At Arm’s Length

I don’t bite, but please don’t come any closer. (Taken by my best friend for her B&W Photography 101 Class)

When I first meet someone, I tend to keep my mouth shut and smile.

Talking to an old friend over coffee is nice. I just listen intently and nod as they share their stories.

When I talk to acquaintances or exchange emails with my blog readers, I hear time and time again,

You’re so honest and genuine, yet…I feel like you’re holding back.

And when I go on to ask what I should do differently,

Let us get to know the real Erin. What is a typical day like for you? What makes you come alive? What do you do when you’re not writing?

My initial response is usually a slightly defensive sigh and perhaps an eye roll. Then I pause and wonder, Do I really come across as aloof? The fact that the same critique continues to come up–both in real life and within the realm of blogging–makes me believe that maybe I am suppressing and concealing parts of who I am. A pocketful of bright confetti strips, stuffed into the dark depths of my favorite jeans, secretly longing for the freedom to carelessly flail about in the wind.

For years, I’ve been picking at the outer seams, cautiously tucking my colorful idiosyncrasies further and further from view. For years, I’ve been attempting to understand how it is that I can be seen as authentic and relatable, yet simultaneously apprehensive and unfeeling. Somehow both a mass of charged energy and a complete enigma.

I think I compartmentalize topics into safe zones while sectioning off others with caution tape. Make yourself at home in the living room, but don’t you dare peek into my son’s filthy bedroom! I’ve always been good at analytic problem-solving, so I want to talk about about how to optimize your work space because I can actually help; I absolutely love yoga, but I’ve only been practicing for a year, so I don’t feel I’m experienced enough to offer any helpful insights. It feels as if some doors have been swung wide open and others are dead-bolted shut, without my realizing it and against my will.

I recently met up with my cousin for dinner. He’s five years older than me, so he has always been like a big brother. There has always been lots of teasing and he has always been my strongest role model and mentor. Though we’re different in nearly every way imaginable, he never fails to give me a new perspective. It’s the kind of relationship money could never buy. 

A year ago, the two of us drove together on a road trip to California, and at one point he asked me, “If you could be anywhere right now, doing anything….what would it be? It was a tough question for me, and I never ended up offering an answer. I still don’t have an answer, in all honesty. Even if I did, I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel sharing it. My dreams seem fluid and fleeting, a string of unrelated and contradictory hopes and longings.

In talking to to my cousin over sushi, I shared some of the things I hope to do in the next several years. He smirked and replied, “I can’t see you doing any of that. Really think about it… Can you?” Yes…I mean…I don’t know. He made me question myself, which was slightly perturbing. But worse yet, he was convinced that 1) I won’t go back to school, 2) that I’ll jump at the first chance to move across the country or across the world, 3) and that if I meet the “right guy,” I’ll be as good as gone. I was completely taken aback. Is he projecting his own life onto me? Does he know something I don’t? Or does one of the people I’m most honest an open with see me in a completely different light than I see myself–a completely different version of “me” than I’m trying to convey? It was an eye-opening evening for me, though I still haven’t figured out exactly what it is that I’m supposed to be seeing…

I don’t have my life together, and I often beat myself up over that. I can’t decide what book to read next, let alone what I want to do with my life. I try to do everything, I give up on everything, and then suffer asphyxiating panic attacks because I’m not doing anything. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m highly allergic to peanuts and if any of you have food allergies, it’s that feeling. For everyone else, I’d describe it as an external crushing paired with an internal swarming and swelling. I sometimes feel like I’m dying, just because my ducks are out enjoying the water, rather than lining up at my feet.

No one has their life together. I am fully aware of this. Yet, I still set unrealistically high standards for myself. I still, somehow, expect myself to do it ALL and to continually function at 110%. Cue Friend #1 to walk up, slap me, and then give me a hug and tell me to lighten up.

Sometimes I get so scared of failure and not being enough that I bury those insecurities and then decorate that unstable little sand castle with my shiny and ornate superfluous parts.  The things we do, the ways in which we attempt to compensate for and hide our perceived shortcomings are pernicious. A subtle and insidious erosion that, with time, can begin to seem normal.

I recently read (and heavily marked up) Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. The subtitle —How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead–says it all. Being vulnerable requires courage. And being vulnerable can positively transform how we go about our lives and how we interact with others.

