What No One Tells You About Your 20’s

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I’m flying to Boulder for a brief visit. See you guys in a week!

Sometimes my adult life feels like the day I got my license.  I’m giddy off the power, but I’m not sure if I’m going to crash, or overheat… myself.

Last night, I stood over my sink fishing gnats out of my glass of cabernet.  I fished out six gnats drinking the gnat-poopy former death bed of flies.  I actually thought, “Do I have a strainer or something?” because there were that many gnats.  But they don’t make colanders in gnat-size.  See, I didn’t have any beer, and hard alcohol seemed pathetic.  And I thought to myself, “At eighteen, could you imagine you’d do this?”

If my Catholic high school experience were a movie, it would be half Clueless, half the religious satire Saved!.  I wore a plaid skirt to school, and drove to LA to buy designer prom dresses.  Our campus was littered with children toting Chloe bags and driving Range Rovers.  We’d take exams about when abortion is and isn’t okay in the eyes of the Church.  I’ll never forget when a teacher taught a lesson about gluttony the day before Thanksgiving.  “Eat, but don’t eat too much” was the general gist of it, which is the opposite of Thanksgiving.  Just saying.

When I was 18, I was such a different person.  I think there was a lot more air between my ears, because I can’t remember thinking about much of anything.  More than a few of my friends lived in sprawling mansions, and I attended polo games.  Horse polo.  You know, like Pretty Woman?  I even stomped the divots.  Now, I go to Costco just to eat the samples.  Today, a great GroupOn deal makes me pee a little bit.

Today, I look into my closet thinking, “What can I sell on EBay?”  I tell myself, if worse came to worst, I could sell a surfboard.

I thought about going on the Paleo diet, but it’s cheaper to be fat.  Paleo means no grains, and half of what I eat is pasta from three months ago.  You know how you keep looking in the pantry/fridge even though you know there’s nothing there?  But then you find a can of black beans and put mayo on them, and voila, you’d found something.

So it is scary sometimes – not knowing what’s going to happen.  The Voldemort of my existence, insolvency, keeps me awake at night sometimes.  But there in my tossing and turning is also the ability to choose, and that’s a wonderful thing.  As full-fledged grown-ups, we can do anything we want to.  We can make our lives look like our dreams, and that leads to expansion.  The truest kind of growth.  It leads to overdrafts and dry-heaving, too.  But you know, you win some, you lose some.

I chose to be a writer, and it feels like this:

But this is how my parents feel about it:

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It really does feel great though.  It feels like a huge sigh of relief stuck with me.  A big, huge! scoop of my anxiety lifted, forever I assume, and a sense of purpose filled it’s void.  There’s a dimension of joy to my life that otherwise didn’t exist.  Yes, I cut mold off my strawberries and still eat them, but I’m so much happier.  And I don’t think I thought I’d ever get here, to be honest.

I’m learning things!  Like how to save money.  I get that rush that chronic couponers get.  You know the ones who Instagram photos of their most recent purchases, like 200 rolls of toilet paper and 12 deodorants?  Every time I’m in Trader Joe’s, I kind of feeling like I’m stealing, and I don’t hate it.  Trader’s Joe’s is heaven for a broke person.

I admit it, though.  I wince at putting $10 in my empty gas tank.  But I have plans, DAD, believe it or not, and they do not involve Mocha Frappucinos or stripper poles.

I’m learning the hard lessons: like I’m going to have to pay for my insurance.  I’m making mistakes: like refusing to refill my gas tank, and running out of gas on the freeway.  But the best way to learn is to make mistakes, and I’ve made a lot of them, so I must be learning a lot.

When I start to panic now, I am better able to take a step back, and realize: I’ve felt this way a million times.  This girl has been Chicken Little “The sky is falling down!” over bosses, career paths, money, and friends so many times – probably more than the average person.  Hi, my name is Natalie, and I’m a worrier.  Hi Natalieeee.  But worry and fear always made things worse.  With a little trust, a little humor – life doesn’t seem so serious.  You do better – good things happen.

There’s this great scene in Sex and the City‘s when Carrie is about to follow her boyfriend to Paris, someone she’s only been dating a few months.  Her friends are nervous about her rash, spur of the moment decision, and Miranda calls her out.  She says, “Carrie!  You can’t go to Paris!  Your whole life is here.  Your column is here.  You’re a writer – that’s who you are.”  And Carrie, very pissed off, retorts, “Writing is not who I am.  It’s what I do.”

I think that dialogue is very interesting.  Because while it’s so important to find the thing you’d do if money were no object – your passion – it’s important too, to remember that your self-worth is not contingent on how well you things in life.

Too often we think if I accomplished this, if I got this Master’s, or I published a book, I’d feel better.  I’d be better.  But there’s so much heartache in that.  Please, be ambitious, of course.  But please, also, don’t take yourself too seriously.  Which make sound like mutually exclusive ideas, but they’re not.

So many people fail at trying to do what I’m trying to do, I’m not blind to that fact.  And it’s an interesting thought.  What if I, right this moment, with my flabby upper arms and the wretched status of my bank account, what if that was as good as it was going to get?  Maybe happiness is just wanting what you have.  Maybe that’s the secret.

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3 thoughts on “What No One Tells You About Your 20’s

  1. I never thought happiness was wanting what you have. That sounds more like settling.
    I think happiness is being who you want.

    For me that means being a good husband, listening and seeing more music than I can remember, and occasionally, doing something incredibly stupid and living to tell the tale.

    Have a fun trip!

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