Fork in the Road

let's do this ...

At the crossroads between adolescence and adulthood, education and career … you’ve found yourself lost, marooned, rudderless, shipwrecked, aimlessly wandering and wondering …

But–not all who wander are lost,

and

not all who wonder are lost either.

I recently read a great open letter (via my friend Aly) addressed to older generations frustrated at under-achieving twentysomethings. Stop worrying and lighten up, Penelope Trunk says, because

[…] Personal growth looks a lot like being lost. Lost is okay. Who wouldn’t be with twenty years of schooling and no preparation for adult life? People grow more when they are lost then when they are on a straight path with a clear view of where they are going.

Whew!

Breathe in, breathe out and repeat this with me: We’re going to be okay.

Our diplomas and our degrees were not a waste, our years of cramming knowledge into our brains and then bleeding ourselves dry was not in vain. We may be bagging groceries, slinging lattes, and serving cold beers now, but it doesn’t mean we failed. So long as our passions haven’t been shelved, so long as we’re trying and experimenting and growing and searching and finding meaning and purpose and following our convictions, we’re doing alright.

Better to explore and figure things out now than years down the road when too many people depend on us to be stable, immobile. Better to have laughed in the face of howling winds, flung wildly into unpredictability and the mad dervishes of possibility now while our brains are impressionable, our limbs young and supple, and our worldview expandable …

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived — Henry David Thoreau

and do it with your whole soul

Pursue your passions, because your passion is your purpose.

Without them, you’re an empty shell of a person.

Don’t settle for just okay or good enough or what’s-expected-of-you because then you’ll always resent yourself for settling. You were meant to live for so, so much more … Don’t lose yourself.

So take heart, fellow wanderers. I’m in the same rudderless boat. Let’s continue pursuing our passions, holing up in coffee shops until we figure out what direction we should take, sidestepping the beaten path and mapping our own journey. Let’s find our souls on country roads, suck out all the marrow of life, dance away the demons, paint the sunset, hug tightly, drink deep the precious beauty of the world and do it all with the knowledge that we’ll get there when we get there and everything’s going to be fine.

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Grow the Heck Up

when you were young

In an article that appeared in RELEVANT Magazine, author Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) responds to a recent New York Times article which asked: why are so many twentysomethings taking so long to grow up?

He offers some pretty solid advice, some of which is tough but true: “[…] if your friends want to lay around doing nothing all day, get some new friends;” “leaders don’t roll their eyes, children do […] People work very hard to do what they do, and when you roll your eyes, you’re being insulting;” etc. This is good stuff, especially when directed to those who, as Shauna Niequist mentions in her RELEVANT article, “are hanging onto college, or high school even, with all their might.” She advises to not be like that because “there is a time for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither.”

Do you know people like that? People who, in their twenties and unfortunately their thirties, act like life is one big happy hour? Still living for the next party, still getting smashed out of their brains on weekends, still chasing tail and not taking responsibility for their actions?

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered too many of these people lately and in a moment of built-up frustration, I posted grow the heck up as my status on Facebook. Maybe I’m being self-righteous because I’m past that stage of my life and was more than happy to be done with high school (and–to a certain extent–the expectation of treating your “university days” as your “experimental time”), but I’m weary of these people, especially when others have to bear the brunt of their foolish and immature behaviour.

There comes a time when, hopefully, one realizes the impact of one’s actions on others. For example, a hypothetical situation: you show up for work hung over so your coworkers have to work twice as hard and pick up your slack. Shouldn’t there be a thought that runs through your mind that maybe you shouldn’t have gotten plastered the night before because now, not only do you feel crummy at work, but your coworkers are also suffering because of it?

Sadly, I hate to say it, but so many of these people just don’t give a crap. I say it’s related to their over-inflated sense of entitlement: I can do whatever the heck I want because I deserve it and no one can tell me otherwise. It’s my life. I’m going to do what I want. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.