Vulnerability has always been a struggle for me. I don’t feel comfortable speaking up, standing up for others, or revealing things that could potentially be turned against me. I’ll do any of these uncomfortable things when I feel that the gains outweigh the risks, but that’s admittedly not very often. Though I don’t understand that aloofness that seems to permeate my presence, on some level, I do. It manifests itself as a heaviness, anxiety, and sense of inadequacy. When I want to say something and then think better of it, I can physically feel the knots and the lumps growing in my. My pockets are bulging with multitudes of mylar, but there’s something unsettling about being the only one in a austere room tossing up confetti for no better reason than to just release it into the world.

Alright, Erin, so you’ve taken all of these classes and read dozens of books on the psychology of  happiness and well-being. You’ve studied interpersonal relationships, vulnerability, uncertainty, cognition, and more. Shouldn’t you understand how to stop fending off friends by now? Don’t you know how to change? Hypothetically, an exuberant YES! In practice, it’s a bit more complex, simply because vulnerability requires habituating a practice. It takes time and a continued effort to break out of our comfort zones and explore new (and potentially better) territories. When you put up walls, you’re not protecting yourself from getting hurt; you’re isolating yourself from people who actually care and shutting out countless magnificent opportunities. Just out of reach is the worst place to be, the worst place to hold someone else.

Vulnerability is something that I need to work on. I just need to figure out where to begin.


Accepting Challenges

At the end of my junior year of high school, my AP American Literature class had a special visitor: the senior English teacher from downstairs. Along with the regular English classes, she would be offering dual-enrollment and a combination AP/dual-enrollment class. I looked over the syllabus. I looked up and glanced around the classroom.

No one looked as intimidated as I felt.

I hesitantly scrawled my name on the interest sheet and spent the rest of the day walking around aimlessly as I stared down at the thick ink saturating the longest syllabus I’d ever seen. To actually be enrolled in the class, we were required to “think about it” and then turn in a signed copy of that daunting requirements sheet. I can’t do this, I repeated over and over to myself. I can’t read that many books. Writing analytical essays is tough and I don’t want to do that every week. Class discussions are the worst and that’s what this will entail. No, I decided, I couldn’t do it.

So, I never turned in my signed syllabus.

Summer began and my angst quickly melted away. My senior year would be easy: a few dual-enrollment classes and a few AP classes, but no AP slash dual-enrollment classes. I was slightly disappointed with myself, but also relived. Deep down I wondered if maybe I could have handled the class. But it didn’t matter. The deadline had already passed.

A few weeks before school began, I received my class schedule in the mail. Everything looked wonderful, except…that terrifying monstrosity which I’d quietly tiptoed past had found me. I had been signed up for the most difficult class of all time. I debated whether or not to fly into my guidance counselor’s office hyper-ventilating and demand to be placed in an easier class.

I don’t recall whether it was a boost of confidence or my non-confrontational disposition, but I didn’t say anything. I showed up where I was scheduled to be on that first day of my senior year and held my breath as the teacher went over the class requirements once more. I can do this, I began telling myself. I love reading. I’ve always been a strong writer. I’m intelligent and motivated. Not only can I handle this, I am going to excel.

I put a full effort into that class, simply to prove to myself that I could do it. After Frankenstein, Crime and Punishment, One Hundred Years of Solitude and a dozen or so other books… After countless hours spent pounding through essays and analyses, both in class and at home… After being called on to share answers I didn’t have, or worse, ones I did… After accepting constructive criticism on everything I produced… After all of this, throughout all this, I was happy.

I was being challenged, gently pushed to my outer limits and beyond. I was expanding my comfort zone, learning new things, and being engaged in ways I never knew possible. It felt awesome!

Somehow, the most daunting task imaginable turned out to be the best learning experience I could have asked for. Life is full of new opportunities and endless possibilities, if you simply remain open-minded.

Learn to say yes to new opportunities. The scarier the better. Accept challenges with a deep breath and a broad smile. By definition, challenges area going to be difficult, but difficult and impossible are not the same thing. The most challenging experiences tend to ultimately be the most rewarding.

After months of intense training for a marathon, wouldn’t it be incredible to reach the finish line? While dedicating a full month to writing a novel is a huge commitment, wouldn’t it be worth it to emerge from the other end of the dark tunnel with a fictional masterpiece in hand? Though switching career paths is scary, couldn’t doing so lead to more fulfillment and happiness? How can you expect to ever fall in love if the fear of heartbreak is constantly holding you back?

