All Aboard the Struggle Bus: Life at 23

By 22 Gandhi had three kids, Mozart 30 symphonies and Buddy Holly was dead. -Remember Me

Imagine the idealized version of your life as you expected it to be when you were 16 and daydreaming about life in your twenties.  If your actual life as a 20-something fell about 300 miles from your “plan” as you envisioned it as a clueless teenager, you and I are likely in the same boat, the SS Early Existential Crisis.

If you are currently a teenager imagining your life as a competent adult, I’m not saying abandon all hope of your dreams becoming reality, I’m just saying prepare yourself for some twists, turns, and new destinations along the way.  Make no mistake, I’m satisfied with my life as a married 23-year-old woman who currently resides in her hometown not utilizing her $20,000+ degree, it’s just different than I expected.  Based on the social media posts made by those from my graduating high school class (it’s been 5 years since graduation for me, where did that time go?!) each day, it seems as though that metaphorical boat I mentioned is getting kinda full… and I hope it’s equipped with lifeboats.

All of those e-cards I see that say something along the lines of, “I miss being the age where I thought I’d have it together by the age I am now,” are really hitting home for me these days.  That’s not to say I’m a giant hot mess… even though some days, honestly, I am.  I just really thought I’d have it together by 23, especially considering the fact that at my age, my mother had a child.  It’s like I’m caught in some strange early-twenties funk where I realize I’m probably too old to be hitting up the Taco Bell drive-thru at midnight on a Tuesday just because I spent my entire afternoon/evening binge-watching my favorite shows from the early 2000s instead of cooking a healthy meal in my fully stocked kitchen.  At the same time, I feel like I’m too young to have responsibilities, like our mortgage, when my husband and I still spend an embarrassing amount of time watching Disney Pixar movies.  Alas, here I am, 23-years-old with the responsibilities and degree of a mature adult (and I’m pronouncing that ma-toor, like a mature adult would) with absolutely no idea what I’m doing and little to no plans for the future.

I never really understood what people meant when they mentioned ‘finding themselves’ until I experienced it myself.  Here’s the Spark Notes version of my life thus far: I dated the same guy throughout high school with the intention of marrying him someday.  My plan was to get a degree in nursing because in this area, you either become a nurse, marry a coal miner, or become a nurse and marry a coal miner.  I actually ended up getting my BA in Human Services (not like Human Resources, it’s mental health related) because this is a rural area and the mental health field is severely lacking.  High school boyfriend and I broke up well before I graduated college, I married Mr. Cooper, and we lived happily ever after in my childhood home… until I switched careers which in retrospect was not my best decision.  I took a job as a social worker because it offered decent pay, what I assumed was an excellent retirement, and I could make a difference during my time with the state.  Long story short, my bleeding heart lost that one and I quit, and that pretty much brings us up to date.

A couple of weeks ago, an old friend and I were discussing my recent changes and the fact that I am currently unemployed.  I joked that my life-long goal of becoming a martini-sipping housewife had becoming a reality (minus the martini) despite busting my back for a bachelor’s degree that I’m not even using.  Similarly, she opted out of a job in a large  city because she knew she wouldn’t be happy doing it, despite how the opportunity looked on paper, and decided instead to listen to her gut and stay in her college town continuing the job she’d been doing throughout the pursuit of her degree.  In her case, her degree helped her land the position she’s in now, but she would be making more money doing the job she turned down than in the one she chose.  And that’s okay.  And I’m okay.  Because we’re both happy.

During our conversation, we talked about the commonality between us and the other people in our graduating class: we’re all just in pursuit happiness, even if that’s at the expense of a cushy, upper tax bracket career.  As it turns out, I tried that life: the one where I make life decisions based on how it affects my bank account and how my  “friends” may perceive me by making said decisions.  It made me miserable, stressed, and I tended to full-on ugly cry a lot even while doing mundane, emotionless tasks like laundry.  Here’s something else I’ve discovered at age 23: out of 413 friends on social media, I can only depend on and have conversations with a handful of them… and most of that handful are family.  In fact, the number seems to dwindle with age.  The bright side to that is that the handful I mentioned don’t really care that I’m not doing what I’m “supposed” to be doing employment-wise. (The other 400 of them can creep my accounts and judge me all they want. The older I get, the less I care what my peers think. Their posts probably aren’t honest anyway, everyone puts on their game face for social media, right?)  Instead, they understand completely that I’m not only alright with being a housewife/homemaker/domestic goddess for the time being, but that I’m happy doing so.  This is my life, and as long as The Man Upstairs backing my decisions, I’m satisfied.  Is it what I envisioned for myself as a teenager who once daydreamed about moving to LA all alone and writing for Rolling Stone? Quite the opposite, actually.

Upon meeting Mr. Cooper, I explained to him, “If you think you’ve got a Susie Homemaker on your hands, you’ve got another thing coming.  It’s not 1953 and I’m not going to act like it is.”

In this particular case, the taste of crow isn’t too bad.  Now that I get to spend my time blogging, crafting, and doing housework as opposed to a high-stress 40+ hour a week job, I quite like our arrangement.  And I will continue to do it happily so long as our finances allow.  If I find another full-time job that I actually enjoy that allows me a personal life, I’ll not blink an eye at accepting the position.  Until then, I won’t beat myself up over the decision -that I prayed about heavily for months, mind you- to put my happiness over money, despite my preconceptions that I should already have some sort of lifetime achievement like Ghandi, Mozart, or Buddy Holly. But I don’t have everything figured out and I hope and pray I haven’t already peaked by 23.    After all, if there’s on thing that life has taught me, it’s that God has a sense of humor and the best way to prove it is to try to make plans for yourself. This arrangement is one that I never would have anticipated for myself, but His plan, as always, is infinitely better than anything I could have put together on my own and has changed me as a wife and a Christian… but that’s a much longer post for another day. Maybe I need to stop investing so much time in thinking about what I think I should be doing,  and just live my life as it comes.  (I mean, we only eat ice cream for supper occasionally and we do still have life insurance and a 401K.  I’m trying to chill, not be irresponsible.)

Because I’m only 23, and I don’t have to have it 100% together… until I’m at least 30, right?

 

 

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