Being 22, the sequel

IMG_0473A few minutes ago, I reread the words I put on a document about a month ago. I felt inspired when I wrote them. They talked about doing something hard, about leaving something I liked, but finding something I loved. Because life is too short and unpredictable to not do the things I found most meaningful.

Today, I have the courage to share those words. They were words full of fight – they sounded excited when I reread them, and viewed life as an adventure. And they were words that made me sound confident in my decisions and perspectives.

I wonder if every writer reads personal things they wrote at a different time and wonders where they found those words and what happened to take those words away. I think half the reason I’m ready to share those words is that today, I need to be reminded of the things those words say.

The other side of being 22, I think, is a lot of fluctuation, unfamiliarity and discomfort. I don’t know any 22-year-old college graduate who hasn’t experienced a little bit of those things recently, as unpleasant as it sounds.

Come to think of it, I also don’t know any 22-year-old college graduate who was a freshman in college at one point that didn’t also experience those feelings then. Nor do I know many people, regardless of their age, that weren’t uncomfortable and a little scared when they first went away to school.

And I also know a lot of people that were nervous when they moved, or changed jobs, or were about to get married or go on a first date. Most of those people were also really excited to do those things, but if they were being honest, they were also a little apprehensive in the face of the unknown.

Maybe there are some laid-back, extreme type B people who have enough faith in God or fate or karma or something to never feel nervousness or discomfort, but instead ride the waves of life with confidence and fearlessness all the time. I am not that person, nor do I know those people.

From the little I have observed of human beings, I have realized that we like control a lot. Regardless of whether or not we like spontaneity or planning or change or routine, people all seem to like control. We like to make our decisions and have things go our way, whether we decided what we wanted three years ago or three seconds ago.

I have started watching Lost recently – yes, I am about a decade behind – and John Locke creeps me out a little bit. No one can really put their finger on exactly why, but I have a hunch that a lot of it has to do with his willingness to let “the island” decide things. His lack of desire to get off the island or survive or help his friends survive, all with the purpose of letting the island get its own way, is unnatural and unsettling, so we don’t trust him.

But at the same time, Locke really does want his own way. I think he wants the island to win, because if it wins, he wins – he gets to keep walking and being the person he always wanted to be. So he is playing his strange game of island manipulation with the same motives as anyone else on the show, it’s just all a little convoluted.

All of this is to say that 22 is an age where a lot of people are facing a lot of change. And they are all doing very different things. I have friends leaving, friends coming home, friends working stable jobs with the opportunity for advancement, friends working at restaurants and coffee shops. I know people living at home, living with friends, living alone. And most of them weren’t doing those things four months ago.

But the thing is, almost all of them are not fully confident in what they’re doing. They’re asking themselves why they signed up for something so difficult, or why they didn’t apply themselves more in college. They wonder what they could be doing if they weren’t working 9-5, or what the comfort of a stable job would feel like. They’re afraid that after they leave and come home, that person they loved will have moved on. Or deep down, they wonder if “that person” exists for them or how they will ever find him or her. And some try to calculate what the ideal time for a wedding is or how they will afford the perfect ring.

Maybe life would be a whole lot easier if we accepted that we are all going to make mistakes, or that there is no perfect decision or that God makes beauty out of ashes. I wonder if that would change the chances we took or the way we retrospectively view our decisions. It would almost have to.

Maybe we would all be a little bit better at living life if we viewed each day as only that – a day. I wrote something in my last post about something to the effect of life is not a means to an end. It’s a day-by-day kind of thing, and really the most definite choice we have in all of it is whether we will live it as such.

So I guess I need to tell myself that today is not about figuring out what I will do tomorrow or next week or next year. It’s about loving something or someone, about doing something meaningful in these 24 hours and about serving something greater than myself. It’s about finding joy and contentment, even if they’re hiding somewhere in the corner.

And it’s reminding myself of what I said a month ago as I sat in another coffee shop, just as I am now, except this one was across the country. Then, I wrote about how 22 “is a year to still have fun putting puzzles together and to wake up every morning excited to see where the next piece fits.” Today, I am reminding myself that playing with puzzles is fun.

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What I thought a month ago about being 22

*This is something I wrote about a month ago while in Los Angeles. 

IMG_0102If I can say anything definitively about post-grad life, it’s that I live in a whirlwind of lessons to learn.

Since leaving Chapel Hill, I have learned that Memphis is a hidden gem commonly misrepresented. Right before that, I learned that while Tennessee gas is cheaper than North Carolina’s, this isn’t true right across the border so you might as well fill up before you spend a dozen or so painstaking miles hoping the car doesn’t come to a sputtering stop somewhere in the midst of the awe-inspiring Smoky Mountains.

