Getting Older

We all have those moments when we feel old. Perhaps it’s an aching knee before a storm, a headache with the weather change, a twinge in our back, a stiff neck when we wake. Sometimes we make a joke that the younger people around us don’t understand that makes us feel old, but for me, I knew I was getting older when I woke up one morning and couldn’t touch my toes without that pulling discomfort in the back of my thighs. My hamstrings have shrunken, retreated in age and disallowed me my full range of motion I once easily and happily possessed.

Time has been going by too quickly at times, but at other times, when I think about the unknown, time is moving too slow. It’s like being stuck right next to a black hole but then being thrown out of orbit now and then. Time is uneven, unsteady and unpredictable. Sometimes things take forever and a day while other things fly through time faster than I have time to recognize it. Sure, life is short, but it’s also the longest thing we’ll ever do. So where does that leave time?

Getting older may not always be fun, but I have to try, especially now, to accept that it will happen at some point or another. One day I will look in the mirror and see a few more wrinkles, a few more pounds and probably some seriously gray hair…but who the hell cares? I’m going to get older just like the rest of us. In fact, I am already older now than I was when I started this post. Time is relative. Time is unpredictable. Time is important, necessary and inescapable. Time, however, is all we’ve got.

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Post-Grad Grapplings

There are three big problems new graduates have after finishing their educational career:

1. Figuring out what to do with all your newfound free time

2. Finding a job

3. Choosing a job

Each problem comes with its own specific set of issues. Figuring out what to do with newfound free time is easier for some than it is for others. For me, I was so busy during graduate school that I basically had every hour of my day scheduled. I always had specific things to do at almost any point in the day. After graduating though, my tightly-packed schedule suddenly loosened up (and by loosened up I mean it completely cleared up). My days began at 6:30 a.m. when I was in school and instructing courses. Suddenly, my days began whenever I opened my eyes (which was 6:30 a.m. for a while because my sleep schedule didn’t change as quickly as my daily schedule). Without having each hour planned out, I felt a sense of freedom at first, closely followed by panic and the constant nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. To soothe my anxieties, I took up a few hobbies (crocheting, cross-stitch, painting), exercised daily, applied to many jobs, read books and began cooking and baking. I have to admit, it was refreshing to accomplish more enjoyable tasks without the pressure of a grade or criticism to follow. Sleeping in was equally as easy to acclimate to as well.

Finding a job was one of the first goals I set for myself. Before everything else, I would apply to as many jobs as I could. I learned quickly how to choose the ones I was qualified for but also felt excited about. Five days after graduation I had three job offers, two of which I felt more dread for than excitement, so I decided that those were not the jobs for me. Finding a job had always been so easy for me while I was in school because I was limited to part-time summer jobs (and those were always in high demand). Suddenly though, I had to think about a job in terms of years or even the rest of my life. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I had to think about salary and commuting, two things I’d never given much thought to before, but when a job offer arrived from a company two-hours away from home, I had to decided whether the job was worth not only the gas money, but if it was also worth traveling for four hours every day. I also had to think about cities in terms of safety and price. Again, something I had never given much thought to since I’ve stayed in the same area for almost twenty years. I had to consider and prepare for the very real situation in which I might have to move. Of course, a whole other set of concerns comes with the issue of moving. It was all getting a little overwhelming, but after sitting down and figuring out the basics, things got a lot easier and then the interviews starting pouring in.

A lot of students in the past had trouble finding work after graduation. The economy wasn’t good and unemployment was higher than ever. Luckily, I was in school during the worst of the financial crisis. I graduated in an average or mediocre economic time though. Jobs are not prevalent, but they aren’t impossible to find. (Here’s the thing, I never thought jobs were impossible to find, I believe you just have to have the right mind-set, motivation and self-discipline.) I graduated with job offers and received a few more days after graduation. I went to multiple interviews and felt like I was on top of the world…for a short time at least. While not being able to find a job is tough, choosing a job is also tough. I didn’t want to take the first thing thrown my way, but how would I know if turning something down would be a huge mistake or great decision? What if I love the job, but it comes with complications? What if I love the job but it doesn’t pay well? What if I hate the job but it pays really well? Is this job worth moving to another state for? What are my opportunities for advancement here or there? And the questions went on and on and on. I understand that not being able to find a job is scary. I don’t doubt that; but not knowing whether to take a job or not, not knowing if a job is right for you or having to choose between jobs…that’s scary too. I don’t want to make a big mistake right out of the gate, but I also don’t want to miss great opportunities when they come alone.

