small rented house with my husband at the time; we were saving to buy a home. I had worked part time as a bank teller during university and once my studies were finished I was bizarrely offered a full time job as an assistant small business manager. Bizarre because I had done an Arts degree; I was creative, yearning to write world-changing novels, poetry and plays; I had failed maths at school and my husband had total control of the household finances (which was fine with me, I hated having to deal with money). So why I, or anyone else, thought that banking would be a good fit for me is a bit of a mystery! But I didn’t know what else I was going to do and I felt pressured to start earning a real salary, not just pocket money, so that I could “get ahead”. It was a big mistake and I hated the job from day one. Basically, I was old before my time. It’s a bit sad, when I think about what other people were doing at that age! I felt like my life was already over. If you feel like that at age 22, something is SERIOUSLY wrong. It took a few more years of misery for me to realise that.2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like?I was married, and had been for nearly two years, to the same guy I’d been with since I was 18. The me of now is shaking her head sadly (and inwardly screaming “WHY?! I was so young! And he was such a dickhead! What was I thinking?!”) but it’s taken me many years to go easy on that poor 22 year old girl. She had zero confidence. She had been so amazed and happy that someone, anyone, wanted to be with her she had just leaped head first into that relationship – with every good intention but sadly without any real idea of what “for as long as we both shall live” actually meant. And when the initial euphoria wore off after a bit, she was too insecure to confront her boyfriend, then fiance, then finally husband, about things she wasn’t happy with. But she was young and naive, and thought maybe once she was married, things would be different, things would change. They didn’t. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? I don’t want to sound like a drama queen, but everything about that year was hard. Looking back, I can see I was actually quite depressed. I gained a lot of weight – I went from a size 12-14 to a size 20 in just one year. I stopped writing. I even stopped reading for a while. I just read cookbooks and or I would read magazines filled with pictures of clothes I couldn’t fit into or afford to buy, or exotic destinations that were so far out of my reach they might as well have been the moon. I couldn’t figure out why I was so miserable at the time but looking back it’s so obvious! I was so afraid of rocking the boat, of standing my ground and demanding a bit more out of life. I thought I had made my bed and I just had to lie in it. It’s almost as if I thought I didn’t deserve to be happy (which is probably exactly what I thought). I felt so trapped. I’m the eldest child so responsibility has always been my thing. It felt self indulgent to leave a job simply because you were miserable. It felt unfair and unreasonable of me to expect more from my relationship when my husband seemed quite content. I was so unhappy but didn’t realise (or accept) I had the power to change things because that life was actually the result of choices I had made freely. I really did need to hit rock bottom before I would dig deep and do the soul searching I needed to do to turn my life around. But the best thing about that year was finding out I was going to be an aunty. It was a big surprise, the last thing anyone expected! But when that wonderful little boy came along, all of a sudden I felt my life had some purpose and there was something to be excited about. It showed me how much love I had to give. I think it also showed me that life really could change in an instant but that change could be a good thing. It could bring beauty, wonder and joy.4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now?It will get worse before it gets better, but it gets SO much better. Make the most of being in Australia and being able to see your friends, your sisters and your nephew whenever you like because one day you’ll be on the other side of the world and you’ll miss them like crazy. Stop settling. You don’t have to put up with crap jobs, crap friends or a crap relationship just because they came along. Until you have some higher standards you’ll keep attracting the same kinds of things. Stop drifting. Life doesn’t just “happen”, you have to make it happen. You have to have a plan and some goals. All those people you’re so envious of, they’ve worked hard to get where they are and what they have. Stop being so defeatist and expecting it all to be easy. Stop letting people walk all over you and treat you badly. You’re allowed to stand up for yourself. (in all fairness, it take you until age 30 to start doing this!) Get out of your comfort zone. Trust yourself. Stop waiting for permission and stop waiting for someone to knock on your door and rescue you from this mess. Only you can rescue yourself. The world won’t come to you on a silver platter, but the world is waiting for you. I know you’re very sad and heartbroken right now, but actually this time in your life will make you stronger, more capable, more determined and so, so grateful for how good your life will be in years to come. Even the big mistakes. Well, especially them.If you had any idea what you’re truly capable of, or what amazing things lie ahead of you, you wouldn’t be waiting another minute! 