Though the risks involved can be terrifying, accepting new challenges can bring about momentary engagement, external rewards, and intrinsic fulfillment. Doing something for the first time, viewing an old idea from a new perspective, befriending a stranger each require a little extra effort, but the payoff potential is huge.

So, the next time you’re faced with a demanding situation, rather than shy away, give it your all and see what happens. Realize what you are truly capable of when you expand, or completely demolish, your self-imposed outer limits.

Who Needs a Boyfriend When You’ve Got a 120-Pack of Crayons?

When I started blogging, I would receive a text nearly every morning from one of my good friends essentially saying “Wow, you’re a fantastic writer! How do you do it?” Having that positive motivation early on really helped me stick with blogging. He’s seeing someone now, so he has less time to waste reading my ramblings. However, the other day he texted me “How do you keep from writing negative things every day? Whenever I want to go write something, it is only negative, evil things, like reasons why I hate people. Then I don’t actually post anything because I don’t want to be perceived as mean.” Interesting thought. It admittedly takes effort some days to think of something positive to share, but I think forcing myself to keep it light is beneficial.

This particular conversation coincided quite well with some less-than-desirable comments and my subsequent bitterness, so I’m going to go there, I’m going to write an angry post. Or at least something a tad less cheery than usual.

One my my biggest pet peeves is people asking if I’m single, why I’m single, and why I’m not “putting myself out there.” Unfortunately, in the adult world, relationships are the second most popular topic of conversation, following career. Since there’s nothing going on my world in terms of a career, it feels as if every time I meet someone new or catch up with an old friend I have to present a huge dissertation and then go on to defend it. It’s annoying more than anything else, almost as annoying as people asking if I’m going to psychoananlyze them.

The trait I appreciate most in a person is respect; respect for oneself, the people around them, animals, property, and especially for me. Sadly, it seems to be a quality many people lack and don’t care to work on. I was recently described as “accommodating” – I try to make everyone happy, but I’m often too nice and people take advantage of that. Ask me for a favor and I’ll help to the fullest extent I feel comfortable, say something rude or offensive and after a long and awkward pause I’ll laugh it off or pretend I didn’t hear it. That’s just my nature. But looking back on those instances makes me more upset than anything else. What makes them think it’s okay for them to say that to me, to anyone? Do others let them get away with doing that?

I’m not sure if the comments people are making are becoming more vulgar, if I’ve become more sensitive, or if everything has just piled up and pushed me to the edge; regardless of what’s going on, it’s beginning to wear on my nerves. I’m gradually learning to let things go, but I still think disrespectfulness is the ugliest of traits and one that none of us should have to tolerate.

When people used to ask me why I didn’t date, I would always use school as an excuse – I was focused on doing well academically and I wasn’t too interested in the idea anyways. That was generally an acceptable response. Nowadays, my explanations are more precarious, essentially that I have other priorities I’d rather focus on, that I’m too independent for that, and that I’m not willing to put the time or effort into starting or maintaining a relationship. All of the above are true, but the biggest issue for me is that a lot of guys just aren’t nice. How do you convey that a vast majority of people are selfish, manipulative, and unbelievably disrespectful? How do you do that with out offending anyone or sounding arrogant and pretentious? Sometimes I feel like everyone else must be blind and deaf, voluntarily settling for less than they deserve, or just lucky enough to be surrounded by the cream of the crop.

In a recent response to the “Soo, why aren’t you seeing anyone?” question, I half-joking said “Who needs a boyfriend who you’ve got a 120-pack of crayons?” For once in my life I didn’t think before speaking, I didn’t step back and analyze what on earth a huge box of crayons, the Bentley of coloring utensils, signified. Innocence, imagination, wonder, distraction, freedom, self-sufficiency? It’s silly, but I think it’s the perfect analogy for me because I would prefer all of these traits over those which I currently associate with relationships. Or taken literally, yes, I would choose a few hours alone with a box of crayons and printer paper over dinner and movie with some guy I just met.

A few people have accused me of being juvenile or having Peter Pan syndrome, of not even trying or not giving anyone a chance. As if I hadn’t noticed, I’m continually reminded that I’m not getting any younger, that I’m “too pretty to be single,” and just maybe my standards are a little too high. I disagree with the later – I think lowering standards and settling for less than one innately knows they want or need ultimately leads to disappointment and failed relationships. I’m the type to observe and learn from others’ mistakes; I think I have more insight than a lot of people in my life realize. I’m not hopelessly lost or incompetent, just choosy. Oh, and I do give people a chance, but that “chance” only last as long as the respect does. Once a certain threshold is reached, I have a very low tolerance for inappropriate sexual remarks or sexist comments about how I’m nothing more than a dumb, future-housewife.

