I was in Jackson, Mississippi over the weekend for work. I went to a crawdad boil with friends of a friend. After a few beers and a few hours of laughing with these people I’ve never met before, I had a thought:
There is so much fun to be had in odd places with new people. We forget that. We go through our lives doing the same thing, seeing the same people, and going to the same bars even though there’s so much out there. So, so much.
You’re never too old or young to take giant leaps of faith, but your twenties are designed for it. We graduated college, and may have jobs or leases or significant others, but that’s it. Many of us are unmoored, untethered to a particular place or person or position. That drifting feeling is obviously a little disorienting and can be confusing, but it’s a positive thing too. It’s a chance for a course correction. It’s time to explore. We’re lucky because we have all this time in the great divide between who we are and who we will be. There is no better age to try new things, to travel, to screw up, to change and move and run from routine. It’s a gamble worth taking.
Complacency is simple. “Just happy enough” is a plague-ridden safety blanket we cling to for fear of something worse. We need to keep jumping at new experiences and putting ourselves out there to fail because that enemy known as “routine” is always nipping at our heels. Routine is the voice in the back of your head saying “you might fail” and “but you don’t have any idea what will happen next.” It’s telling you that “it’s gonna be awkward” and “it’ll never work out.”
You’ll feel lost sometimes. You’ll feel alone and disoriented and maybe a little afraid. That’s OK. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. There’s an intriguing weirdness about this country we live in and the people that exist in these new places. There’s a lot to learn from these people, and we could all benefit from seeing a little bit of that Weird America firsthand. It’s good to feel out of place, out of your element, without a safety net. That’s how you grow.
New is your ally. Different is your partner-in-crime. Strange is your bedfellow. We need to start telling ourselves to fail. To be unsure. To put yourself out there. Feel fear. Get dirty. Fuck up. Change gears. Move forward.
Maybe all it takes is a Mississippi Crawdad Boil with two strangers you’ll probably never see again to jolt you awake. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a life-altering moment waiting to happen. You never know until you give it a shot.
“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]
If there’s one thing you should remember about heading to a college bar after you’re a graduate, it’s this: you never come out of it thinking that it was a great idea. This was especially true of O’Grady’s, a bar notorious for its dark interior and its strong drinks. O’Grady’s gave out Dum-Dum suckers to help quell the sting of rail vodka. As far as student bars go, it was a pretty great place to acquire a blackout. Somewhere in the swirl of the night, we expected to find solace.
On any given weekend night, I could spot 6 or 7 coworkers at the bar; O’Grady’s is never the kind of place you want your colleagues to see you, but there we all were, hoping the other wouldn’t remember an awkward encounter the next morning.
The bar was near and it didn’t have a line (a rarity after midnight), so we went in. O’Grady’s was full of a student populace we were no longer a part of: underagers, drunken slobs, stressed-out overachievers and proud Greeks. The bartenders, trained to be flirty for tips, tried their very best to keep the booze flowing and the conversations light. I looked around and saw a few guys whispering sweet lines into the ears of strangers, girls twirling and dancing to the music, wallflowers eyeing up people they would muster up the courage to talk to, and groups of friends sitting around the tables telling inside jokes. A normal night.
Nostalgia hits you in weird places when you’re at an old haunt: the bartender’s smile, that dartboard you lost game after game at, the conversations you had with strangers. Ghosts come in all shapes and sizes, rushing by in waves of hazy memories and forgotten conversations. We’ve seen too many familiar faces fade away into adulthood, off in some bigger city chasing larger dreams. Those of us who stayed still float around the city, searching for specters of the olden days, haunted by the people and places of our past.
It was after about one-and-a-half whiskey sodas that things started to get hazy. It was time to move on.
Whiskey has a way of making you stronger and weaker at the same time. This is never more apparent than when you’re having a one on one conversation with a pretty girl at a dark bar. During the good times, whiskey raises you up, pats you on the back for your accomplishments, and whispers in your ear that there’s nobody better or smarter or funnier or more attractive than you. Nobody is more capable than a man with a whiskey buzz.
During the bad times, whiskey kicks you down, laughs at you, and dares you to swim deeper and deeper into it until you get to the bottom. Whiskey makes you overthink. It makes you regret. It makes your failures float to the top of your consciousness, your anger surface.
Whiskey will inevitably make you say a lot of things. It may get her to smile. You’ll almost always make her laugh, either with you or at you. Whiskey will make you brave enough to share secrets with her, and if you’re lucky maybe she’ll tell you some of her own. You may think you’re having a profound moment, a pivot point in your life; you may see visions of the near future, her hand in yours and a smile on your face. But then you’ll leave. She’ll go one way, you’ll go another. The whiskey will turn back into a mean friend, the one that tells you it can’t believe you’re going home alone again, the one that can’t believe you actually thought you had a chance with her.
But then whiskey tucks you in and swiftly lulls you to sleep. The next morning, whiskey might kick your ass, but whiskey is never boring. At least you and it had a few adventures together, right?
Six Things To Remember About the Morning After
- It’s going to hurt. It’s like a college diploma does something to your brain and body to make the hangover stronger.
- I have yet to encounter a hangover that couldn’t be slayed or subdued by brunch
- If you don’t get a bloody mary or two, it is not brunch. It’s just breakfast.
- After brunch, you will lay down on your couch, snuggled into a warm blanket and completely into whatever crappy movie happens to be on TV. You will believe that you’ve earned this moment.
- Something electric happens at about 8pm on a Saturday night, no matter how difficult the day felt or how attractive your toilet looked. You will want to go back out and do it all over again
- Going to brunch twice in one weekend is not a crime