Life: The One About Identity and the Death Trap That is Your Early Twenties

Back when I was in high school, I wanted to become an artist–although the word “become” may not be the right word to describe that time in my life.  I wanted to “be” an artist is probably more apropos because I didn’t want to become an artist; I didn’t want to put in the effort. I wanted to just wake up one day and be one and do all of the things I imagined doing one day right now–today.

But that’s not realistic. Or possible…? I don’t think so.

That College Struggle

So during my senior year, I was having to figure out how I was supposed to take my half-assed attempts at art and turn them into a career; I was stumped.  I didn’t want to draw, I didn’t want to paint, I just wanted to go on to college and become something already and not worry about the in-between.  I was an artist and I felt it, but my heart wasn’t in it in any sort of way and the thought of pursuing “becoming” for four years seemed like misery to me.

I guess at the same time, God was thinking similarly, or…sort of was anyway.

I remember the week before I was supposed to submit my application for a number of colleges hearing and feeling a sudden shift in the trajectory my life was taking.  I felt called, very suddenly, to drop art, to pursue music, to pursue worship leadership, and be a part of church ministry–something I’d never even considered before and, thus, had no experience to base that off of.  Fast forward a year and I was neck deep in it–a Worship Leadership major. Fast forward a year past that–I was getting a BA in music, focusing on one day becoming a song writer, and a year even further, I was an English Creative Writing major; it stayed that way until I graduated.

There’s a lot that happened over those four years that influenced the decisions I made to pursue one thing over the other–I could write a long-form essay for each year probably–but this post isn’t about that so I’ll save it all for later.  This post is about those shifts themselves, about the choices you make, and being, in a lot of ways an adult.

Each of those divergences were strong callings to me that my path was changing and that I had to adjust to follow them, which, to some people, may be strange.  Why would you feel such a strong pull toward something only to go on to something else, and then something else after that? What’s the point? Why wasn’t there just a point to point line leading you from the beginning to end if you were supposed to be a writer, in my case? Why all of the in-between?

I’m about to take a roundabout to get to that answer to bear with me. We’ll make it I promise.

Things Don’t Always Go According to Plan

I’m 23 now, almost 24. I’ve been out of high school for close to six years, out of college for almost two, and, by all accounts, I’m supposed to be an adult.  Society has always told us that 18 is the cut-off, that life and all that comes with it, begins at 18.  Maybe not everything is thrown at you, but it’s the start of something that will lead to something that will one day create in you an adult. By those accounts, I should be well in on this adult thing: moved out with kids and a wife and a job, paying bills, saving money, buying a house, buying a riding mower, getting old, retiring to Florida, dying…

I feel like I’ve gone off track.  Ahem…

This hasn’t been the case so far.

I have a job, sure, but not the job I envisioned or felt like I would have after college; it’s more like a filler.  The other stuff: the moving out, the paying bills, the saving money–none of that’s gone through yet.  And it hasn’t been from lack of trying.  Since having graduated I’ve applied a number of places, been approached by a number of people, worked a full-time job or two that didn’t work out and led me back where I am now, and often times I feel like I’ve failed.  Maybe it’s the creator in me, but I’ve felt like I’ve been on the clock since I graduated, that if I wasn’t good now, if I wasn’t creating and getting recognized right now that I would fade away, never to create, with the only thing to blame being something I did in my early twenties that set me up for failure later on.

The logical person would argue that that isn’t true, that the twenty-two year old who has their life together, hell, the thirty-two year old who has their life together, is either faking it in some way or has made some demonic pact along the lines somewhere, because that just isn’t possible.  But when you’re in your early to mid-twenties and you’re expected to make some sort of sense of what’s happening to your life now that teachers aren’t telling you where to go when and cereal isn’t just what’s for breakfast anymore, it’s hard to see the logical side of things.

It’s easy for me now to look at a 16 year-old dude and say, “Hey! Don’t care about what those guys think. Like what you like. Be who you want. There’s a girl you like? Talk to her! Be you! Wawoooooowee!” But the reality is: 16 year-old me wouldn’t have done any of that. 16 year old me did care; it was a nightmare, and nothing that I can say to a 16 year-old person is going to just bridge that gap for them.  It’s something they have to mull through on their own.  Same thing with now. It’s something I’ll look back on when I’m 30 and 40 and so on and laugh and say how dumb I was (and probably still will be) but right now it isn’t so simple.

Going back to college though–I think there’s a hidden blessing in there, something you don’t think about when you sign up for college originally that you get a taste of whether you want to or not.  There’s this perception that college is all about a job, that everything you do is steering you toward a career you could do for the majority, if not the rest, of your life, but that’s wrong.

Well…it’s right, but it’s also wrong.

Growing Up Isn’t As Easy As Just Getting Older

It’s about that sure, it’s about the future and a career and making a better life for yourself, but I would argue that the thing college does best is that it teaches you who you are. And this isn’t a direct result of “a” college or “a” major in particular, but rather a byproduct of the fact that all of a sudden, in four years, we are jettisoned into adulthood, where before, in our mind, we were kids.  It’s a gauntlet of sorts, a trial that forces us to discover who we are, who we want to be, and who we’ve been, all in an effort to create someone functional when all four years are up.  All of the studying and the frustration and the late nights and the tears are, if done right, a baseplate for what will come later on down the road.

Now, there’s an argument that not everyone needs to go to college and whoever coined that is exactly right because not everyone does.  Out of the majors I listed, out of my general career interests and aspirations, there are few things I would want to do that would require a college degree.  I get it.  But there’s that unseen benefit (hidden among the seen benefits as well) to college, that condensed time frame of high stress and ranging thoughts that forces us to discover ourselves now rather than later, when we’re 20, 21, 22 and not 30, married, with maybe a kid or two.

The quarter-life crisis is a real thing and I fear for the people around me who have avoided it thus far–people who followed their high school friends to jobs right out, who expect to work with those same friends forever, who are so very certain that their career path won’t change and it will stay this way forever (which is the case with a number of people I went to high school with).  The immediate benefit of money and security and adulthood is great, but it doesn’t last forever.  Identity requires itself to be confronted at some point, whether it be at a table in the college library or on the drive home from the 9 to 5 where your family is waiting for “you,” and honestly, I’d prefer the former over the latter, even if it meant being broke a little longer.

The early twenties (23 in particular) are hard for everyone involved,–just check out number 10 on this Buzzfeed list, but it’s a time–and kind of a neat time at that–where you start to really become an adult, where you start to really learn what it means to be older and older and then finally old and accept that for the greatness it can be.  All of the switching majors, all of the path changes, taught me who I was, taught me what I wanted and where I wanted to go and I am indebted to God for the experience.  It means that, sure, I’ll have crises, I’ll wake up not knowing who I am one day, but those will be further and far between thanks to my getting it out of me early.

Robert Frost said it best when he said:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

There’s a long way yet, and more things to take care of, but I look forward to a future that is inhabited by me–not a me struggling hard with who I am to begin with.

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