I will be thirty years old in May, and I have a secret to share:
I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life.
I say “secret” because for as long as I can remember, people have pinned me as someone who has it all figured out. I whizzed through school from elementary to undergrad; I have traveled widely and learned languages at a young age; I have excelled at most things I’ve tried my hand at; and I have never in my life had a substantively negative performance review (though I will probably be late to work for the rest of my life). I’ve also always had lofty, albeit sometimes nebulous goals that no one has ever disabused me of.
But as the big 3-0 approaches, I must admit that I really don’t have a clue what the hell I’m doing. Once I recognized the general ineffectiveness of the United Nations, my interest in being an interpreter there was DOA. Though I loved (and still love) the craft of acting, my desire to be a TV/film actor crashed hard up against the shallow and often soul-crushing realities of life in Hollywood. And my dream of being a novelist (though still alive and well) has come up against the fact that writing takes time, and that having time in the midst of the capitalist American rat race is not an easy undertaking; bare necessities like healthcare and any level of financial stability are always tied up in jobs that want the whole of your being.
On the one hand, I am clearly a victim of my own idealism and naiveté. But on the other, I am also struggling to find my way in a world that encourages and values specialization, which works well for people who have a thing they like and want to do for the rest of their working lives. Or, I suppose, people who are willing to sacrifice their varied interests in exchange for a single career path/life plan that provides them with the security and stability they need to, for example, start a family. The renaissance wo/men of the world need not apply.
But now, on the freedom side of student loan debt, with a whole world of possibilities ahead of me, I am not prepared, nor do I intend, to make such a sacrifice at this time. As I watch many friends lean headlong in a sort of manic rush toward marriage and domesticity, I can’t help but wonder if this is the life that they want, or simply the life that they’ve accepted they will live. This is not to demean such a choice, but in a world where no one knows what they’re doing I know I can’t have everything, but at the moment, my spirit needs a heck of a lot more than 40+ interminably predictable hours a week slowly dying under the sterile light of fluorescent bulbs. If this species of mundane predictability is a sign of having it all figured out or a benchmark along the way to “getting one’s shit together”––I’ll pass for the time being.
Full disclosure: I’m still kind of scared of fucking up. As I step onto the road less traveled by, I have no idea whether I’m headed toward the adventure of a lifetime or an untimely end at the bottom of a ravine. But luckily, life is not some fragile thing that I’m going to shatter with a misstep or a wrong turn. Even people who choose to step aboard the conformity train are just figuring it out as they go along, and no one has a magic window into the future. Marriages end. Tragedy strikes. Circumstances shift. I take comfort in the knowledge that the life I’m building for myself will be one that I can be proud to call mine. I don’t think I’ll ever escape this sense of trepidation, but as long as I don’t let fear of fucking up intimidate me into inaction, then I’m winning.