“I’m pretty sure you’re two different people,” said a friend and coworker as I stared inside a glass of whiskey at a downtown bar. She was referring to the person I was at work and who I am on the weekends. One is an overworked, professional, dedicated employee who goes to bed by 10, exercises, and eats well. The other comes out on Fridays and Saturdays and still thinks he’s more or less in college. It’s not exactly a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind. I’m not sure which one is supposed to be the monster.
That distance between professional and personal lives never truly goes away, but I don’t think it’s ever larger than when you’re a twenty-something in a hard-partying college town with a lot of disposable income, very little stability and an allergic reaction to boredom. We’re bored and unmoored.
I’m quick to melodramatically tell everyone what a wreck my personal life is and like to make jokes about how many shambles my life is in, but I’m pretty sure that’s a common feeling for those in my demographic. You’re confused. You feel a bit lost at sea without an anchor. You don’t know how you’re expected to act. The fragments of who you were keep bubbling up to the surface, and the person you’re supposed to become hasn’t arrived yet. We’re all just passing time until the train gets to the station. There isn’t really anything else to do, so we go out to bars, order one too many, and traipse around the city like kids in an ever-expanding, endless candy store. We make friends through drinking games, random hookups and laughter. We are young and wild and that is, to an extent, how we like it.
I think the confusion comes from the idea that I want both poles at the same time. I want the unexpected confusion and randomness of the night, but some nights I just want to watch a shitty movie on Netflix with a girlfriend. I want to be unaccountable and free, but also reliable, loyal and professional. I want the shirt-and-tie nine-to-five, but also the rock-and-roll lifestyle. Those two sides fight each other for my attention.
I keep looking forward and trying to figure out what I am actually supposed to be doing. I keep thinking that I should be acting my age, whatever that means. The more and more I think about it, I am acting exactly how I should be. I think the expectation is that as a twenty-something college graduate, my particular brand of dualism isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s expected, and it’s reflected and reinforced by the pop culture we breathe in. Look at the group on How I Met Your Mother; the characters are successful, professional, productive members of society but they also spend their free time at the bar looking for beer, bedmates and laughter.
Eventually, we’ll meet an anchor that makes the boredom go away, and we’ll be content just sitting around. We’ll be happy doing couple-y things, and “adult” things, and we’ll give less and less time to the other side. Eventually, the distance between your own personal Yin and Yang is almost undetectable. We’ll find a balance. It just might take a while, so we might as well enjoy ourselves while we’re waiting.
I turned 24 on Sunday.
A 24th birthday is a seemingly insignificant blip. It’s a milestone not worth remembering, another random point in my individual timeline. The pivot-point birthdays, the ones that open up new possibilities and endless opportunity just by proxy of my age (16, 18, 21) are behind me.
But, given that it’s a nice time to stop and reflect on the past 8,760 days, here are a few things I’ve learned on this crazy adventure we call life:
You’re never as old as you feel and you’ll never be this young again.
You will miss an endless amount of opportunities. You will always feel like you missed some turning point in your life, and you will always be haunted by the road not taken, the girl you never talked to, the job you never accepted. You will feel regret. The more time you spend going down that imaginary road, the more time you’re wasting. Spend your time focusing on the opportunities you caught and what you’re doing with them. This is your life. Right now. It’s all you have, so you might as well enjoy it. There are very few pains worth holding onto, and regret isn’t one of them.
Own your vices, but get rid of your demons: Everyone needs something to hold onto. Some people (like me) find solace in pop culture, some (also like me) find it in food and drink, some find it in religion. We all have vices; some are good, some are evil, some are both, some are neither. The moment you let any of these things take over your life, you might need to reconsider your connection to them. Very few people are strong enough to do this on their own.
There’s a healthy balance between outside influence and intuition. A lot of people will feel like giving you advice (I’m doing it right now, and I’ve done it before), and you will be tempted to listen. They will say that they know what’s best for you, and they have more experience than you, and that they’re right. They will poke and prod and nudge you in directions you don’t want to go. These people will try to drown out the little voice in your head, the one that tells you yes or no or stop or go. Don’t let anyone muffle your inner voice.
You will feel awkward sometimes. Remnants of that insecure teenage version of you will stick around and taunt you. That’s normal. Everyone goes through the same basic experiences you do: the thrill of a first kiss, the heartbreak of a first love lost, the explosion of hormones, the general gawkiness. The best you can hope for is that you take the good things about your early years (the hope, the excitement, the child-like wonder, the openness to connection) with you and leave most of the other junk behind.