Well, that “centre-of-the-universe” mentality may have served you well when you were an infant and had to depend on your mommy and daddy to get your needs met, but there will come a day in your life when you realize that the world’s not going to bend over backwards to cater to your every whim and fancy because you think you’re entitled to it. It’ll be a sad day. So you can either cry harder and demand more until you’re blue in the face, or you can grow the heck up.

It’s your choice.

"When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things" -- 1 Corinthians 13:11

I apologize if I sound harsh, but I’ve had to deal with too many of these people lately. I suppose the most important thing to know is that growing up in your twenties and thirties has less to do with the career, the spouse, the children, and the house and more to do with becoming a kinder, gentler, more compassionate and selfless individual.

So RELEVANT

Thanks to Christine, I recently read an article in RELEVANT Magazine that couldn’t have been more, well, relevant to my life right now.

wise words

The article, “What To Know When You’re 25(ish)” might have been taken from one of my more insightful diary entries. I assumed from the title that it would piss me off by listing all these things that I don’t know but probably should to be considered a grown-up: doing my own taxes, making a budget, changing a tire, cooking an elaborate meal, having a clear vision for the future and a detailed career path, etc., etc., etc.

But it didn’t piss me off. In fact, it affirmed a lot of major changes happening in my life right now and inspired me to make the most of my twenties. Especially the paragraph about relationships:

Now is also the time to get serious about relationships. And “serious” might mean walking away from the ones that don’t give you everything you need. Some of the most life-shaping decisions you make in this season will be about walking away from good-enough, in search of can’t-live-without. One of the only truly devastating mistakes you can make in this season is staying with the wrong person even though you know he or she is the wrong person. It’s not fair to that person, and it’s not fair to you.

All I can say to that is: so freaking relevant.

I also really dug the final paragraph:

Now is your time. Become, believe, try. Walk closely with people you love, and with other people who believe that God is very good and life is a grand adventure. Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned. Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path. (Emphasis mine)

Raise your hand if that spoke to you.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go (Maybe … Someday)!

standing at the crossroads

 

Upon meeting me for the first time, this lovely, elegant South African lady looked me in the eyes as she shook my hand and said with utmost confidence, “You’re going places. You’re going to go so far.”  

Of course, as an intern at a news show, a summer student at the local newspaper, and a soon-to-be editorial intern at a national magazine, I had stars in my eyes. I was a recent English grad smugly proving my professors and cynical classmates wrong by landing so many wicked gigs so soon after commencement, laughing in the faces of those who said drearily, “Good luck finding a journalism job in this economy!” and “Have fun being a greeter at Walmart with your English BA!”  

There was no limit to what I could do. The world was my oyster, baby, and I was riding high on the waves of rapid success. Clickety-clacking down Queen Street East in my heels and new duds to the editorial internship with the other well-dressed and terribly important nine-to-fivers, I remembered what the sagely South African lady said and believed every word. I remember having a Mary Tyler Moore moment with my head held high as the chiming bells of Church Street ushered me into my latest adventure. You might just make it after all …  

so what now?

 

 Funny how things change, how nothing has gone according to plan, how the life you imagined for yourself is nothing like the one you’re living. It gets a little hard to believe you’re going places when the place you’re in, at 25, is back with your parents and you’ll go far when you’re back at the job you had before university. You can’t help but wince thinking of all the money and sanity it cost to obtain a degree and further yourself when you’re back at Square One.  

Make no mistake: I’m eternally grateful to my parents for welcoming me back in the nest while I figure stuff out and the coffee shop gig certainly isn’t dreadful and frankly, pays more than an industry internship or a freelance journalism career when you have less than 5 years of experience. And health and dental is nothing to sneeze at (pun intended). But what about all of those dreams that once seemed so attainable?  

I know I blog about this subject a lot — being an educated twentysomething and trying to make it in this economy — but right now it’s a little difficult to be romantic about a potential career when you keep hitting brick walls, and I’m beginning to wonder if my university degree is enough. Right now, my BA is doing little else than trailing behind my name in my e-mail signature and sitting in a folder on my bookshelf. Also, to be completely honest with you, the more jobs in journalism that I don’t get and the more self-aware I become, the more I’m starting to rethink the whole journalism thing in general …  

There. I said it.  

