Dan Levy On Going Your Own Way

Dan Levy on why faux-free-spirited internet culture rings false

Dan Levy

Photo by Vanessa Heins

This past August I celebrated my 26th—okay, 29th—birthday in L.A. with a lovely wine-soaked dinner at my favourite taco spot, Escuela Taqueria. I don’t usually get fazed by birthdays, but in the car ride home, amidst a champagne haze, I started thinking about my twenties. All the things I’ve done, seen and failed at got me to where I am today and I realized that—a few questionable sweaters and haircuts aside—I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

It’s a fine balance: Switch up one element and who knows what ripples would have followed. In fact, I’d argue my biggest mistakes—be it chasing an unrequited love for a couple of crazy, desperate years or being too scared to audition for theatre school—actually led me down a better path.

Which is why a seemingly superfluous article that recently went viral incensed me. The piece in question, “25 Things To Do Before You Turn 25,” was posted on Thought Catalog (thoughtcatalog.com), an online literary hub dedicated to original non-fiction content that claims to “make you more interesting.”

In it, author January Nelson (a 25-year-old Brooklyn-based “diva”) compiles a to-do list for, I’m assuming, leading a happier and more fulfilled life before one ripens and dies at the quarter-century mark. The intention of the list, presumably, is to excite and inspire, yet all I kept wondering was, Why is this necessary?

This isn’t to say the post is without its virtues. To-do #1, “make peace with your parents,” is always an important reiteration. But it’s the way in which the majority of its other commandments advises accomplishing fulfillment via a faux free-spiritedness that rubbed me the wrong way.

I have faith in millennials—and I still naively consider myself to be one—which made me wonder why more than 24,000 people felt compelled to forward a list that tells them to “do a lot of solo drinking, read a lot of books…[and] have sex in dirty hostels” (#23) or “recognize freedom as a 5:30 a.m. trip to the diner with a bunch of strangers you’ve just met” (#5). Have we lost our intrinsic sense of adventure? Are we now relying on internet lists to get our thrills vicariously, instead of going out there and finding them ourselves, however haphazardly?

I’m aware that today’s 25-year-olds grew up even more coddled than my (slightly) older generation, but I will not believe they’ve lost the most sacred gift bestowed upon young adulthood: unfettered curiosity.

It’s a quality that acts as a compass, sometimes faulty, sometimes maddeningly accurate, when navigating the most important and malleable years of our lives. And it’s a quality that dims when people become reliant on someone else’s idea of how to live a curious life.

There is something transformative about the act of finding your own way without a to-do list. I recently heard an interview in which Lady Gaga was asked what advice she’d give her younger self. Her response? “Nothing. If I had known anything this never would have happened.”

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