I started my first post-college, full-time office job a year ago. It’s been tough adjusting to the ins and outs of life as a bona fide adult. Some days I need a break from acting like a grownup, so I spend lunchtime in my office watching shows on Hulu.
Difficult People had me laugh-choking on my sandwich, trying not to terrify my coworkers. The main characters, Billy and Julie, are a pair of thirty-something comedians raging into the void as they search for their big break.
Although the new Hulu series is a cutting comedy, it still managed to make me feel less alone in my frustrations with the “real world.” Now that the show’s eight-episode first season has wrapped up, here are eight things I learned about adulthood from Difficult People.
1. Bitter is not the worst thing you could be.
After years of trying to break into show business, Billy and Julie are jaded and more than a little resentful. After so much rejection, bitterness is their defense mechanism, and it’s what keeps them laughing at what would make most people cry. Without being able to brush off failure, they wouldn’t have the enthusiasm to jump into the next adventure.
Being an adult doesn’t mean immediate success. Things go wrong sometimes, and instead of bottling up all the disappointment and trying to put a positive spin on it, it can be cathartic to throw a little pity party for myself. “I hate everyone but my cats,” I’ll text my friends, and within minutes we’ve got three different plans to become hermits and never leave the house again (two of them involve building a treehouse village). These brief bouts of sulking help me to vent and move forward.
2. Surround yourself with people who support you...
Julie’s boyfriend, Arthur, is a beacon of calm in the eye of the Billy-Julie storm. Arthur cooks fancy meals but doesn’t bat an eye when Julie shuns them for hot dogs. He follows her around a hospital in the middle of the night to help her try and befriend a veteran so she can prove a frenemy wrong. He’s quietly supportive of her and her various schemes, however outlandish they may be. Everyone needs that kind of understanding, whether it’s from friends, family, or a pair of basset hounds.
My friends seem to have a knack for knowing when to comfort and when to commiserate. At the buzz of a text, we can plan a time to get together to talk about someone’s boyfriend troubles or dissect a job opportunity. My boyfriend will quietly Arthur in the background, making food for everyone and chiming in occasionally. It’s helpful to know that no matter what slightly terrifying life decisions come my way, I have a few good friends to help motivate me.
3. ...but who aren’t afraid to tell you if you have a bad idea.
Billy is Julie’s ride-or-die, always ready to do something crazy, especially if it means a moment in the spotlight. He’s also the only person capable of reining her in if necessary. While Arthur is willing to mildly go along with whatever Julie wants, Billy will shut her down without qualms. In a friendship with so little self-awareness, it’s crucial to be honest with each other to try and prevent the worst of catastrophes.
While support and sympathy from friends is super helpful, I also need them to pick apart my writing, or talk me down from taking a job that sounds more like a scam than employment (there were some desperate times trawling Craigslist right after graduation). Once I’ve gone over the edge and am possessed by the need to act, to do or change something in my life, it’s hard to see the big picture. My friends are there to bring me back to reality, usually with the help of some pizza and white wine.
4. Remove yourself from uncomfortable situations.
There’s a moment in the pilot when Billy and Julie are in an awkward meeting. After it’s clear they aren’t wowing him, the guy they’re meeting with tells them about his kids, Memphis and Maverick (ugh). Billy and Julie are repulsed. They look at each other, say, “We have to go,” and leave. This is an important, if simple, lesson for trying to maneuver the adult world.
Being an adult means meeting a lot of new people (which, to introverts like me, is like facing a firing squad). There are coworkers and apartment neighbors and friends of a friend of a friend at parties. Even connecting with someone in a job interview is trying.
This all got much easier when I just got pickier. If an acquaintance at a party is chatting away, and starts ranting about “damn liberals,” I simply take my cocktail napkin full of shrimp tails and wander over to the next group. I don’t want to spend time trying to click with someone who just doesn’t get me.
