I looked at it with one eye closed, then the other. I squinted at it. I turned it upside down. I turned around and looked at it over one shoulder. I turned myself upside down, turning metaphorical handstands trying to find some new perspective that would make this Thing look like anything other than what I was seeing, which was a dead end. Odd that it should be, considering this Thing was what I had spent so long hoping for and pursuing.
If you’d told me in my freshman year of college (or my sophomore, junior, or senior years, for that matter) that I would be 25 before I had my first full-time, permanent job, I would have broken out in hives. If you’d told me I would spend three whole years of my life after graduating from college NOT being whatever it is I thought I was supposed to be after graduating from college, I would either have had a panic attack or been so thoroughly demoralized that I’d have needed an entire gallon of ice cream and a week’s worth of pep talks just to buck up enough to continue going to classes.
Because that’s not how the script is supposed to go. I don’t think I ever felt owed a job just for having a college degree, but I certainly didn’t expect that once I had one I’d still be found so ineligible that three years (and a few months spare change) might pass before I was found acceptable for any position.
Of course, they weren’t three empty years spent sitting on a couch in my parents’ house just being miserable and constantly applying for jobs. I worked three internships, volunteered at multiple institutions in my field, went to graduate school, and held a part-time job as a research assistant. But none of that had been intended. None of that was in The Plan. The Plan was to get a full-time job. Be a functional adult. Establish a life for myself.
So three years later, staring down the barrel of the fulfillment of those hopes and expectations, looking at the prospect of a full-time, permanent job in the field in which I want to work, why could I see nothing but a dead end? The mental acrobatics were to no avail, and I realized with some dismay that it wasn’t the job offer or my perspective that were the problem. It was my heart.
[[Listen, Monica, can we just have one blog post where you’re not overcome by your own melodrama?]]
When you’re in your early twenties, people are eager to tell you how much time you have. The dialogue surrounding new graduates every spring is “You’re so young! You have so much time. You can travel around the world. You can take a job across the country and just pick up and go. You can go out and meet lots of new people. You can spend your money on nights out and fun experiences. You can, you can, you can! Do it now, while you have the freedom and the time – all the time in the world.”
At some point the dialogue starts to shift. “When are you finally going to settle into a job? When are you going to stop daydreaming about backpacking across Europe – you have rent to pay and responsibilities here. When are you finally going to put down roots – in places, in people, in permanence? When, when, when? Do it now, before time runs out.”
To be clear, I don’t think I’ve reached that shift quite yet. It may feel like I’ve lived lifetimes since I graduated college, but 25 isn’t so far removed from 21 that I woke up with one foot in the grave when it arrived this morning. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the extra weight my major life decisions seem to have gained now that I’m officially in the second half of my twenties. This is the only quarter life crisis I plan on having, and it’s not even a very big one, so I’d like to make the most of it.
About a year out from graduation, one of my dear friends joked that my life was still progressing by semesters, and he was right. Four months of an internship. Four months volunteering. Four months of another internship. Then I went to grad school and it just kept going. Like all the years before graduation, the three years since have been defined by time passing in discrete units of activity. I have become intimate with, though not endeared to transience. It’s difficult to imagine living any other way.
Hence the dead end. This isn’t just your garden variety millennial phobia of commitment. I’m acquainted with opportunity cost and I don’t particularly mind paying its fees. It’s just that I have literally never known a life in which there was not an escape hatch – a bad class ends at the end of the semester, a bad school year ends in May, an internship that doesn’t suit doesn’t last more than a few months.
Of course, the flip side is that good things end, too. I don’t think I’ve ever loved living in a place as much as I loved living in Wales, but that time ended with my graduate program.
New graduates transition into a world without built-in routes of extraction, but it seems less fearsome when faced by all the promise of the young professional in their early twenties, flexible and free and all the time in the world to figure things out. Sure, life after graduation can be overwhelming and confusing, but then it’s supposed to be.
By 25, it seems as if I’m supposed to have a little more figured out.
I suppose the (not so) secret is that no one really has it figured out.
I could take this job and have it turn out to be a terrible fit. I may not be able to build a community, I may end up lonely and frustrated, I may crash and burn and be terrible at it. And in a year from now when I’ve figured that out, I can move on to something else. I’ll be older, yes, and wiser, hopefully, and maybe I won’t have the energy I once did as I drag my ancient, creaking, 26-year-old bones back into the job search. Still, that’s hardly a death sentence.
Or the job could turn out to be great, I guess. There’s always that little possibility.
Fear is an ugly little thing that will distort everything we look at if we give it the opportunity. Even when we’re looking at something we’ve worked for, waited for, hoped for, broken for, longed for – whether that be a job, a relationship, an award, a new living situation, a personal achievement, or anything else. Fear will ask if it’s actually everything you wanted, whether it might not still disappoint you, whether it will be enough.
Maybe it will, or maybe it won’t. Either way, if you’re alive then you still have time to change. If you are breathing, you still have time to grow, adapt, and make new plans. And you don’t have to let Fear be any part of it.
Even if you’ve just turned 25. ☠️