Tuesday, August 20, 2013

nothing but numbers

When I was a teenager, I was pretty convinced that life would be over by thirty. I don’t mean to imply that I intended to keel over and croak at that point, but rather that I pictured myself being knee-deep in a stable, unchanging adult life. By thirty I’d have a career, a white picket fence, and a husband. I’d be well on my way to Kid #1 and would be reveling in my generally successful stab at being a productive and worthwhile human being. I’d be content and convinced that nothing needed to change, and could ride out my remaining years in bliss. Thirty seemed impossibly old and I was damn sure I’d have it all figured out by then.

Above is a photo taken on the night of my 30th birthday. At the time, I was single, living in a Swedish dorm room, and just so happened to be drunk at an on-campus party that was mainly populated by people ten years my junior. I was about to finish my Masters degree and had no idea where I was going to live or what I was going to do afterward. Let us also not overlook the fact that I was wearing a headband with plush mice on it.

I was not exactly the poster child of The “Successful” Adult Life that I’d intended to be when I was a teenager. In fact, it’s safe to say that my entire Life Timeline was pretty fucked off. When exactly did I veer off course?

I vividly recall a feeling that I had midway through my first year of college: I hated my major. I didn’t want to be a therapist or a teacher or a researcher or really have anything to do with the remaining credits I was obligated to complete for my BA in Psychology. At the time, I was entirely overwhelmed by new social situations and The Future felt like a daunting and intangible thing that I didn’t know how to plan for. I therefore opted for the safe choice: I stayed the course, even though I knew it wasn't what I wanted. It seemed that it was too late to change anything; I'd selected this area of study and had to stick with it to avoid wasting time and money.

As I chipped away at my requirements, I eventually found space in my schedule to take a series of writing courses. Turns out I wasn’t actually an uninspired, disenchanted, and otherwise entirely bitter twenty-year-old: there was something that I was passionate about. But rather than change my major and devote myself full-time to the written word, I instead thought that it was too late. I was less than a year away from graduating and there was no way that obtaining a writing degree would be feasible (or practical).

Noticing a theme here?

Time is an undeniably precious commodity and we humans spend a lot of energy fretting over it. There is a supposed order in which things happen and we feel pressure to check off boxes before the hourglass runs out. Oftentimes, we also feel like once we have chosen a path, we are obligated to stay on it come hell or high water because we don’t want to “waste” our few moments on this precious planet.

When I was twenty-one, twenty-five sounded ancient. I figured there was SO MUCH I needed to accomplish by then. But once I reached twenty-five, I realized it wasn’t actually that old and that I still had a decent chunk of time to fulfill my adult-y requirements. I’d have that taken care of by thirty. However, we all know this didn’t turn out to be the case (please refer to the above photo for evidence). So what then? When does the clock really run out on my one and only chance to get this “right”?

It doesn’t, not until I’m dead. The older I get, the more I realize I may never actually figure it all out. I’m coming to terms with the idea that numbers and years mean very little since I can theoretically change course at any point. We do what makes sense for us at the time and then when it doesn’t make sense anymore, we stop doing it*. We are only as stuck as we allow ourselves to be.

In this sense, I never really veered off course. Instead I just gave up on the idea that my course was going to be logical, conventional, or incredibly stable…or that I was even going to stick to one path in particular. Perhaps this would mortify Teenage Jos, but I’m pretty damn okay with it.

*Not implying fickleness here. Really.


  1. Good thoughts, J. Even at 66, I think I am "too old' to change course...but you are right - when it doesn't work any more, move on. AND, it aint over til its over. Keep pressing, girl.

  2. As a 30 year old, it's not surprising how much of this I can relate to. I also did my degree overseas and 1/3 of the way through decided I didn't want to do anything remotely related to what I was studying. Their system was so rigid that I had to stay the course or lose a lot of money I didn't have. I've changed my mind several times since then, and now I'm a lost 30 year old who still doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up.

    On the other hand, our generation isn't following in the footsteps of our parents'. We're staying in school longer, waiting until our mid-late 30's to get married and have kids (if we even do at all). There's definitely been a paradigm shift, but I'm ok with that. I'd rather life be a choose-your-own-adventure game than a predestination.