I just don’t think I have a journalist’s personality. I always knew I wanted to be a writer in some capacity and was led to believe a journalism job would put food on the table. Well, maybe if you’re successful at it … and have the personality for it (my friend, who’s a photojournalist for The Montreal Gazette, says the job is 80% personality). I think there’s a pretty good possibility that I’m too passive, borderline phone-phobic, non-competitive and laid-back for such a cut-throat position. And my “get-up-and-go” usually clocks out around 4 p.m., EST. Not ideal for a deadline-driven profession.  

Long story short, I’m looking into alternative careers (which may mean more education … sigh) and trying not to feel like a fool for not having everything sorted out already. Perhaps, over time, dreams change. Those of us without the Grown-Up Career and/or a spouse and children and the white picket fence could be failures by the standards of earlier generations … or we could simply be carving the best path we can in this economy and with our expendable university degrees.  

failure is always bigger in your own eyes ...

 

 So what do we do, us Millenials with lots of schooling and little to show for it but financial debt and dampened dreams? Those of us who were once promised adventure and gleaming futures but are now marooned on the island of uncertainty (and bad metaphors, apparently)? Some of us flit from thing to thing like dizzy butterflies, flaking off at the first sign of commitment, while others throw away their dreams with both resentment and nostalgia, like dusty childhood toys.  

So we continue to write soul-baring blogs, and let meaningful music become the soundtrack and backdrop of our lives. Like Zach Braff in Garden State, we measure our lives by good music and photographic moments, a cinematic romanticization of disappointment, ennui and despair as we look upward. We envy the flight of monarchs.

This is the sound of my indie heart breaking

garden-state-2

I love this movie. Is that such a crime? Is it? IS IT????

I have White Guilt.  Not just for all of the horrible things white people have done to other races in history, but because I see my white, middle-class, twentysomething “hipster” culture reflected back to me in ways that make me cringe.  I love Where the Wild Things Are, Moleskine notebooks, grammar, black people music that black people don’t listen to anymore, and have been an unpaid intern.  I have bangs, bad memories of high school, practice yoga, admire the work of Michel Gondry, and want to hold an 80s night party on my 25th birthday.  I feel guilty about it.  According to Stuff White People Like, Adbusters, and other self-aware pantheons of pop culture, I’m as white as it gets.  And I may or may not be shades of hipster.  This is still up for discussion.  

I do, however, love my indie music.  The more obscure, the better.   And I like to keep it to myself.  As soon as something becomes popular, it breaks my heart.  I know this is just another aspect of my unfailing whiteness, but this whole “counterculture going mainstream” thing really grinds my gears.  I want to be unique in a culture that parodies uniqueness as a popular trend.   

I will admit, somewhat begrudgingly, that I totally dug Garden State and the Zach Braff-selected soundtrack.  Imagine how distraught I felt when I stumbled upon this article in PopMatters with the beguiling title, “Bored New World: How the Zach Braff Prototype is Slowly Killing American Music.”

Chris Milam makes the point that American music these days lacks the grit and pain of earlier drama kings Sid Vicious, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain:

I saw something different in Nashville, and I saw it more and more: soft-spoken singer-songwriters mumbling timidly into their guitar as dozens and dozens of hipsters listened and nodded. These kids sang like they have nothing to prove, and something to lose, and crowds contentedly humored them.

A few years later, Natalie Portman popped headphones onto Zach Braff’s head and said flatly, “This song will change your life.” The resulting sound was not only that of carefully composed dullness (thank you, Shins), but of a million wealthy white kids investing in dull acoustic music to soundtrack their own romantic melodrama. Youth culture is now practically sponsored by iTunes and Starbucks, and if that’s not a class statement, I don’t know what is. Every commercial features acoustic meanderings with a whispering, confessional androgynous voice. Entire movies are soundtracked by the supposedly self-aware acoustic stylings of Joe Latte. Percussion and humor are nowhere to be found. Neither is a pulse. 