I guess that wasn’t too angry, merely a slight build-up of frustration, a simple explanation for everyone wondering “what’s wrong with her?”

I have a natural inclination to seek out the silver lining in any situation. In this case, I want to point out the importance of respect – treat others with respect and demand it in return. Letting something slide is serving as positive enforcement just as strongly as blatant approval of bad behavior. Live your life and let others live theirs; guidance can be beneficial, but so is trust, specifically trusting that the people in your life are doing what they feel is best for themselves. Letting go of the need to control your own life and the lives of the people you love is also a step in the right direction; life is unpredictable and expectations often lead to disappointments.

And because I’m sure I’ll get a few argument that there are good guys out there, I know. I actually have several wonderful friends interested in dating me, but I’m simply not too interested right now. However, my indifference shouldn’t void my argument because the “nice guys” are definitely a minority and respect is something that I need to see more of.

Well, that’s about as personal as I’m ever going to get on here and likely the most negative. So, on a lighter note, why don’t you go pick up some crayons and color?

Life is Exciting

When you take a step back a look at the big picture – not just the deep, dark existential stuff, but your own personal life and potential – it’s pretty incredible, like “Wow!” worthy incredible.

I was stressed over nothing and everything the past few weeks, and decided to just let it all go and start working on what I felt inspired to be doing, rather than what I was supposed to be doing. Yesterday, I overheard a woman in the health food store say “Chocolate: the cure-all without co-pay.” Though slightly less delicious, rolling with the punches would also seem to be a cure-all with no hidden fees and consequences. Acceptance and letting go of the idea that everything needs to be perfect may be the most universal solution to petty, everyday problems.

In summation, the past two weeks have been quite epic, and that may even be an understatement. When good things happen, they tend to snowball or, as I would put it, “When it rains, it pours, and here in Arizona we love rain!”

I got a job! Like a real, full-time, requires a degree, professional job. Ahh!! This week and next, I’m working both my old part-time night job and new full-time day job. The 16-hour workday would probably be a nightmare if I didn’t absolutely love my new job and the projects I’m being assigned. I’m working in a field and a department completely unrelated to my degree and experience. On my first day, I was told I had already completed more than my predecessor had in her two weeks in the position; on my second day I received a higher job title; on my third day my boss opened up a discussion about a promotion and raise. To finally have someone recognize, appreciate, and compensate me for what I’m able to contribute is the best feeling – that, so happy I could cry emotional wave, constantly. YES!!

My cousin is pursuing her Masters in Pyschology and lacks the research and academic writing skills that I worked so hard to refine in school, so I’m helping her – explaining concepts, developing ideas, and editing and properly formatting papers. I’m essentially being paid to access course work and discussions that I would pay for. It’s a graduate school teaser, and it’s making me giddy for the future!

After graduation, sixteen months ago, my mom told me to spend my first paycheck on something special. My part-time, minimum-wage job did not count. So, what am I spending my first paycheck on? I want a dog, but can’t afford one, so I bought a lively basil plant and named it “Dog.” My favorite childhood book was The Giver by Lois Lowry. When I saw that she was coming to town to promote her new book, Son, I’m pretty sure I yelped in excitement. My copies of the first three books are in shreds, so I thought, why not buy the entire hardback quartet and have my favorite childhood series signed by its author. I love live music, so my best friend and I have a whole series of concerts coming up – Yeasayer, Passion Pit, Astronautalis, Metric, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Minus the Bear – and most are lesser-known and thus dirt cheap. I want to buy a meal for someone behind me in line or flowers to give to a stranger. I haven’t been to Las Vegas since turning 21 and I’ve never been to Los Angeles, so I’d like to take a weekend road trip with my best friend to either within the next few months. First paycheck: something to nurture and watch grow, books, concerts, a random act of kindness, and a trip. Perfect. 

I feel like I had so much more to say, but I haven’t had time to write anything in days, or even think. Job 1, Job 2, five hours of sleep, repeat. I just wanted to share a quick update, and there will be plenty more to come once I’ve phased out of my old job and settled into my new one.

Have a fun and safe long weekend, and do something worth talking about!

