The Roundabout Burden Of Being An Adult


In the three years after my graduation from college, sometimes it feels like all I’ve learned is that adulthood is overrated and bills are a terrible price to pay for independence. I’m on an indefinite journey to “figuring out” my life, and while the struggle for some sort of enlightenment in this regard stretches on, my patience with the process thins. It’s frustrating on a multitude of levels.

The whole murky experience seems to speak directly to my own shortcomings, my own inability to harness some combination of dedication, wherewithal, commitment, tenacity, excitement – any of these will do, really – to just get my life together already. I had all the resources, support, love, and guidance I could ask for. And yet, here I am, just floating along. I’m stuck in some nebulous state of a journey whose path seems to be made of molasses, and every slow step forward is like a highlighting of my inadequacies. All made that much worse by how much everyone continues to believe in me. Meanwhile, I become increasingly certain that the inevitability of disappointment lurks somewhere ahead – I don’t know exactly where. How long do I have to float indeterminately before it’s been long enough to reveal to everyone that I might just be sort of average? Then comes the descent into self-deprecating wallowing, which, while satisfying in some quirky sense because it alludes to the fact that maybe I’m dysfunctional enough to join the cast of Girls, is not helpful in any way when it comes to jump-starting progress.

On occasion, I feel like I’ve tapped into some hive of potential – a doorway I didn’t notice before – and things will improve. The pep in my step returns; I feel like I’m on my way, mojo in tow. And therein lies the godforsaken element to this whole 20-something saga that might be more frustrating than the low points of the roller coaster: the roller coaster effect in and of itself. Because the ups are followed by downs and vice versa, everything seems fickle. We make progress, we seem subconsciously linked with a perpetual inspiration, and then, before we know it, we find ourselves once again uninspired. The fleetingness of the momentary inspiration makes us doubt its existence, or that it will return, or that it ever even mattered at all.

It’s not that much easier when you live in a city like New York, a place where things are supposed to happen – the freaking heart and soul of creativity, entrepreneurialism, and the teeth-gritting determination to succeed – it pulses through the city and verges on tangibility. But sometimes, you can’t seem to match its momentum. It’s like a track racing by you, and you know you could race to unforeseen new accomplishments and revelations if you only had the cojones and conviction to risk embarrassment and bruises to jump on the track yourself. Instead it whizzes by and with each blur, you find yourself less certain of what you’re doing or where you’re going.

I have less than a year until I can no longer get away with saying I’m in my “early 20s” — by all definitions an adult — and yet I live paycheck to paycheck, grocery shop once every four months, and play hot potato with my savings and checking accounts. The only consistent staples in my fridge are a Brita that blinks red, club soda that’s lost its fizz, and a dollop of hummus for which there are probably no more chips. My roommate and I have been decorating our apartment for going on three years and still haven’t finished. I’m in a constant state of indecision for the most irrelevant things — vastly centered around choices involving food — which only ever adds to the limbo effect for this stage of life. The timeline I imagined in my youth is now laughable in any lens you look through: well-established career, financial stability, marriage, kids. The former two feel like a thought I had but can no longer remember — giving the inkling of possibility while eluding my grasp. The latter two I cannot even fathom being ready for now. So by all definitions that actually matter, I’m not an adult.

And sometimes I look at the people who were unorthodox, who dropped out of college, who still made a legacy. And whatever it takes to do that, I admire deeply. Not specifically to drop out of college, necessarily, but in believing so deliberately in what you must achieve, and in dedicating yourself to the route that will bring you to it. There’s something really incredible in summoning the confidence and unwavering resolve required to make any desire come to fruition. In desiring something so much that to not scratch, claw, and climb toward it would be the antithesis of instinct. In dreaming big and not becoming instantly overwhelmed by the elusiveness of even the smallest first step. There’s obviously the talent component as well, but it’s something deeper than that, something less obvious and more gritty, more meaningful that is most amazing.

I would never have dared to drop out of college. Not that I wanted to, not that I feel I should have. I’m very grateful for my college experience. But the point is, I’ve walked an obvious path for so long and now that path has turned into a vast, unforged territory of possibility and promise or potential mediocrity. There’s no pre-determined next step. You have to figure out what you want to do with your life, and sometimes it will scare the living hell out of you because in more moments than you’d like to admit, chances are good that you’re not sure you have a clue what that is.

Uncertainty does not change the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to have access to a great many resources and endless support. I’m not blinded by my periodic discontent into thinking that I have it rough, that my fumbling my way through my twenties is anything more than a discomfort. If anything is a confirmation of that, it’s the fact that it’s difficult to speak about it without feeling whiny. But, nonetheless, it’s real. I know from conversations with friends and siblings and acquaintances in a similar age bracket that it is surely a shared struggle. For me, I just want to feel inspired daily by what I’m doing. To know – consistently – that my time and energy are being put into something that makes my time meaningful and my energy refueled. This realization will not need explanation, I imagine. It will just be.

Sometimes it makes me wonder how self-involved I can be that I dare to consider the aftermath of my privilege any type of burden. Ultimately, though, I reconcile myself to be (at least temporarily) content with recognizing my context, and how my existence unfolds within it. With the path paved for endless possibilities it seems that it’s clarity of purpose I most lack. And it’s definitely that which I most seek. But there’s something special about a journey — however indiscernible the path may be; it offers something that clarity and composure and a destination do not. So until the day I wake up with a deliberate path to follow, an unequivocal dream to chase, an inspiration to embrace and know with unshakeable conviction, I will thank the most thankless moments of this journey for what they must be giving me; for all that I cannot yet appreciate, but surely one day will. I will learn to love the opportunity for growth and discovery born only of uncertainty.