Live and learn Lauren Kirshner: Carrying confidence at 20

Author Lauren Kirshner shares her thoughts on the coulda, woulda, shouldas of her 20s

Lauren Kirshner, in your 20s, life advice

My teenage years were so terrible that I dreamed constantly of my 20s, believing they would deliver me from pimples, hot solo dates at garage sales and weekends selling popcorn at the cinema. I held my breath, expecting a Cinderella-like transformation.

But it was my mistake to think my life would change as soon as I hit 20 — poof would go the comparing myself to others, the wondering if I could make it as a writer, the insecurity. When I realized that building my confidence would take work, I felt just slightly ripped off. I thought other girls had it easier: when they looked in the mirror they saw perfection. When they wrote, they loved every word. When they shaved their legs, the hair didn’t grow back for weeks.

It’s not that I didn’t like who I was. But I am part of the generation that grew up on makeovers on Montel and reality shows like The Swan where everyone is a cup size or a wax away from becoming their ideal self — an ideal that is mentioned only as a physical entity. In my early 20s I sought improvement in so many ways. I dyed my hair blonde, at home, to varying shades of orange. I counted calories, displaying math skills unseen before in the Kirshner family. I’m a homebody. But at home I sometimes wondered if I was wasting my youth by not putting on the ritz and going to the clubs, wearing lots of jewellery and buying fizzy drinks like Carrie Bradshaw. Now, at the end of my 20s, I’m far from being an expert on myself and I still lie in bed at night with the questions. Should I have gone out more, in heels, at least to work out my calves? Why was I so shy? In a university class I sat beside a guy I liked for two months and the closest I got to grabbing his attention was once coyly dropping my pencil, then retrieving it like a panicked octopus. I should have talked more. I should have worn that bikini. I should have clobbered my anxiety with action. If I had a 20-year-old in front of me now, I’d say, Love yourself and take the chance of others not sharing your good taste.

I still think about improving my outer self, but I’ve learned to spend more time trying to understand what’s behind the face in the mirror. It’s a lot cheaper than getting manicures. And I keep reminding myself that instant transformation takes place only in reality TV and in fairy tales. Be a messy work-in-progress, I tell myself. It may be uncertain, but it’s a lot more interesting than waiting for the pumpkin carriage.

Lauren Kirshner, 28, is the author of Where We Have to Go.