I found Sky on the street, took him home, and was a dog owner for a few hours before tracking down his family. Soon enough, I’ll have my own wonderful canine.

The Debt-Free PhD

A few months ago, I received a great book that questioned, “Where will you be five years from today?” What an exciting thought! So much can happen of the course of five years, 1,826 fruitful days.

The author continually probed and provoked, question after question. What is my calling, my life’s aim? What inspires me? What are my core values? Which activities are they urging me to pursue? How can I help others? How can I find personal fulfillment? What’s the best means of achieving my full potential.

I revisit the book each week, contemplating questions, completing activities, and pondering the future, my future. Sometimes we get so caught up in the busyness of what we think needs to be done that we forget to tend to the things that we actually want to do. Maybe instead of waiting for opportunity to come knocking (or open the door on which you’ve been so persistently banging), it’s time to decide what’s next in your life and strategize how to get it.

I really, really want to go to graduate school. I want to obtain a PhD in Social Psychology and spend five to seven years working 16-hour days on projects that I’m intensely passionate about. I want to be engulfed in academics and surrounded by thoughtful, intelligent people. I want to make discoveries that will help improve people’s lives. I want to perform research, I want to teach, I want write, and I want to inspire. There is nothing I want more. Actually, it’s strong than a mere wantWhen I break down my values, strengths, and skills, I’m confident that it really would be the ideal situation for me. And upon graduation, I’ll be able to go out and continue to discover, share, and inspire.

I began the doctoral application process my senior year of college. I enrolled in a graduate school preparation course, asked my professors dozens of questions, talked to current graduate students, and contacted the professors whose programs I was most interested in. And then I got cold feet.

What if no one accepts me? What if can’t get any financial aid? Is this even worth it? What if, even after another degree, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life?

I’ve started asking myself: What’s the worse that could happen? It took me some time, but I have my answers. If I’m not accepted into a single program, at least I can say that I tried. If I can’t get financial aid, there are always student loans and on-campus work opportunities. If I were to dedicate several years and significant sums of money to educating myself and exit the program without a single job offer, I would still be happy with my decision.

This summer, I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. I’ve never had any interest in finances, but I know that money management is an important skill. It was a great course; however, I was shocked to hear education classified as a want, rather than a need. Having completed college fully scholarshiped, maybe I simply can’t fully grasp the idea of student debt. Though I disagree that education is merely a “want,” it led me to thinking… What if I could go to graduate school without going in to debt? What if I could achieve all my goals without worrying about money?

Several months ago, I bombarded everyone in my life with the idea of somehow earning a significant amount of money within the next year or two and then using that money to fund my education. Every single person shot it down. “You can’t earn $100,000 in a year, or whatever you’re aiming for.”

Why not?

I have a novel under my belt. Nowhere near publishable, but it has strong points and it’s something I could work on developing. 

I’ve been blogging for long enough to know what I’m doing. Several people out there blog for a living. Maybe I’m on to something and don’t even realize it yet. 

I’ve done writing, editing, tutoring, and life coaching both paid and unpaid. Maybe that’s an avenue I could pursue. Is “professional experience” truly better than passion-driven experience?

I have several ideas for services, products, and online platforms. I don’t have the attention span or the skill set to follow through on any at this point, but maybe if I dabble around with them a bit more, something will click.  

As of today, I have a full-time job, a part-time job, and a handful of miscellaneous writing, editing, and tutoring gigs, most of which fell into my lap over the past 48 hours. (See what happens when you pout?) My non-existent social life has just slipped even further into oblivion. I am absolutely thrilled for the regular schedule, extra income, and opportunity to learn new skills. 

I’ve said before, I’m overly ambitious and often juggle more things at a time than I can manage. What if I could fit all my small goals into a larger framework? Instead of choosing between graduate school and creative endeavors, what if I relabel my aimless pursuits as stepping stones towards personal fulfillment and possible graduate school funders? And if I choose not to attend grad school, I’ll still have actually done something, and built up a hefty savings.

Instead of feeling guilty for writing, sketching, dreaming, or catching up with friends, maybe I need to reframe those activities as means of shaping my future self, a scenario in which every choice is the right one.