There are other problems that new graduates face, especially ones out of graduate school rather than undergraduate. In fact, each graduation of our lives comes with a specific set of problems. Graduating from high school presents the problem of which college to go to or which one will you get into (or which one can you afford!). Graduating 8th grade presents the problem of high school to follow (which is quite a problem to endure). Our challenges, I guess, simply change as we get older. Sometimes the problems get bigger, more challenging, but on the whole, they seem to get a little more exciting too. Sure, there’s more responsibility and more expectations of us as we age, but with that responsibility and expectations comes freedom and creativity. I sometimes sit around, overwhelmed at the predicament that I find myself in, but the important people in my life remind me that this is the most exciting time of my life; I’m only just getting started, and I can go in whatever direction I want to.

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Hurdle

If you aren’t afraid to fail, then you don’t want it bad enough.
When you have a true desire, a passion, an absolute need for something, then the idea of failing at whatever that is can be the most truly terrifying thing in the world. If the idea of failing at something doesn’t scare you, then whatever it is you are trying to accomplish must not mean all that much to you.
I am, of course, excluding those so confident as to have no doubt whatsoever that they will accomplish exactly what they set out to do. To those few, I tip my hat with envy. I would love to walk around with that kind of bravado; but alas, I have my doubts sometimes. Doubt doesn’t usually overwhelm my thoughts, but sometimes, when I am having trouble sleeping, my mind wonders around. Of late, my mind wondered what I would do if things didn’t work out exactly the way I had planned or wanted them to (because after all, life isn’t always fair). This detour my brain took did not aid in sleeping that night, but it did bring about a very important question and realization for me.
The pure, overwhelming, all-consuming panic that I felt at the idea of failing made me realize just how very much my goals mean to me. That’s how I know they are the right ones for me.
This jaunt into sweat-inducing anxiety also made me ask myself, “Am I willing to put everything into accomplishing my goals (even if that means taking a crap job for a while or falling behind on some bills or derailing a smaller plan to accomplish a bigger plan? In other words, am I willing to be flexible with my plans to achieve my goals?) It was without hesitation or doubt that I answered “YES!”.
Okay, so I’ve had my realization, I’ve answered my own question (and quite satisfactorily if I do say so myself), so now what?
Great, another question, more plans.
While I may not have slept very well, I did wake up the next morning and decided that along with my questions (that are perpetually running through my head at any given moment) and my plans and my goals that I would start acting on these things. Time to take control! First I would need supplies (in my case, books). With determination and a little more confidence than I am used to, I woke up, got dressed and headed to the bookstore…only to find that it had gone out of business. Okay, I minor set back. No need to panic. Alright, confidence waned a little after seeing those empty shelves through the store window, but all hope was not lost. I had a car and a smartphone. Surely I could find another bookstore.
After driving around for quite some time, I found a bookstore and found half of the resources I needed. Alright, half wasn’t the plan, but it was better than nothing.
If felt good to take a little control, even if I did run into a few setbacks. And with my goal in mind, none of these errands or setbacks felt devastating. It just felt like hurdles on a track. Jump over one, prepare for the next.
If my goals hadn’t meant so much to me, if the idea of failing didn’t send me into a complete meltdown, then I wouldn’t try as hard or care if obstacles popped up. I wouldn’t be jumping the hurdles, I’d just be standing in front of one, pondering my next move or deciding it wasn’t worth the energy to overcome. Some obstacles will be much larger than others (so enjoy the little ones!) but if even in the face of an impossibly large obstacle, your goals still make you want to fight tooth and nail to jump over the hurdle, then you’ve found the right ones.