You will never be perfect at anything, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
It is never okay to stop learning. School’s over, and you’ll probably never go back. It’s up to you to read books, to devour culture, to jump into new situations head-first. Hopefully you’ll learn from your successes and your failures. Hopefully you’ll learn from others. The only thing you can do is try to learn how to be a better person.
Friends will arrive, friends will disappear. Meeting friends and potential love interests only gets harder, more forced, and more awkward as time goes on. You’ll like people you work with, and maybe you’ll like your neighbors, and maybe you’ll like your girlfriend’s friends, but you’ll never have an experience like high school or college again. Those friends will understand you better than most people, but they’ll be taken by new cities and new people and some of them will fade away. Try to maintain your connections; it’s pretty easy these days. You don’t have a lot of excuses to let those connections die out.
There are a lot of shiny things in this world. There are distractions everywhere. The hardest thing in this world of so much noise, so much bullshit, and so many different things warring for your attention is to find something real to concentrate on. Try to devote your time to whatever makes you nuts with passion, whatever burn inside you, the things you feel with every piece of your being. Nobody else can tell you what those are. Figure out how to enjoy silence and things that happen in nature.
Here’s to another 24 years.
[Art courtesy of Lauren Krukowski. Click the pic for more]
Well, hey 2011.
It’s not just the start of a new year for me. It’s the start of an entirely new life. 2010 was the year I graduated college. It was the year I moved back in with my parents after leaving one of my favorite cities in the world. I got a “real person job” and moved back to that city. Quite a year.
So, let’s get this year started off right. Things to remember:
-Get distracted by shiny things. Kids go through their lives being curious, being open to new experiences, and being amazed by all the tiny intricacies of the world. Never let that childlike wonder die out.
-Stop talking, start doing. I’m not really the type of person that makes it a goal to change everything around on January 1st, because I know that there’s a difference between saying I’m going to lose weight, drink less, and exercise more and actually putting in the effort and doing it. This is true for almost everything. People love talking about doing stuff but never actually follow through with it, and ideas get lost that way. It’s easy to talk about change; it’s harder to actually change things.
-Do scary things. Starting a new job was scary. It was a completely new experience and my head was crammed full of new information. I had to meet a ton of new people. I get nervous about so much “new” happening at once. I also have to give quite a few presentations as a part of this job, which is something that still freaks me out. But I’m learning and just by doing more of it, I’m getting a little more comfortable with the spotlight on me. I’m glad that I’m doing these scary things. Try to do as many scary things as you can; it makes life more interesting, and it keeps you on your toes.
-Get a girlfriend. I’m pretty good at making friends. I like to think that I’m a genuinely interesting person to be around, and I’m pretty loyal. Good things to have, right? So I never worry that much about making those kinds of connections. Making a romantic connection is a little more foreign to me, and I’ve always been a bit closed off in the emotions department. I should probably change that this yearI’m learning to be more open about how I feel, though (writing helps immensely). It would make my mother quite happy if I found myself a ladyfriend.
-Stay in touch. I’m worried about staying in touch will all of the awesome friends I made during school. Of course, Facebook does make that process a little easier, but I know myself well, and I know that if I don’t put in some effort I’ll drift away from those awesome friends. I don’t want that to happen. I want long-lasting friendships with the people that helped shape who I am.
-Document. For Christmas, I got my Dad a VHS-to-Digital conversion kit so he could transfer all of the embarrassing VHS tapes of my childhood to DVD’s. Memories are important. All of these seemingly-insignificant moments in life are actually the most important things in the world. Time to take more pictures, write things down, and finally make friends with nostalgia. Like Borges said, “don’t lose the now“.
-Embrace silence. It’s one of the hardest things to do in an age of constant noise. Being comfortable with silence is really tough, but it’s important to unplug from society every now and then and jump into a book. Take long, meandering walks with nothing in mind. Hang out in the woods around a campfire. Or, zen-out and sit in silence. Whatever it takes.
-Just try. Just care. Just because you can coast through life doesn’t mean you should. It’s time to wake up.
-And smile more, you magnificent bastard. Life is just too damn interesting to be cynical and bitter all the time. Just smile more. It’ll change your life.
And just like that Counting Crows song says, maybe this year will be better than the last. I have some faith. Here’s to a brand new year and a brand new chapter in the Book of Tom.
Have any resolutions you want to write down? Do it in the comments.