The first step of my plan was to sign up for the Graduate Record Examinations. Done! I’ve been in contact with a few professors whom I’m interested in working with, I have a completed GRE study guide that plan to review, and I began applying as a college senior so I understand the process. Maybe this isn’t as daunting as I’ve painted it all up to be in my head. Since applying to graduate school can be stressful, leisure activities and fun projects, exercise, getting adequate amount of sleep, and eating healthfully will help keep me sane. Awesome! Everything I do – in some way, shape, or form – will guide me towards my debt-free PhD. That is, until I change my mind and decide to travel abroad, start my own business, or pursue something else completely. Setting a goal, any goal, is a great way to promote productivity and that sense of doing something that we all inherently long for.

Anyways, as I mentioned above, my life has all of a sudden become pretty crazy. For the next two weeks, between my full-time and part-time job I’ll be juggling 16-hour work days , so I may be MIA for awhile. For good reasons, though. I’m practicing for graduate school!

Sails and Shackles

The happiest day of my life.

In the time leading up to, and following graduation, my life was spilling over with hope and possibility. The day I graduated college was the happiest day of my life. It’s what I’d spent my life preparing for. In that moment, I was invincible. I was going places. I was capable of changing the world, making it a better place. And I would.

Where did that eager anticipation disappear to?

When did landing a full-time job become such a pipe dream? Is this what I’ve worked so hard to achieve? Moving back into parents’ home, borrowing their car, and barely being able afford food and necessities, let alone save money for future education, travel, or far-off retirement. 

Rather than glamorous sunsets illuminating endless boulevards and glowing auroras dancing upon desolate hilltops, the sky has gone cold and blank. Dreams have been shifted, shattered, and sifted until only the tiniest fragments remain. Maybe I can rework those shards into something new. Maybe…

The greatest philosophers would suggest that a life charred at the edges is made more luminous at its core. Perhaps that’s true. If so, it would inevitably take time and effort to chisel away at that roughly abused exterior. Is it even worth the effort? As I hack away at my shell, I’m beginning to believe it’s a futile task, done completely in vain. I do believe adversity can lead to growth, but then what are you supposed to do with your new realizations?

Sleeping things are beautiful –  a newborn baby as his chest rises and falls, the bud of a flower building up the energy for its grand début, an old dog as his legs tremble with excitement, the love of your life as she lies beside you in the early dawn. Might yet unrealized potential be the same? Laying dormant, building up. Simple, beautiful. Invisible. Maybe my current situation – which I perceive as a masterful failure – is a sleeping beauty, a butterfly patiently awaiting the chipping away of its asphyxiating crust.

The blustering winds that were scheduled to fill my sails and carry me away never arrived. Will they ever? While consulting maps and forecasts, while sorting through and considering the other options, thick vines emerged from the deck and grabbed hold with irresistible force. Stagnant and shackled, overcome by the gentle torture of watching my hopes and dreams slowly drain from my side of the hourglass into someone else’s half-full glass. Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? Where can I find a community garden at which I can go and pluck an assortment of new hopes and dreams?

A particular light emanates and encapsulates. Dull and yellowed beige. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They said: maintain a high GPA, take honors courses, build relationships with professors, obtain experience in your chosen field, join clubs, volunteer, network, attend job fairs, put yourself out there. You’ll be set when you graduate, you’ll secure a decent (though less-than-ideal) job within three months, we’re sure of it! The cruelest of lies. No one knew, I can’t blame them.

If you know a soon-to-be graduate, I beg you not to tell them things will work out. Entering the “real world” with a bouquet of balloons, lifted to the skies by hope, and then slowly watching each burst into oblivion is devastating, heartbreaking. Even for the gleaming optimists and sliver lining searchers. Clarity and sharpness. Intensity and fullness. Depth and poignancy. Compassion. Intelligence. Experience. Articulation. Drive. All null and void. Completely worthless. Conventional advice is no longer applicable.

Is it really the economy? Or is it just me? Though I already know the answer, it’s a hard question to evade. Of all the applicants out there, I should be towards the top of the pile. After two years of searching, over 400 applications across a variety of fields, and far more networking and “putting myself out there” than I’m comfortable with, why is the best I can do a part-time, minimum-wage gig, for which I’m far overqualified? How am I not competent for unpaid volunteer work, performing tasks that I actually enjoy? Somebody explain this to me, please.

What happened? Where can I find that vivacious breeze filled with pockets of possibility? I can huff and puff until my lungs give out, but I can’t get this ship moving without a little help, without a gentle push.

Life feels like a joke with no punchline. I keep waiting, and waiting…for something to laugh at, for something worth smiling over, for opportunities, for my deflated sails to billow out again and propel me into a future drenched by unlimited possibilities.