He has a point.  It hurts, like lemon juice in a cut, but he has a point.  I’m assuming that what he means is that these are without “teeth,” a term my boyfriend uses arbitrarily (Kid Rock, for example, has “teeth” in his opinion while Rush does not.  Whatever), and one I take to mean passion, life, and originality. If Milam is looking to indie/singer-songwriters as the basis of his critique, he should look no further than artists such as Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, My Brightest Diamond, and even Snow Patrol (yes, Mr. Milam, Snow Patrol), who display just enough “teeth” when necessary.  

I would also argue that there was a time and place for punk rock and grunge.  That time is over.  Thankfully.  In a world where there’s nothing new under the sun, where anarchy and glorified teen angst are passe, where are musicians to go but the messes and intricacies of our inner lives and relationship turmoil?  What if my generation just wants to sit back and relax because it has realized that protests and sit-ins accomplish nothing?  What if we’re just so damn tired of all the evils in the world that we want to escape from it in our music?  

Another passage that had me cringing:

Maybe the most troubling aspect of this entire phenomenon is not even the art itself, but instead its newly adopted audience (people who can’t relate to self-meditation, but want to). In our current climate, if you have access to a Facebook page, you have access to creating the World of You. Also available is the soundtrack to the World of You. And even if you have better things to do, or other things to worry about, or generally more fruitful endeavors to pursue, the newest escapist fashion requires that you lie in your bed, windows drawn, pop in your iPod, cue up Snow Patrol or the Navel Gazers, or the Weeping Gentlemen, or whoever, and “change your life” with Natalie Portman. Then everything’s smooth and dull and gravy. Why buy into your own life when you can buy into the natural privilege and self-entitlement of someone else’s? Where the American dream was once to actually become something from nothing, it’s now to imagine being something instead of nothing. Why make things better when you can just pretend they are?

There are parts of me that agree with you, Chris Milam, but you’re treading a little too closely to my life.  You’re deepening my white guilt and making me feel badly about the things I love.  

As my old pastor used to say, “If you can’t say amen, say ouch!”

hipster-trap

I love The Decemberists too. Dang it!

It might be a quarter-life crisis, or just the stirring in my soul

I have a tag, quarter life crisis, and I speak about mine often, so I thought I’d clarify what it is.  If you’re a twentysomething and don’t know what the hell you’re doing, chances are you’re having a second adolescence, with less rebellion and just as much angst. Christine Hassler, life coach, professional speaker, author, and Gen Y expert, breaks it down at The Huffington Post.

Here’s her quiz. If you answer “yes” to 12 or more of the 25 questions, you are having a quarter life crisis.  Let’s see how I fare with this quiz:

1.  Are you in a “funk” where you feel like nothing is terribly wrong, but nothing seems right either?

2.  Do you feel older for the first time in your life?  

3.  Are you unmotivated, directionless, or passionless?

4.  Are you concerned that you don’t know what you want to do with your life?

5.  Do you feel pressure to grow up and get your adult life in order?

6.  Do you feel entitled to a life much grander than the one you are living?

7.  Do you often feel depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, lost, and maybe even a little hopeless?

8.  Do you feel a lot of pressure and expectations to do, have or be something?

9.  Do you feel that time is running out in regards to figuring out your career and deciding whether you want to get married and/or have children?

10.  Are you stressed out by choices that seemingly will affect the rest of your life?

11.  Are you experiencing confusion or disappointment in your career?

12.  Do you feel that you have failed because you don’t know what you want to do with your life?

13.  Do you know what you want to do, but can’t seem to make it work?

14.  Is it difficult for you to make decisions and when you do, you question them?

15.  Do you overanalyze yourself?

16.  Do you ever feel guilty for complaining about your life or feel like you are disappointing people (especially your parents)?

