You know those moments when your conscious mind separates from the body and you briefly become an observer of your own actions? You watch your lips move and hear yourself rambling on and on, lecturing your younger coworker about life. You’re horrified at how cynical you sound, but you can’t stop yourself. It is in that moment, watching yourself from the outside in, that you realize you have become a jaded thirtysomething. Do you know that moment? No? Allow me to elaborate.
I was talking to a 21-year-old coworker of mine. A sweet, hopeful, hardworking, lovely young gem of a person. He had overheard me discussing a friend’s failed marriage and seemed confused. I tried to explain to him that marriage was a wonderful thing, but it can also be, well, difficult. “I’m excited to get older and get married,” he said. “Life gets easier when you’re older.” My head spun on him like I was in “The Exorcist.” “WHAT?” I snorted, “Are you kidding me? Life just gets harder.”
His eyes widened. “No…” he argued, “it gets easier.”
“No, you’re wrong.” I pressed, and as I continued to explain the onerous nature of life, my tone becoming more insistent, I realized I wasn’t talking to my coworker anymore. I was talking to myself. Specifically, my idealistic 21-year-old self.
When I looked at my wide-eyed coworker, I saw my younger self looking back at me. A hopeful, naive girl. I could feel her drifting away from my words. I would have thought that this older me was annoying, and wrong. But now, a few months away from turning 30, I wanted to show this younger self that I did, despite her resistance, have a few important things to say.
At 21 I was renting a room from a woman I met on Craigslist, in a small cottage in the Los Angeles hills. I had a job at a clothing boutique down the street that I could walk to. All hours of the day my mind was filled with stories. I wrote constantly, attended comedy and dramatic acting classes, and was struggling to find my voice. I had been independent since I was 18 years old; however, at 21, my identity shifted to something of a gray area. The pressures of adulthood had seeped in like a thick fog. I was suddenly juggling money, bills, relationships, and a career, all the while searching for myself in the haze.
I had begun dating a man nine years my senior. He was handsome with striking blue eyes. We would sit in his garden at night, drinking expensive wine and conversing about subjects we considered deep and introspective, then fall asleep in his airy bedroom. He would leave during the day and I would wander around his large bohemian home, as if testing out a role. At night, I would go out with friends, dance until sunrise and drink more than my small frame could handle. There was an energy spilling up and over. A constant spilling out, yet never filling up. My then 30-year-old boyfriend validated an idealistic view I had, that life would get easier and easier until one day I’d reach utopia. Looking back now, I remember that he had lost a great love before me, was experiencing family troubles, as well as a career shift. However smooth he seemed, however confident and full, there was no magical space he had reached. No break in the clouds where everything became easy. But somehow, at 21, I believed things would be different for me.
Now, nearing 30 myself, I understand where he was in life. I recently experienced the loss of someone I loved very much, family difficulties, as well as a major career shift. I am once again in a place of redefinition, as I was at 21 and will surely be again many times in my life. I fill up my space and time with things that fill me up: family, passion for my work, and friends — with whom I still go dancing, although we don’t stay out as late or drink nearly as much these days. I don’t live with a roommate anymore, I live alone. I still have a head filled with stories but no classroom to hide within. Life is the same day to day struggle as it was at 21, a constant keeping of all things together, but with an upped ante: more expensive car payments, deeper relationships, higher career stakes. With the understanding that consequences are greater now, my energy is more focused and through that, I have discovered a calm tranquility within myself. A steady, controlled confidence I never knew I possessed.
I want to tell my younger self that life never gets EASY, it just goes on, and that’s okay. The road ahead is filled with unforeseeable darkness and loss, but also unimaginable beauty and light. There is nothing to fear, because at the end of the day something greater lies beyond life’s rises and falls. Herself. I want to tell her that when she feels her world crumbling around her she is okay, because she has herself, and her well of strength is endless. It truly is.
My 21-year-old self had a long road ahead of her, a road she believed would be easy one day. Nearly 10 years later, I know she was wrong, but I also know that one day she’ll look back at everything, and realize it was worth it.
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