Ever since I was in my teens, my best friends (and full disclosure—my boyfriends) were older. The trend continued in my 20s and 30s. I didn’t want to hang out in bars with people my own age, muddling through youth and trying to figure it out. I liked to hang with my friends who’d tried and failed—and tried and succeeded. My mother, who is from Panama, used to say, “You don’t have to jump off a building to know that when you hit the ground, you’re going to go ouch.” The way I felt about my older friends was that they’d jumped off all the buildings I aspired to climb—career, marriage, motherhood—and their advice would help me prevent the ouches.
But times change. Now, as often as not, I’m the older friend. I watch in amazement as my younger friends navigate with ease things that seem mysterious to me. The younger women I admire combine a mix of ambition, glamour, self-preservation, and vulnerability that is sometimes messy, but I think, ultimately, very winning. These are the things I admire about them.
Embrace the Instagram Generation’s Glow
Again and again, I watch younger women bring full-throttle glamour to even the most basic occasions. My younger friends and colleagues rely on beauty professionals for everything from job interviews to office parties. There’s a reason they all look so freaking gorgeous in their Instagram posts: they rely heavily on the pros—from department store makeup artists to sites like Glamsquad.com that send stylists to your house and offer you a blow-out.
Beyoncé may have ‘woke up like this,’ but the rest of us need a little help.
Following their lead, a few months ago, when I had to have my picture taken for my new job, I hired a makeup artist to come to my house. It cost a pretty penny—$150—and took more than an hour, but the photo snapped afterwards is one of the best I’ve ever had in my life. It’s better than my wedding photo, for which I—in an attempt at boho-realism—did my own makeup. Beyoncé may have famously “woke up like this,” but the rest of us should go for the movie star treatment every once in a while: not for men, not because beauty is a currency, but for the pure joy of seeing this glamorous version of yourself and all the confidence it brings when you do more than make up—you strategically glow up.
Self-promotion Is Not Just OK, but Necessary
My successful younger friends understand that they must be their own publicists. As one young woman I met with recently explained, “I spent over a year of my life on this project, I want to make sure people know about it.” In this way, I am not only from the 20th century, I’m almost Jane Austen-ian in my rejection of the megaphone.
I’ve leaned in on Twitter and Instagram a little.
But over the last year, I’ve leaned in on this a little. Twitter for work. Instagram for personal brand and inspiration. My Twitter following grew to 5k. My newsletter (you can sign up here) grew to the thousands, too. Not monumental, but not horrible, either—especially when the people who follow me on Twitter include such bright lights as Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Ava DuVernay.
Self-care Is a Thing
I love how my younger friends use “self-care” as a verb. I always thought of it as “treating myself” or a “little luxury” to go to a spa or visit an acupuncturist or whatever was a little out of the norm. Yes, they may have a little bit of a Millennial me-me-me thing going sometimes, but they are also deeply aware that on a personal level, they perform better when they’re happier. So they do more of what makes them happy.
I didn’t check with my husband, I didn’t overthink—I just said yes.
Inspired by them, I went on an all-girls camping trip at the end of the summer. Very uncharacteristic for me. To leave my husband and my kid. To go to the woods as a vacation choice. To engage in group activities with more than a hundred strangers when my idea of heaven is eight fascinating people around a dinner table. But it was self-care heaven as the trip organizers promised. I got my hair braided, had a mini-facial, took dance classes, and laid out by the lake reading a book with no thought of the next thing on my to-do list. I didn’t check email. I did sleep in. I had the best time. But I think the real big leap for me was that when I got the invite, I didn’t check with my husband. I didn’t overthink it. I thought of my younger friends, and I just said yes.
A New Kind of Sandwich Generation
Not too long ago, I had lunch with a former assistant. She told me how much our work together had meant. I was more than her boss, she explained. I was one of her first older friends in New York. I was happy to have been able to be that for her when so many women had once so generously played the same role for me. Then as we settled into her meal, I grilled her on everything I needed to know from what products she was using in her hair to what sites she visited every day. I left our lunch that day feeling like I’d experienced the all-too-rare joyful feeling of being in the sandwich generation. I am not young. I am not old. I am in the beautiful, rich, juicy middle.
A Little Older-Lady Wisdom
As for what I’d advise my younger friends, it would be two things.
One: Don’t solely live on social media, be mindful of the kindnesses you offer in private. Recently, a friend lost a parent, and I noticed the comments in her Instagram numbered over a hundred. I wondered how many of those people followed up with our friend offline.
I offer time and energy offline to the people I love.
Like so many Luddites of my generation, I’ve come to understand the importance and power of social media, but at the same time, I’ve tried to keep a small reserve of time and energy to offer the people I like and love offline. I schedule a call with a friend going through a divorce. I make time to send things to my older relatives who live far away. It may be the Jane Austen in me again, but I like to send a jar of jam from American Spoon or a note with a box of Kusmi tea. My husband says I’m the last friend the US Post Office has. I don’t take this as an insult.
Two: Ask me about marriage and motherhood. Yes, every marriage is different. And, absolutely, the path to motherhood is a thin and rickety bridge that every woman must traverse alone. But I got good advice from my older friends when I was in my 20s that helped me feel confident about the choices I made in my 30s.
My husband and I are on the same page about what happy looks like.
One friend advised me to look for a partner who wanted the same kind of life that I did—if we could get everything we wanted, when we wanted it, what would our lives look like? The man I would eventually marry was as passionate about travel as I was. While a lot of people say they like to travel, the two of us both felt that we wanted the smallest amount of home base and the most time away as we could manage. For the past 17 years, while New York has been our home base, we have lived or enjoyed long stints in California, Tokyo, Paris, and Cassis in the south of France. We are categorically on the same page about what happy looks like—and that helps smooth so many of the bumps.
Veronica Chambers is a prolific author and journalist, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir Mama’s Girl, the young adult novel The Go-Between, and Yes Chef, which was co-authored with chef Marcus Samuelsson. She is the editor of The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own.