You’re Going to be Thirty…Someday

I recently spent an afternoon with a good friend. We went out for sushi, browsed the mall, and drove around aimlessly looking for anything that might be open at 9 o’clock on a Sunday evening in our sleepy bedroom community. After driving past the same mall for the third time, out of the blue, my friend said “I’m going to be thirty in ten years. How weird…” I nodded in agreement. “Whoa, you’re going to be thirty in…you’re turning 23 this year? years!! Oh my gosh!”

“Whoa” is right.

We discussed our amazing meal, the surreal feeling that follows visiting a mall when you’re not really a fan of shopping, the eerily oversized yellow moon blanketed by dark clouds, our shared love of all things psychology, oh and my rapidly approaching death. Okay, maybe not death, just all those terrifying expectations that come with growing up. You know, marriage, childbirth, a “real job,” memory loss. Wait, what was I saying?

I may begin consideration of marriage and kids when I’m thirty, but seven years from now is far too soon! What if I want to spend the next decade in school? Maybe I want to travel, write a book, and actually have time to see my friends. Perhaps I’d like to keep my house organized for more the five minutes.

As wonderful as the whole growing up thing is painted to be – a steady income, a loving and loyal spouse, precious little children that look just like you, prestige and influence at work – I don’t particularly want any of it. At least not at this point in my life.

A good portion of my childhood friends now have kids; some are married, some divorced, and most are single parents. Many went straight from high school into real-world jobs with a thick glass ceiling. Many go out to clubs several times a week wearing skin-tight dresses and caked on makeup. These statistics are courtesy of Facebook as I’m no longer in touch with any of the aforementioned. I can’t help but feel these people have sold themselves short, sought validation and an ego-boosts in the wrong places. Maybe they simply don’t have the same dreams and desires as I do. Having studied psychology, the wide spectrum and variation shouldn’t surprise me, but I simply can’t imagine someone my age actually wanting to take on such huge and lasting commitments.

Seven years feels like nothing and time seems to accelerate more and more so as we get older, but seven years is a long time. Seven years ago I was a freshman in high school, wearing shorts that could pass for denim underwear and shyly avoiding as much social contact as possible. Well, maybe things haven’t changed that much. However, in terms of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and hopes, I’m an entirely different person than I was back then.

I’m going to be thirty in seven years and 102 days. That’s a terrifying thought, but it’s also slighty exhilarating. If I learn and experience as much in the coming years as I have in the past, than it will be well-worth any of those perceived negatives. (Does age thirty even have any perceived negatives?) Although I’ve yet to reach that baby-crazy stage (and I’m doubtful I ever will), though I have zero interest in marriage (or any type of relationship, for that matter), and despite the fact that I have no particular career path or ultimate goal in mind, I’m not too concerned. I’ve spent too much of my life worrying about things I can’t control and living up to expectations that don’t align with my beliefs or desires. Things have a way of working themselves and the right people and opportunities always present themselves when you’re ready.

Why is thirty any more significant of a milestone than tomorrow? It’s interesting to ponder what the future might hold, but I don’t think it’s quite as important as we’re led to believe. If I have $100 a week to live on, an enjoyable and productive job or hobby, and a few good friends and my family, I’ll be happy. Marriage, children, and a prestigious and well-paying job are all wonderful things, I’m sure. But why all the pressure to achieve them within a certain age range? I’m continually nagged by several people in my life to think about the future, to start figuring out what I want out of life. I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me (hopefully). Yes, I’ll be thirty someday and yes, it’s weird to think about now, but less so than it was when I initially had that you’re almost old sentiment ringing through my ears.

The point of this rant being, we’ve each got our own internal guide and innate life schedule, which should take priority over and override the opinions and actions of others, although listening and taking others’ opinions into account is also beneficial. Also, growing up isn’t scary and commitments aren’t the equivalent of a ball-and-chain; they’re just a few of life’s many stepping-stones, and you have permission to take as big or small of steps as you desire to reach those responsibilities, and you’re more than welcome to take a few detours along the way.

Actually, it’s kind of nice being caught in the in-between stage, that place where you can be goofy and sophisticated in the same day without any sense of dissonance or feeling irresponsible. I enjoy being in that stage where I’m an adult, but have yet to take on all the adult responsibilities or commit myself fully to one thing or another. Hopefully I can hang out here for a while.