5. What do you do now, by the way?All I wanted to do at 22 was write and travel. Now I do both! I moved to London when I was 26 and have been here ever since. I work as a corporate editor two days a week and I’m a freelance journalist the rest of the time. I run an award-winning blog and have written a novel that I’m trying to get published. I ran the London marathon a few years ago. I’ve travelled all over the world, from India to Iceland. I’m also now very happily married – blissfully, nauseatingly so. The life I was living ten years ago ensures I live with a lot of gratitude. This is the life I wanted back then. I’m proud I made it happen and I’m grateful for it every single day. JOSY, Toronto 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? It was 1997, Toronto, and after one born-again Christian roommate had professed being too poor to pay his share of the phone bill (yet could buy the latest ‘I love Jesus’ rock and roll cd) I moved into my own flat I painted orange and yellow and filled full of vintage hats and books. Through an astrologer friend I landed my first painful, indie, (read: abusive) family film as a wardrobe assistant where I made $50 a day for a 14 hour day (and then stayed afterwards to drink and smoke in the producer’s trailer). It was exhausting, exhilarating and so very exciting and knew I had hit the’Big Time’. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I started dating a man from the transport department and he gave me an old ambulance to drive the costumes around. He lived in a dirty loft with some cute boys from whom I learned there was a very fine line between artist and bum. He wanted me to move in and build me a huge glass blocked closet, (ultimately I think because I tried to clean up spilt bbq sauce and sweep dirty underwear away) but we weren’t really that compatible in the end though I still consider him a friend today. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Worst, graduating from University and not knowing what my future was. There’s no guidance past the door and their motto of ‘never volunteer’ was completely wrong. Trying out the pill (when being 22 is emotional enough) and getting a shitty job selling retail to tourists. Best was finding how much I thrived on the people and energy of the film industry though it was a very hard journey. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? I’m so proud of you girl. Just enjoy yourself and not put such high expectations on yourself and others around you. And laugh at yourself, a lot. And kiss every single boy you want to. Oh, and please buy every vintage dress you can at the dollar per pound store as they’re selling for hundreds now. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I’m so lucky to be doing what I wanted to do since I was 14 which is be a Costume Designer. I’m currently designing a werewolf tv show where I get to see lots of hot men in their underwear. And I get to laugh at myself a lot too. SUSAN, London What were you doing at 22 (living/work/study)? I had finished university the year before and was living with my parents. I had a job as an editorial assistant for a press agency based in Liverpool and absolutely loved it but I knew I would never be a tabloid journalist – I just didn’t have the nerve or the stamina for that. After nine months the editor suggested I should look at local reporting and got me an interview for a journalism course which I was accepted onto. At the same time I left my job and started six months of voluntary work experience at my local paper. It was the best thing I ever did! Where you dating/in a relationship? What was it like? The week before my 22nd birthday I met the man who would become my husband. We were both with groups of friends in a pub and immediately just clicked. We both had the same borderline sarcastic sense of humour and could make each other laugh very easily. We would go out together about three or four times a week and I knew I was in love after about five weeks. Fortunately he felt the same way! After two months I moved away to do my journalism course so we saw each other every weekend until I came home to start work on a little local newspaper in Cheshire. Hardest thing that happened/ best thing that happened? The best thing was meeting my husband and getting a job as a reporter. The worst thing was my gran died. We were very close and she lived with us. She had cancer. It was a horrible time and it took me a long time to get over it. My bosses in my new job were not supportive and seemed to enjoy making me cry. The summer I turned 23 was probably among the worst few months of my life. What would you say to yourself at 22? Stick with it. Things don’t always make sense at the time and sometimes you will feel like you are in a battle to get through but there is light