I’ve learned that New Belgium is my favorite brewery and that I can see myself living in Denver one day. I discovered that you can’t really ever fathom how big and beautiful the Grand Canyon is until you see it with your own eyes, and that the last bus around the park runs about 8:30 p.m. I can’t say I learned much in Vegas, but I did experience it.

And I’ve learned about people. Human beings are not all made the same. We think differently, feel differently, make decisions differently and react differently. And because of that, we all have a million and one things to teach each other.

If I thought I learned a lot while on the way over to Los Angeles, I quickly realized it was nothing compared to what was ahead of me.

I learned how to parallel park and now take pride in how quickly I can whip my car into a tight space on the side of a busy street.

I can’t begin to express how much I’ve learned about being a reporter and a writer while interning at the L.A. Times. I’ve been inspired over and over again by people who are the best of the best at their craft, and I’ve had incredible opportunities to learn things hands-on. I have grown daily over the summer.

But I’ve also learned a lot about myself and about how once you get into the real world, life requires making a lot of decisions. And sometimes, making these decisions about what you want requires you to delve more deeply than ever before into the process of self-discovery.

Someone recently asked me what I’m doing with my life after this. In the midst of that conversation, she off-handedly asked me what a year of my life is.

I think she was encouraging me to take risks; saying that I have a lot of years of life to change my mind and figure things out. But asking me that question made me think about it pretty literally.

The truth is that a year of my life – or two years, or three, or a decade or maybe even all the years I’m alive – matters a lot to me. The next day, I read an essay by a Yale student who wrote about the opposite of loneliness and repeated multiple times that “we are so young.” She wrote that we have time to chase our dreams or, sometimes, change those dreams.

But the girl who wrote the essay died less than a week after it was distributed. She was 22, exactly my age.

I think posing the same question – “What is a year of your life?” – takes on a bittersweet twist when you ask following a story like that. Maybe to this girl, asking what five days of her life is would be more appropriate. While her story is tragic, I’m glad she died feeling the opposite of lonely.

But for me, all this made me wonder what I would do with my life if I knew I would only live until I was 23 – one year from now. Because if I was going to die in one year, I would do everything I wanted to and that I thought was meaningful.

This kind of thinking might not always be realistic. Statistically, I have several decades of my life left and dreams can take a long time to achieve. So sometimes a year might not mean much if it’s taking you toward where you want to end up.

But also, I’ve learned that to me, the journey is the destination and maybe if I don’t want the road itself, I don’t want the end point either – especially if I’m not sure I want the end point in the first place.

I want to do things with my life that make me wake up excited. That makes things difficult, because I wake up and am happy to go to work every day now despite the fact that it’s 6 a.m. But there’s a spark that’s missing, and I don’t know enough about the real world to be sure that spark exists, but I think it does.

I think the problem might be my heart isn’t fully in what I’m doing. And if I knew I was going to live to be 23, I would want to spend every day doing something my heart is fully invested in.

So I’m leaving something I really, really like. That is another lesson I have learned – you can really, really like something, maybe even love it, but that doesn’t make it right. I’m leaving something I really, really like to find something that doesn’t leave my heart behind.

It’s safe to say that I’m back in the same phase of life I’ve been in after every graduation so far. I’ve rapidly gone from feeling old and wise to feeling young and unbelievably naïve. Up until now, 22 seemed so old; now, it feels so incredibly young.

But 22 is a great age to learn. It is the age to take a risk, to drive across the country, to make terribly difficult decisions and figure out how to be ok with them. It’s the age to compare what you want out of life and painstakingly rank it all, and to then drive home again after choosing something that may seem irrational.

For me, 22 is the year to admit to myself that I should be humbler; to admit that it is a long distance from the east to the west coast, too long for right now. To admit that loving people who had nothing to give back to me wasn’t something I just did in college because I had extra time, but something woven into who I am; something I can’t really say no to.

It’s the time to admit that I still cry about a baby in a casket wearing a tuxedo, even though it’s been years; the time to come to terms with the fact that when I’m reporting on tragedy, I feel like I’m in the wrong place. At the time, I rarely want to be the reporter; I want to instead walk through the darkness with people.

And 22 is the time to be an optimist and to take giant leaps of faith. It’s the time to believe I am not alone, and that while I have almost no pieces of the puzzle in the right place at the moment, I one day will.

Yet despite all of the hard things, 22 is a year to still have fun putting puzzles together and to wake up every morning excited to see where the next piece fits.

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