Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A sense of possibilities

Today is my one-year anniversary.

On September 1, 2009, I started my first "grown-up" job as a proofreader at a downtown ad agency. I remember exactly what I wore: J. Crew trouser-leg jeans, a J. Crew tank and a J. Crew cardigan. I shuffled in wearing J. Crew ballet flats, bursting with three years' worth of sweater-folding knowledge from my college retail job, but boasting zero years' worth of proofreading experience.

The job required 2+ years. God only knows why they hired me.

But here I am, one year later, having more than succeeded in my first year of full-time employment. Only 42 more years to go.

I also moved back home exactly one year ago. I remember frantically cleaning my college apartment the night of August 31, desperately wishing the landlord would do his final walk-through so I could go home and get some sleep before my first day of work. His already-grubby finger found dust on my roommate's windowsill. She had cleared out of town hours earlier. I cried.

I've thought a lot this past year about what it means to be a grown-up. Part of me hopes that grown-ups are a myth, like Santa Claus, invented by alleged "grown-ups" to manipulate children into behaving or just plain shutting up. "Only grown-ups are allowed to do this," we tell them, or, "You'll find out when you're a grown-up." When exactly is this, I ask?

I considered that graduating from college means you're a grown-up, but then I realized I knew way too many people with degrees that still had a lot of growing up to do. My first day of work felt very grown-up to me, as did choosing my own health insurance for the first time and realizing that I now had paid time off.

But I've decided that reaching these arbitrary milestones does not necessarily make one a grown-up. I believe now that being a grown-up has much more to do with one's attitude, priorities and methods of decision-making.

A recent article in The New York Times Magazine called What Is It About 20-Somethings? explored the phenomenon of my age group taking much longer to "grow up" than previous generations. It details the idea of a phase of life that follows adolescence called "emerging adulthood," championed by psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, that I strongly identify with:

Arnett says that young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background. This is where the “sense of possibilities” comes in, he says; they have not yet tempered their ideal­istic visions of what awaits.
But despite elements that are exciting, even exhilarating, about being this age, there is a downside, too: dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game. More than positive or negative feelings, what Arnett heard most often was ambivalence — beginning with his finding that 60 percent of his subjects told him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups.
I do have a sense of possibilities, and I'm saddened to know that one day this sense may disappear. I'd like to retain that, if I can, from this odd and mixed-up time in my life.

And I've definitely grown to feel more like an adult since I've lived at home this past year. I thought it would make me feel more like a kid again, living under the watchful eye of my mom and all, but I've found that I've learned much from her about being a responsible adult. She's shown me how to clean up some messes in my life, like my debt, of course, and helped me deal with new conflicts, like those that have emerged at work. Rather than acting as a capital-M Mom, telling me what to do, she's been a role model and a peer, helping me learn how to navigate the adult world.

As a college student, I often stayed up all night, whether I was studying, writing or partying. I ate horribly. I got sick often, and relied on coffee and Red Bull and adrenaline to get me through classes, my retail job and my internships (at one point, I was doing two simultaneously, on top of everything else). But I also excelled in most of my classes. I had a fantastic four years packed with tons of fun. I look back on it all very fondly.

But after graduation, I came down from that frenzied lifestyle with a thud. I was exhausted. I clutched my degree, happy to have walked to victory in my cap and gown, but unsure of what to do next. I needed to take a breather. I needed to move home, calm down, get some rest and gear up for the next stage of life.

My priorities have shifted this past year. I make sleep a priority. I make eating well a priority. I've made taking control of my finances a priority. I've been trying to identify the things that make me really happy — like spending time with close friends, writing, taking photos, reading for fun and learning new things — and make those priorities. I'm also learning how to cut things out of my life that make me unhappy.

Financially, I've learned how to delay pleasure in order to reap greater rewards in the future. I've put a bunch of money that I could certainly use today into a retirement fund, and I get pleasure from knowing that it will be way more useful down the line. Only 42 more years to go.

Whether or not I'm officially a grown-up doesn't matter that much to me. What matters is that I'm owning my life, making decisions that are far more mature and responsible than many I would have made four years ago (but still some stupid ones, too), and, yes, enjoying this sense of possibilities. I believe I can do anything. Perhaps that is the highlight of this in-between phase, and if I must lose this sense in order to fully become an adult, then I don't ever wanna grow up.

1 comment:

  1. ah! i loved reading your post and your writing, you put to words what a lot of our generation is feeling. Miss you lots!


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