1. Pay attention, no, don’t just pay attention in class but actually try and build a relationship with your professors. Especially your English and writing teachers. Ask them every tiny detail about how to become a good writer, an earnest reader, and just what you do in the so-called real world with your precious English degree. Ask them about how they wrote their first novel or how they rose to the ranks to write features for Esquire magazine. Don’t be so terrified of them because they wear black and stacks of silver bracelets on their wrists. And don’t ignore them when they tell you you’ve got something but that you should probably focus a bit more on writing. You only have these four years to have access to such talented educators — don’t waste it on hangovers and frat boys. These individuals have so much to teach you and it’s not just about The Great Gatsby. Go, talk to them. Admit that you have no idea what you’re doing but that you just really like to write.
2. You won’t be happy if you follow the herd. But don’t think you’re so smart and cool that you won’t make friends or relationships with those who truly matter. Be open to new people, new ideas, and new experiences. Don’t be so quick to judge.
3. The girls you meet on campus when you’re 20 will be the friends who will carry you through the decade. They’ll also carry you home from the bar, draw a mustache on your face with a black Sharpie, and convince you to not fall in love with the guy who frequents the tanning beds. Just because a lot of your memories with them are soaked in cheap beer, you’ll also come to learn that they know you much better than you think and they love you deeply. Return their love.
4. Being skinny doesn’t equate to bliss, happiness, or even love. But do take care of your body. You don’t have to be a waif but taking a long walk every day in the woods is just as important to the size of your jeans as it is to your mental health.
5. Don’t be so easily swayed by boys. Don’t let them consumed this decade. It is OK to be single, even if you don’t do it very well. Being in a relationship takes up a lot of energy and you have a lot of energy. Spend it on other things like your girlfriends, your hiking, and your writing.
6. Move to Montana. Move somewhere. Just go. It’s OK if you do it alone and you don’t know a soul in the entire state. Pack up your little four-door sedan, put your bike and your kayak on the roof and go. And when things get rough, and they most certainly will, don’t even consider leaving. You love it here. Deeply. In your bones kind of love.
7. Do not be embarrassed or think you’re so damn smart that you don’t need help when you really do. Be open to those people who fall into your life, offering words of wisdom and glimmers of hope. It is OK to wave the white flag.
8. Travel. Even if you’re broke, which you’ll do even when you turn 30 because the concept of saving money eludes you, save your money to see the world. When your friends go to Africa, go with them. When your girlfriends take a trip to southern California, book your plane ticket too. When a new friend offers you a trip to visit the west coast in her Airstream, go. Go. Go. Go.
9. Say yes. Say yes to drum circles, backpacking trips, book clubs, bucking ants, skinny dipping, canoeing, bonfires, road trips, lost dogs, one more glass of wine, a second slice of chocolate cake. Say yes to the things that you don’t yet know.
10. Don’t be afraid to say no. Especially when it comes to someone who loves you and you don’t love them back. Do not allow yourself to be sucked into someone else’s sick pain. If your heart, soul, and pea-sized brain are screaming NO NO NO, you too better say no. You will find true love someday. Have courage.
11. Don’t get rid of all your boxes of books just because you tire of moving them 6 times a year. Rent a damn storage unit, if you have to. Just because you’re always in between apartments doesn’t mean that you’re books have to go to the thrift store. When you finally settle into your house, you’ll miss them. But also congratulate yourself that you kept all your favorites.
12. Don’t think its just the men who are the adventurers. Sure you’ll fall for some many of them because they show you the secret powder stashes and teach you how to whitewater kayak. Women do this too. And most of them will kick your ass on the slopes, trails and rivers. Don’t just look to the boys to teach you the ways of the mountains. There are many fine women too. And they’re typically trying not to sleep with you but, they also won’t put up with your bullshit.
13. Be friends with people who aren’t afraid to call you out on your bullshit. Your brother lives too far away in California to do this effectively. And get off your high horse. You’ll hit your forehead on the barn door.
14. Don’t ever allow a job, especially one that make you miserable, to interfere with the good things in life, like friends and family. Take the week off and float the Salmon. And you’ll curse yourself everyday for not attending your step-grandfather’s memorial just because you thought your job was in jeopardy. No job is worth missing out on life’s significant moments.
15. No real jobs until you’re 30. Or at least until the month before your big birthday. If you want to work trails in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, do so. Be open to many different opportunities, even if they don’t pay all that well. And ignore your father when he tells you to get a hair cut and get a real job. You don’t ask him for money, so don’t let him get under your skin. Earn just enough money to pay your bills and then go have fun.
16. Visit your family more often. Even though your heart belongs to Montana, give a bit of yourself back to the Great Lakes, the Island, and your dear mother.
17. Save the letters from your mother and grandmother. Write more letters in return.
18. It’s completely OK wait tables well after college. Just don’t fall into the destructive drinking cycle that nabs many in the restaurant world. And don’t become a food and wine snob just because you work in a fancy restaurant. You can’t afford to eat like your diners. Remember that when you’ve got over $100 in tips in your purse. Put it to your travel fund.
19. Do a lot less talking and a good bit more listening. Also, you should write more.
20. Buy a canoe. Invest in good hiking boots, wool long underwear and a warm sleeping bag. It’s a beautiful world out there.