17.  Are you embarrassed that you have not figured out more?

18.  Is a breakup, romantic relationship, or lack of one causing you stress and/or sadness?

19.  Are you still living at home with mom and dad?

20.  Do you frequently compare yourself to other people your age and feel like you don’t measure up?

21.  Do you feel financially unstable?

22.  Could your self-esteem use an upgrade?

23.  Are you thinking about going back to grad school because you don’t know what else to do with your life?

24.  Are you constantly thinking about the future resulting in anxiety and possibly panic?

25.  Is your life just not at all turning out like you planned?

My results: 15/25.  

Read Hassler’s opinions on how to sift through your quarter life crisis.

The Winter of our Discontent

 

Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent ...

Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent ...

You’d think that being a Millennial, I’d have little to identify with in Reality Bites, a 1994 movie about some Texan archetypes of Generation X. True, in 1994 I was 9, so the wry references to MTV-like “reality shows,” Marky Mark, and the old Melrose Place were a little outdated. As were the scenes of people actually smoking indoors, which I only vaguely remember. At the same time, the witty dialogue and situations of the four main characters lent themselves to an honest, humourous portrait of the awkward life stage that is the twentysomethings.

Hollywood seems to be less enamoured with twentysomethings and life after university/college (with the exception of god-awful sorority/fraternity house flicks) than they are with teens and high school, even though the twentysomethings can be an equally confusing, exhilarating, angst-filled time. And they usually get it wrong. In high school movies, cliches, weak dialogue, gratuitous skeeziness and sugarcoating usually abound. Except for The Breakfast Club, which, despite the extreme polarities of the five central characters, was astonishingly raw for 1985 (my birth year!) and set a precedent for teen films to follow.

 

Don't you ... forget about me

Don't you ... forget about me

But I digress. To my knowledge, there have been few films that have captured the delicate transition from being a sheltered student brimming with bravado to the uneasiness of entering adulthood and the working world.  And the fact that reality does in fact often bite.

All that said, Reality Bites left me feeling somewhat conflicted, even though I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I appreciated Lelaina (Winona Ryder)’s struggle to find a job in her field, the frustration of being overqualified for some jobs and too inexperienced for others, the tenacious refusal to sell her soul at The GAP. I was nodding my head emphatically during her heart-to-heart with a psychic over the phone, whom she tells, “I’m 23, and some of my friends from high school are married and have kids already … I can’t even take care of a Chia pet!”  I loved the sarcastic, philosophical musings of musician/dreamer/bum Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke), such as this gem: There’s no point to any of this. It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know … a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter becomes a cackle … and I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights and I ride my own melt.  And all of the characters felt like people I have known, or fragments or people I have known, that tight pack of friends that feel like family.

I feel like my Millennial sensibility showed up, however, with the film’s conclusion. Throughout the whole movie, you’re presented with a love triangle between Lelaina, her slacker best friend Troy, and the sweet, successful yuppie she meets as the result of an accident, Michael Grates (Ben Stiller, who also directed the film).  The whole time, I wanted her Lelaina to end up with Michael, even though he took her homemade documentary to his MTV-like station where they completely butchered it (but that was beyond his control!) Instead, she ends up with the messed up, pretentiously unsuccessful, sloppy, commitment-phobe Troy with long, greasy mid-90s hair. The one whom she tells at one point, “Try at something for once in your life! Do something about it, but you know what? You better do it now, and you better do it soon, because the world doesn’t owe you any favours!”

The conclusion left me unsatisfied, and I feel as though my reaction is a indicative of my generation, or where I stand on the adolescent–adult spectrum. Sure, the intelligent slacker musician who can’t hold the simplest of jobs may be appealing in a romantic, Jack Kerouac, 60s flashback kind of way. But you can’t live on love and cigarettes, pithy sentences and 7-11 alone.  Eventually the money has to be made, the bills paid, and you have to grow up.  

When reality bites, it leaves teeth marks.