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Be Yourself

Advice. We’ve all gotten it, uninvited or not. Some advice is good, but some pieces of advice are the type of things you nod enthusiastically about while you hear it, then simultaneously (and internally) roll your eyes and let the words slip seamlessly through one ear and out the other. It’s always in good taste to be polite and hear everyone’s take on how you should handle your life. However, it is not in good taste to take all the advice you receive to heart.
Sifting through advice is like sifting through a mountain of mundane paperwork: torture. Sometimes, though, there is a decent piece of advice that passes before your eyes (or ears). You’ll know this piece of advice is good if it sticks with you, echoes in your ear and appears in your dreams (okay, maybe not always in your dreams, but somewhere in the subconscious). It’s the words you find popping up uninvited in your mind during your time of need. I have ever only received a few pieces of advice throughout my life that have stuck with me.
Advice doesn’t always have to come from your second cousin twice removed or a nosey aunt at Christmas. Advice can come from the latest hit on the radio or the bestseller on the shelf. It can come from the number one movie at the box office or a friendly receptionist at the doctor’s office. Advice, no matter where it is from, can be effective. The beautiful thing about advice is that no one piece of advice can apply to every single person. Advice is unique. Even more specific than person is the time in which advice is received. There are times in our life when we have received life-changing advice without even knowing it because at the time we received it, it made no difference (or worse, made no sense). In time, though, some advice becomes relevant and inspiring.
Here’s some advice I have received (from various sources) that has helped me through some tough times:
1. Do what you love no matter what.
Sure, this sounds hokey, but it’s actually advice from multiple sources who have learned how to do this the hard way. Basically there is no plan B, there is only plan A and don’t give yourself the option to fail. If you have a dream, if you have a goal in mind, don’t settle for anything less. Go for it. Do the thing that makes you happy because no one else on this planet is responsible for your happiness except for you. If you do something you love for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. I keep this in mind, especially when I get scared about the future or job market. You can’t let things get you down. You can’t let things that are out of your control deter you from pursuing the thing that brings you joy. Just go out and do it. Stop doubting yourself, stop making excuses and instead, make it happen.
2. If it can be done now, do it. Don’t do it later.
This piece of advice has always saved me time and stress. If you can do something now, then do it. Don’t wait around for other things to pile up. If it is possible to finish a task, finish it. Just because it is easy or won’t take much time now doesn’t mean that later on it won’t become more complicated or add to your list of things to do. As much as I hate my procrastinating tendencies, they still rear their ugly head now and then. I’m still working on this one, but getting much better at it as I age. If you can do something now, do it. Don’t wait. It really does make life easier.
3. Take chances, take risks because life is short.
Okay, life is the longest thing we will ever do. That much is true. Life, however, can also seem short when you think about missed opportunities or regrets. I’ve heard that we regret the things we didn’t do, not the things we did. I’m not sure that I agree with that completely, but I understand the message behind the saying. In life, sometimes we are only handed an opportunity once and it’s important that we take it in the moment. Take a leap of faith. I hate that saying and I hate when people tell me that, but taking a leap of faith can sometimes yield some pretty fantastic results. The point of taking a chance, taking a risk or taking a leap of faith (whatever the hell you want to call it) is to break out of your comfort zone and experience something new. It’s been my experience that when we experience something new, especially something we aren’t always comfortable with at first, we grow. Growing up is a painful, beautiful and confusing thing, but it’s absolutely necessary.
4. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel so good.
I am still trying to figure this one out. In my entire life I have always known if I am doing something wrong or something right based on how I feel about it (amongst other criteria of course). The problem with this is that when you become an adult, things start to get really complicated. When you’re out in the world on your own, things aren’t black and white anymore. There are times in our lives when we have to choose between doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing, but the feelings no longer correspond. There are times when we have to pick between the lesser of two evils or make a decisions we never thought we’d have to make. Sometimes doing the right thing feels as bad (or at times, worse) than doing the wrong thing. Growing up isn’t easy and making grown-up decisions isn’t always easy either.
5. Never let fear make your decisions.
This has been a very helpful and useful piece of advice that I have always carried with me. Never let fear dictate your actions. Just because something scares you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. This goes hand-in-hand with taking risks and venturing outside of your comfort zone. Fear is a vicious and very powerful thing. Psychologically, it is one of the most influential things in our lives. Fear is powerful because it can sway us one way or another. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” No quote has been as true or as powerful for me. It’s true though. The only thing we have, as humans, to fear is the feeling of fear because it can dictate our entire existence if we let it. Just because something is scary doesn’t mean that it is bad. Just because you are scared to move away from home or take a chance doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. I can’t express the importance of putting fear aside. Fear, while powerful, is not an emotion important enough to base life decisions on. Sure, it’s natural fear some things, but other times, fear has to be put aside and courage needs to take its place. After all, having courage doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. Courage is doing something despite being scared.

