When you’re 21 you can feel lost. You can feel like you don’t really know who you are or what you want to do. You can feel like you’ve come so far but are nowhere near where you want to be. You can feel so small. You can feel intimidated just by walking down the street. You can feel like you still have to prove your worth to the world. You can feel completely alone.
I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent contemplating these thoughts. And I always conclude with confusion. I never really come up with any answers. This is just a phase of my life, I guess. There will be a point in my life when I don’t feel these things. When I don’t get nervous sick going into a job interview. When I don’t live in an old, un-air conditioned house with four roommates and no front door. When I don’t get scared by adults. When I don’t feel like I have to justify all of my personal decisions. When I don’t have to mentally debate every purchase I ever make. At least I think that time will come. But even if it does, I’m sure every age has its difficulties and I’m doing my best to enjoy the positives that 21 brings.
And as overwhelming as these thoughts can be, I think I have more answers than I originally thought. Yes, defining myself is hard. It’s also unnecessary. But even if I don’t know exactly who I am, I know what I’m not. Have you ever noticed that that there are some, many even, types of people that we know we could never be? I’m not that confused. I know I am not going to a lawyer, law school would chew me up and spit me out. I know I would never survive in the corporate business world. I know I would never tolerate half of the relationships my friends are in, in which they claim to be ‘in love’. I know I could never reside in a place where there aren’t lots of people and lots of things happening all of the time. I know I don’t want to have the same job or live in the same place for my whole life. I know that I will never be able to perfectly parallel park. I know that I will never stop loving ice cream or cereal, even though I know they have lots of carbs. I know that I will never stop wanting to see as much of the world as I possibly can. I know that I don’t ever want to stop writing, even if I never publish the book I dream of writing. I know that I will never stop relating to my dog more than I relate to most people. I know that I will never stop requiring adequate amounts of alone time. I know that I’ll never have myself completely figured out.
I do think I’ve gotten better though. I remember when I was a freshman in college and the pressure to define yourself in a way that other people liked and understood was at an all-time high. I was in a new place. People didn’t know my high school reputation or really anything about me. It was a clean slate. How did I want to be perceived? I remember struggling a lot with this. I pretended to be having fun when I really wasn’t. I had a lot of surface-level friends that didn’t stay in my life for long. I started imitating what I was surrounded by instead of figuring out myself. I had a turn-around the summer after I completed one year at Ohio State. After many conversations with my parents in which I explained that I was simply unhappy, I decided to change my major after contemplating options as drastic as taking a year off from college. My sophomore year, things changed. And sometimes it wasn’t easy, because when college is so expensive there is a lot of pressure to know exactly what you want to do. But for one semester, I had no fucking idea. And it was so great. I enjoyed learning again. I eventually figured it out and I am so thankful for this transitional period.
And maybe 21 is just a transitional period. And I know that one day I will look back and, even if things are completely different, I will be thankful for this time.
“Do your thing. Do it unapologetically. Don’t be discouraged by criticism. You probably already know what they are going to say. Pay no mind to the fear of failure. It’s far more valuable than success. Take ownership, take chances, and have fun. And no matter what, don’t ever stop doing your thing.” – Asher Roth
This is a war I face everyday. It’s a tight war, it isn’t a battle where one side clearly has the upper hand. And I’m really stuck. Do I do what love? Or do I do what is practical? If only I was involved, the choice would be easy. But I am not the only one involved. There is money to worry about and time and the job market and a lot of other shit that makes my decision seem like either way I chose, it will be wrong.
One of the things I do when I don’t know something is I listen to other people, I see what they have experienced. I’ve listened to people say to follow the idealism route, the route that won’t make you rich but will make you happy. They tell you to live in the moment and love what you do. Then I hear the people that say, “You’re never going to love what you do, at least not all of the time.”
I know that I in no way have enough life experience to give anyone advice on this matter but I think the decision isn’t as two sided as I like to think it is. Practicality? Who is to tell me whether or not I’m living a practical life. To me, practicality is subjective. Maybe some people think it’s practical to go to college and earn a four-year degree and then immediately get married and have kids, all while having a stable and financially secure job. Although this seems pretty practical to me, it might not be everyone’s definition of practicality. Some people thrive on financial security and need that in their life while others accept the fact that they’re going to have to live on less while they pay for things like traveling and higher education. Idealism on the other hand, although subjective, can also be practical. I still think that’s possible! I’m not trying to be naive, I know everyday can’t be amazing because that would actually take away from your really good days but I do think that there is a way to made your version of ideal, practical. It might take some thinking, it’s not going to be a direct route or the same one that everyone takes.
I’m inspired by the people living a idealistic life and when I hear about them I begin to think it would be possible for me. When I hear about people who took on the world head on and found a purpose doing what they love , I realize it is possible. Find those people and listen to them. Find a role model let them help you.
Right now, I don’t have a plan anymore. I can’t tell you where I’ll be in ten years but that’s exciting. I’m learning so much and actually enjoying it. I actually have time to explore and learn and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. Before I reached this conclusion though, I was scared. The unknown used to scare me but now I realize it is more scary to stay on a path I knew wasn’t for me.
So I think our new goal shouldn’t be deciding which one we should choose. We should have a goal to find a way to make our version of ideal practical and to do so we might even need to adjust our definition of practicality.
Why do we have the dreams that we do? When I say dream, I use the term loosely, in a sense of not only physical aspirations, but also what kind of person we want to be and what kind of things we want to have done at the end of our lives. I’m in the process of removing from my mind from the idea that career goals need to facilitate our entire lives so I was thinking about not only what I want to be when I grow up but who I want to be.
And at the same moment as I had these thoughts, I then noticed a phrase we often use too much without it having any clarified definition. The phrase is “…when I grow up.” I have determined that I should probably stop using this phrase because technically from a legal standpoint, I am an adult. I don’t feel like one though. When we ask young children what they want to do when they grow up, they say big things. They stretch their imagination to the farthest point and they actually believe with everything inside of them that they can do it. They are the ones who have it right. I’m not sure at what point we begin disbelieving in ourselves or when we begin to let others influence our opinion of what we think we can do, but it doesn’t take long. Then we grow up a little bit and we start to think that adulthood comes suddenly one day, like as soon as you reach your eighteenth birthday, you’ll know exactly what it is you are going to with your life and who you’ll do it with. But sadly that’s not true either. I don’t know when adulthood truly begins but I do know that it doesn’t come all at once. We grow when we don’t notice we are growing and to be honest, I don’t think I ever want to stop growing. I definitely have goals I want to reach but I would like to consider those stepping stone for further growth. I don’t think anyone aspires to land their dream job and then never get promoted. Or be able to run ten miles and then never go any further. So don’t think that if you reach one goal, although you’ll feel immensely proud, that you’ll be forever satisfied. This thought isn’t depressing. I don’t want to come off as saying that you’ll never reach fulfillment in life and that life is just a series of lists of goals that you have to achieve, but just that you might reach it in other ways than you initially imagined, and that you have the opportunity to continue to reach it not only when you become an adult but all through adulthood as well.
I know nothing with any certainty. But the sight of the stars makes me dream.” -Vincent van Gogh