5. Celebrate small victories.
The fourth episode of Difficult People starts with Julie and Billy in line at a coffee shop, when Billy gets a call that an agent wants to sign him as a client. In a rare moment of joy, Billy jumps in the air and shouts. He smiles and soaks in the moment, hugging Julie and addressing the other people in line. “I’m sorry, I’m screaming, I know — I’ll buy your agave syrup. I can’t believe it! I’m represented!”
It’s the little victories that make all the difference. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the big picture and see the small things I’ve accomplished in the past year. After finishing up a long project, I know I can send out a quick text (“Want to go to Starbucks and eat too many cookie straws?”) and have a mini party in no time. It’s these small moments that make the long grind worth it.
6. People that you find less deserving will be more successful than you sometimes, and you have to find a way to live with that.
As I get older, I grumble more and more like my parents. Some songs on the radio just don’t make sense, terrible movies become blockbusters, or, for Billy and Julie, a teenage YouTube sensation gets more attention and praise for a bad “Cup Song” rendition than they have in their entire careers.
This seems unfair (because it is) but they have to find a way a shaking off the annoyance. There will always be people who seem less deserving, less talented, or just plain obnoxious, who rake in money during their fifteen minutes of fame. That’s just the way it goes.
Facebook — the great connector of all people who should probably just stay apart — is the main source of this in my life. While I was frantically job-hunting for anything that didn’t involve pushing a broom, there was always someone I went to school with who landed a cushy gig. “I sat next to him, and he could barely even spell! How can he have a real, adult-human job with benefits and I’m a part-time security guard?!” I’d whine to my cats as I sent off yet another resume. I just had to shrug off these news feed blips and keep trying that much harder. Dwelling on it wouldn’t make me any happier, or more successful.
7. Try lots of different things.
Julie and Billy leap from idea to idea, determined to try writing, podcasting, YouTube, standup, story-telling, and even opening a restaurant. While this lack of focus is their downfall, it does allow for self-discovery. They find what they’re passionate about and what they just plain hate. Following whims and trying new things helps people grow.
In college, I took a handful of journalism classes. It started out as an experiment to see if I’d like to minor in it, but I soon realized just how much I dreaded interviewing people. I would do anything not to speak to someone I didn’t know — e-mails, Facebook messages, getting quotes from relatives instead. Traditional journalism obviously wasn’t the way to go, but through those classes I found out just how much I enjoyed editing. The feeling of taking someone’s writing and shaping it to make it better, of putting all the pieces in place, was so satisfying. I became Editor-in-Chief of the campus non-fiction magazine, graduated, and started working as a copy editor.
8. It’s okay to have no clue what you’re doing with your life.
Billy and Julie are in their thirties and working crappy jobs to get by while they fight their way into show business. They make time for what they love (comedy, watching the Golden Globes) and avoid what they don’t (most people). No one graduates and falls right into their dream job. It takes time, and hard work, and a lot of trial and error. It’s okay to feel lost or unsure of what to do next.
Half of my friends are getting restless now that they’ve finished two or three years at their first jobs in their field. They’re panicking as they look ahead, wondering where to move or what paths are right for them. I worry when I look to the future too. I want to move out of state in the long run, so when do I start making that transition? Should my next job be in a busy city, where there are more choices for editors, or should I live somewhere a bit calmer and go for every small opportunity?
I can’t tell my friends or even myself what the best next step would be. But I can take a moment to remind myself that I’m 24. I’m just starting out. When I read a biography of someone I find awesome, it never says “So-and-so finished school, got a job in their field, and stayed there forever. The end.” It says that they bounced around from job to job, feeling out what was good for them. It says they followed their dreams and worked hard until they were successful. It says that David Sedaris was an elf at Macy’s, and Tina Fey worked at the YMCA.
Maybe it’s time to take a breath, consider some options, and go with what feels right. It’s not going to be perfect, but in the end, it’s all just part of my story. If Billy and Julie are an example of anything, it’s that life shouldn’t be taken too seriously.