at the end of the tunnel. You will not be stuck with the idiots you work with forever and mo matter what they say this is the career you are supposed to have – don’t let them bully you. You will go on to do far better than they ever achieved. What do you do now? I spent 10 years in journalism ending up as a deputy editor. I am now being a stay at home mum to two children and my husband and I still make each other laugh every day. KAT, London 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? I was in my fourth year at uni, having just returned from Miami. It was cold. Edinburgh was NOT Miami, so I was perpetually grumpy for about a year. I was studying every hour I could and getting fat from eating too much creamy pasta and discovering that if I wanted to bake cakes every day, no one was going to stop me. Also I was poor. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I was in a long distance relationship with an Australian Jew- we were obsessed with each other to the point of hysteria, talked on Skype whenever we could, and pretty much killed ourselves with emotional exhaustion. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Hardest- breaking up with aforementioned Australian Jew. Best- finding out that I got a first in my degree, and thus bursting out crying in the middle of a shopping centre. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Chill the fuck out, not everything is the end of the world. And pasta is a carb, stop bloody eating it every day. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I work in a literary agency as part of the team managing the largest children’s literary property in the world. And daydream about Miami… CHERYL PIENTKA, NYC What were you doing at 22? I graduated college at 22, got my first job as an editor on a radio trade publication working for a man who wore Fila fitness suits and gold chains, lived by myself in a “changing” neighborhood near South Street in Philadelphia, left my first job after six months, temped at a Philadelphia PR firm, had a roommate move in to help with rent and she stole all my jewelry, seized the engine in my candy apple red ’66 Mustang on the Schuykill Expressway (in layman’s terms — my engine ran out of oil and was ruined. This happened on a high-speed, dangerous motorway outside Philadelphia), went to France for the first time and was introduced to the job that would be my second in my field (albeit unpaid!), editing the English version of a hangliding/paragliding magazine. (OK, it was run by my cousin and I had to work as an au pair to earn money, but still….!) Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? Yes. I moved in with my college boyfriend and his brother in Roxborough, a working-class Philly neighborhood at that time, after my roommate stole my jewelry. I knew he wasn’t “the one” but we were having fun. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Deciding to leave my first “real” job and trying to find work in my field after I left was the hardest thing to happen to me. Leaving the job was also the best thing to happen to me. I didn’t want a career writing about radio, I didn’t want to live in Philadelphia, and my being employed as a temp after leaving my job allowed me to earn money to go see the world (well, France) when I had only ever been abroad to Ireland. Going to France opened up career doors for me. I returned almost a year later, at 23 and worked there for a year. After my France experience, I was able to land a job at The Associated Press in Washington, D.C., where I really wanted to be, based on my French… What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? RELAX (and check your oil — that car is a classic)! What do you do now, by the way? I’m a literary agent in NYC. KAY, Manchester 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? I work(ed) in the social care industry as a manager looking after adults with profound learning disabilities. I loved it. I am lucky enough to be one of those people who started my “career” at 18 and in an industry that is very easy to progress in if you’re willing to work 70 hours a week! Which I did regularly! I also tried to fit a shift a week in at my local rape crisis centre. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I met my boyfriend at 19. He’s a doctor and quite a bit older than I am (my parents were thrilled… Not!) and by 22, we’d been living together a couple of years. For the most part I was happy to be in a long term stable relationship with a man who loves me but I would be lying if I didn’t admit occasionally there were tiny pangs of envy listening to my friends talking about when they were dating, not dating, just sleeping with, wanted to sleep with etc. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest thing was dealing with my epilepsy which I’d been diagnosed with the year before – I spent a lot of being 22 in and out of hospital. I also had two (late ish stage) miscarriages. The best times were the days I wasn’t in hospital and my epilepsy behaved itself and I could just be 22. While I loved being in a long term relationship, I also loved going out and drinking far too much with my friends and forgetting I was an “old” 22 year old with a mortgage and a pension! It was sort of conflicting because all my friends were single (and wild!) and a tiny part of me envied them their freedom in some ways although I loved my boyfriend very much. I guess it was a case of the grass is greener. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? It gets better. Then it gets worse again. But eventually it will always get better. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I had a little girl last November. She was born at 24 weeks, weighing just a pound and spent the first 4 months of her life in hospital. Her name is Faith (to remind me to have some.) That baby is the love of my life and I cried the first time she said “mama” because all those long days in the hospital with her, I didn’t think I’d ever get to hear it. I still officially work in care although my epilepsy means I’ve been on long term sick for a while but I live in hope it will one day become better managed because I really miss my job! SARAH, Bournemouth 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? At 22 I was living in Aberdeen in Scotland and in my final year of my science degree. I rented a GORGEOUS flat with three other students and worked in a supermarket (very glamorous I tell you…). The flat belonged to a friend’s mum who rented it to us dirt cheap, even though the main bedroom had two walk in closets and my wardrobe was big enough to fit 9 very drunk people and a cocktail fountain in it. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I was single at the time. The year before I had split with my first serious and very hairy boyfriend (2 ½ years) and stupidly decided I was enough of a bad ass to continue to fool around with him without getting hurt (I really wasn’t…). 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? One morning I woke up in hairy ex’s bed only for him to ask if I could leave by the back door because he’d been seeing someone for the past month and she was due around any moment. Ouch. It made me realise that while I didn’t want him, I sure as hell didn’t want some other woman stomping all over my turf. Particularly one who was skinnier than me and had awesome style. The best part of the year was finishing my degree, realising there were other guys out in the big bad world and many, many drunken nights spent dancing to cheesy songs with friends. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Firstly, stay away from hairy ex. Five years on and he still leaves messages on your answer phone drunkenly saying he misses you. Dodged a bullet! Secondly, don’t do a master’s, the recession is about to kick your ass and it doesn’t help at all! Thirdly, find a way to steal that giant purple sofa from your flat because you will never find another one as comfy and quite so purple as that one!!! 5. What do you do now, by the way? Still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life and managing a coffee shop while I do it. SUE, France 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? At 22 I was in my first year out of university, teaching in a small country town in Australia. Although I was contracted to teach for four years ( or until I got married, which ever came first. This was the late 60s) I was bored beyond belief and thought if I just took off, it would probably take at least a year before they tracked me down. So I resigned after one term and took myself off to London – alone. I got a job as a receptionist in a ‘hosiery’ company just as tights were coming out to cover the ever shorter skirts. (I’d had to hold my skirt down at the back when writing on the blackboard in my previous brief career.) Traveling salesmen, executives and sundry others came into the office, and after realising I was a young woman alone in London, proceeded to try to get me I to bed. What was this, I thought, the 19th century, when a woman unprotected was fair game? I was incredible naive, but not stupid. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I began dating the man I later married, but had been bruised by the three-year university boyfriend who had recently dumped me by going out on date with his new girlfriend, his friend and my best friend as a foursome. My compensation is that he soon married her and was not long after divorced! I sat behind her in a bus once and she was picking her pimples! No contest! 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest and the best thing that year was traveling on my own. I finally and belatedly had to grow up and take responsibility for myself which included losing a large amount of money to a guy with an travel agency office on Oxford Street who said ‘ Thank you. Here is your receipt and when you come back from Europe in three months, just pop by the office and you air charter tickets will be ready’. I duly popped back three months later and the travel office was gone. I wonder where he is now. In the spirit of taking responsibility, I phoned Scotland Yard and was told ‘Madam. This is not a police station’. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? To my earlier self I would say ‘just chill. You are fine, really. Just relax and enjoy every day.’ 5. What do you do now, by the way? Now I have retired from teaching, a job that, when I was finally forced back, I grew to love. On a parallel track in my life, I had started yoga at university to help with my anxiety and now, after all those years, teach it. I recommend yoga to all girls of 22 who feel as out of their depth as I did. ROMAINE, Hong Kong 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? When I was 22 I had just quit Marks and Spencer where I was a management trainee after university. I hated it – M and S, I mean. I worked for a time in Harrods flower department which was great fun but no future in it and then my parents read the riot act and sent me off to Pitmans to do a three-month course in shorthand and typing which really depressed me as I had vowed never to be either a secretary or a teacher! Oh, the arrogance of youth! Anyway, I finally got a job with a publishing company as a diagram researcher. We were working on a junior science encylopaedia for the US market and a partwork for the UK. There were lots of diagrams to be done and my job was to make it clear to the artists what the diagram was supposed to convey and how best to do so. I LOVED it. Eventually, I was allowed to try my hand at writing and I went on to become the Assistant Editor of the UK edition. I also graced a front cover – a photo taken in front of the distorting mirrors at Madame Tussauds to cover topology!! 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? Lots of boyfriends, mostly unsuitable. I felt I had to experience everything in order to live ……. so, many hangovers but lucky not to get any STDs. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest thing was having to swallow my pride and go and learn to type. The best was finding a job that I really, really enjoyed and was good at. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? There’s a lot of truth in the old adage “If youth knew and age could”. I think I would like to have been less arrogant. And rather than embracing life as it was, and living in the moment, I was always …..yes but…. I would say to my 22 year old self “For God’s sake lighten up and smell the roses instead of re-designing the forest! 5. What do you do now, by the way? Married to a man I first met when I was 17. Married when I was 25. Been married for 37 years. Lots of ups and downs and a lot of ho-hum too! Have done (very occasional) free-lance work but basically I’m retired, footloose and fancy free and have learned to say YES to life rather than no or maybe!! JANEY (totally not her real name), Boston 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? I was living in Boston—more specifically, Allston-Brighton, known as “the student ghetto” of Boston by me and my fellow Boston University grads. I lived in a terrible apartment in a room covered in wood panelling that had mold growing in it (not surprisingly, I got sick a lot). At first, it was fantastic. I lived with one of my best girlfriends from college and her guy friend. We went out a lot and watched bad TV together. She soon moved to L.A. with her boyfriend, so my guy roommate brought in a dude friend of his. Then things got weird. Neither of them wanted me around much, and when I stopped cleaning up after them the place turned into a total shithole. I used to keep a clean knife, fork and spoon in my room, because nearly everything in the kitchen was just constantly destroyed. My downstairs neighbors had a subwoofer they hooked up to their stereo and threw all-night parties so loud it sounded like their was a club in the building, so I rarely slept. I was working a variety of horrible temp jobs I got through an agency since no newspaper or magazine wanted to hire me. My duties were often so mind numbing I would have to figure out ways to stop myself from going brain dead. At one of them, while I performed various rote tasks, I listened to the entire archive of This American Life. At another, I listened to CD books on tape. I got through the entire Harry Potter series this way. In the meantime, I was writing, and trying to figure out how to become a writer. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I was dating my college boyfriend, who was also my first real boyfriend. We’d been together for almost four years, and we were each other’s first loves. The magic was completely gone, and neither of us was happy, but we stayed together mainly out of fear for what was to come. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? The hardest thing that happened was actually breaking up. I was the one who did it, and it felt like I was breaking both of our hearts. I wanted to move to New York City, he didn’t ever want to leave New England. I wanted to do something creative, and it was hard for him to relate to that. We both cried hysterically but I think, on some level, we were both relieved to be moving on. When he left, we hugged, and he said, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” But we never spoke again. I don’t know, maybe there really was just nothing left to say. The best thing that happened was meeting the next guy, who made me light up in a way I never knew was possible. That was my first brush of, I guess, what you could call true love. Not puppy love, the thing beyond that, where stuff is starting to make sense. (Of course, when he dumped me two years later, I understood what true heartbreak really felt like, too.) 