And here’s a note from me, from what I have learned so far:
6. There is absolutely such a thing as a quarter-life crisis.
It’s awful and scary. No one (except others having a quarter-life crisis) will understand it. Alcohol helps a lot, but as usual, isn’t a solution. When people tell me to “be myself”, I break out into a nervous sweat just trying to figure out who that is! I don’t know who I really am yet. At my age, I feel like I should, but when I poke my nosey self into other people my age’s business, it seems to me that they don’t have that figured out either. I find comfort in not being the only one without a solid plan. I also find comfort in not having a plan. I don’t want to be tied down to one thing or another. I want to roam for a while. Plans can be comforting in their conformity and predictability, but for me, that gets old really fast. For now, I need time and space to breath. I need my future to be the unknown. I’ve never been one to fall in line with tradition or expectations. For now, I will enjoy my quarter life crisis (or inconsolably panic about it, depending on the day). For now, I will bathe in the unknown and make my own way in this crazy place we call life.

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No One Ever Said…

The world is this overwhelming place of opportunity. There are so many of us, though, that sometimes this pool of opportunity seems pretty small. Perception can be deceptive. Our own state of mind can trick us into seeing things that aren’t there or seeing things not as they truly are. The world isn’t a place full of rainbows and sunshine; the world is also filled with rainy days and even dark ones too. Like so many scientists have found, the environment in which we find ourselves has an incredible effect on us whether we realize it or not. Environment effects us, but it does not define or rule us. Humans have the ability to overcome their circumstances and rise above the bad cards they’ve been handed. Just because someone handed you some bad cards, doesn’t mean you have to keep them.
Before you can think about throwing them away, though, you have to be willing to put forth the effort it takes to throw them away and find new ones. In order to overcome the dark days or the competitive pool of opportunities, you have to make sure you are ready to do one thing and one thing only: TRY. You have to care enough to try. You have to be willing to do the dirty work to get out of the muck. The world isn’t a basket full of presents. Things you want are rarely just handed to you (and if they were, you wouldn’t appreciate them nearly as much as you would if you had earned them). Even if you come from a favorable environment where life has been pretty good to you, there is still a necessity for effort.
No one said you have to be perfect or succeed the first time around (in fact, first time success, while awesome at the time, can be kind of boring). Steve Jobs worked in a garage before he became one of the most successful men in the world. Famous actresses reflect on their less-than-glamorous waitressing job back in the day before they started achieving their true goals. Even when they were working in a garage or taking other people’s orders, these individuals were working toward a goal, working toward a dream, even if their current job didn’t exactly seem to reflect that. The point is, they tried. They got out there, they did what they had to do for a period of time in order to survive. They never gave up though. They may have felt like giving up plenty of times, but they didn’t and because they decided to keep going, they are living their dreams now. I am sure, especially actresses, probably got more than their fair share of “no thank yous” and as disappointing and defeating that may have felt, they didn’t let a few (or a pile) of nos stop them from pursuing their dreams. They didn’t let what other people tell them define their actions or decisions.
All these words, all these stories, all these things have a point: Go out into the world of opportunity and try. Care enough to try. Love something so much that you’d be willing to fail repeatedly in order to obtain that one moment of success. Nothing feels quite as good as that moment of success after you’ve given something your very best effort. No one said it would be easy, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. You might stumble a couple times, you may even fail a time or two (or ten), but at least you’re trying.

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Remember Why You Started

A journey started hides it’s own end. There are too many forks in the road. While walking toward some ending, we’re shoved in directions that take us the long way round. Sometimes that road is lined with obstacles, damaging things that mean us more harm than help. Arm yourself. Dismantle the obstacle and make it your weapon against the rest of the unplanned road. Remember where your path is, and walk toward it, even if that means diverging from the obstacle laden path. You weren’t meant to take that path anyways. Make your own, through thickest challenges, to find your original destination. If you get lost, if you get discouraged, remember why you started walking in the first place. If it was worth it when you started, it will be worth it now.

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New

All the good words have been written. All the good sentences have been constructed. All the brilliant ideas have been pursued. All the greatest books ever written are sitting on shelves in collector’s edition covers. 

Enter the post postmodernists. Welcome you, the second lost generation. 

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