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Have more fun. I spent a lot of time agonizing and over analyzing every decision I made, wondering if it was the right one—even whether my mistakes were the cool mistakes. There was no need for that, they were my mistakes, and that made them okay. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I’m a writer and a magazine editor in New York City. It’s pretty cool being able to say I’m doing what I set out to do then… although, of course, there are so many more things I want to make happen now… KELLY, Brisbane 1. What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? This was the year I moved out of home. My boyfriend and I were renting an awesome little flat below our friend’s house in Mermaid Beach on the Gold Coast. Cheap rent, great location, plenty exciting! I was working in retail, getting awful performance reviews for my lacklustre customer service, while I applied for ‘real’ jobs (i.e: any job where I could use my Communications degree). Looking back, I probably could have used my Communications degree to you know, ‘communicate’ with the customers a little better! Socially, we were giving it a red hot go – lots of clubbing in Orchid Ave with my girlfriends. But the bit I loved most; live gigs. The punk/ska scene was in full swing (again) and we were seeing bands pretty much every weekend. Everyone’d come to our place, we’d fill a cab, see a band then everyone back to ours again. Good. Freaking. Times. 2. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I was (and still am) with my high school sweetheart, Jade. So we’d been together 6 years by the time I was 22 and had a pretty solid thing going on. Everyone had always said that when you moved in with your partner, it’d either make or break you. And for us, it was definitely the former. We shared all the usual ‘living together firsts’ – Christmas tree, coffee table, power bills and we loved it all. We just got tighter and stronger as a little team. 3. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Hmmmm, at first I thought 22 was kind of uneventful and then I remembered it was the year I had an abortion. No controversy surrounding it (unless you’re a devout Catholic), we just had an ‘accident’. And to be honest, there wasn’t a lot of soul searching that went with the decision. We just knew it wasn’t something we were ready for but it was still a tough time. In hindsight, it deserved more consideration and mourning (more on that in the next question). The best thing? Definitely moving out with my boyfriend, for all the reasons explained above. 4. What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? I’d get specific about the abortion because as it turns out, I went on to suffer from anxiety when I was about 25 and it was only until I got chatting to a psychologist about it that we linked it back to the abortion. As I said, it was a hasty decision and while I wouldn’t have changed it, would have dealt with it differently. So I’d say to my 22 year old self “Give yourself the time and space to grieve that little soul. And don’t feel guilty, know that you made the right decision for you and the baby.” More broadly, I’d tell myself to travel! See the world, no matter what. 5. What do you do now, by the way? I’m a writer at an ad agency in Brisbane and expecting our first baby in September! KATIE MCCALMONT, London What were you doing at 22? Living situation, work/study situation? Still at Edinburgh University, living in a ridiculously nice flat that I’ve never been able to replicate for so little money and doing a degree in English Literature. I lived with two girls and a boy and we bullied the boy. We found dead mice in our kitchen, drank vats of herbal tea, listened to Elliot Smith on our mini-discs and juiced anything we could lay our hands on. Were you dating / in a relationship? What was it like? I was in a long-term, long distance relationship with a long-haired boy. It was intense and lovely and angst-y and shaped me somewhat. What was the hardest thing that happened to you that year? What was the best? Not much happened to me in that year, as far as I can remember. It feels light, both literally and metaphorically speaking. I think I was mainly happy. I got fat from drinking too much and eating pizza with no regard for carb intake, I remember the long distance-thing was hard work with my boyfriend and occasionally I would panic and get on a train and turn up in London in a state. I started working a bit harder though and taking myself a bit more seriously which was probably a good thing What would you say to yourself at 22, knowing what you know now? Nothing, I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. Just – don’t panic, you’ll get there in the end. Oh yes, and stop ordering from Dominos, that’s not just a bad angle, you are bulking up lady. What do you do now, by the way? Now (many many years later) I have grey hair and I’m a literary scout.