I may have mentioned once that my childhood fantasies – and we’re talking way back here – involved me, traveling all the way to Manhattan to buy bed linen. As I stopped toddling and more firmly walking and more frequently than walking, dancing, my idea of adulthood and my anxiousness to get here still had a lot to do with the ability to do whatever the hell I wanted.
I didn’t have it hard growing up by any means. I’m not sure what I was in such a rush to get away from. My parents weren’t sticklers for curfew, as long as they knew where I was and approximately when I’d be returning home. I had very few chores to help with around the house and forgetting to do them never resulted in anything more than a little bit of yelling and probably more eye-rolling than I should’ve ever been allowed. The only real hard and fast rule I can think of is that I wasn’t allowed boys who weren’t family upstairs and honestly, that probably helped me more than hindered. But still, I longed to be a grownup so I could do whatever I wanted.
Now – here I am: 23 and shakily standing in some pretty grownup shoes. I still live at home, rent free, but I’m employed full time and get paid vacation time and I pay bills and have my health insurance and stuff. I anticipate some pretty exciting car payments starting in the next few months! I’m barely a grownup and I certainly don’t feel like one next to my friends who are sporting engagement rings and saying things like “We sat down with our realtor today…”, but by societal standards, I totally am. It’s all a lot less exciting than I ever imagined, though. I can’t do things like stay out all night and eat cheese fries for lunch every day. And this is what I’ve found to be key: it’s because those things have consequences and being a grownup means sometimes [usually] doing things you don’t want to even though you totally have the freedom to not do them.
Let’s face it, if I never went to the gym and slept in instead of going to work every day, I’d probably be the happiest camper around for the short term. I love eating and sleeping more than I love most things except my pets. But I also like buying things and traveling and those things require money. I’ve grown the ability to see the forest from the trees, I guess.
I started down the road to this realization in college. At some point, I was running around kicking and screaming that Hofstra was making me take Japanese Politics in my second to final semester to complete my degree in Film Studies. (Wtf, right?) I looked for every loophole. This was because I was failing that class. At first, registering for it was only a minor annoyance. When I realized it was going to take actual work I was angry and then when I couldn’t get higher than a ‘C’ on an assignment, I was furious. I didn’t get C’s. This class was dragging down my GPA and stressing me out to no end. I couldn’t understand (and still don’t, totally) Hofstra’s requirement for me to take a “cross cultural” class when I had every intention of studying abroad the following summer. “I’m already registered to go to Ireland” I pleaded with my advisor. “Why does it have to be an African or Asian culture? This is absurd.” I cried.
I still had to take it. Just like every other undergrad.
And that was the first time in my life I ever had to suck it up and do it for the greater good when I was truly, truly miserable. Were three credits going to stand between me and three-and-a-half years of hard work? Which would ultimately prevent me from graduating and potentially being employed? No. I had to pick my battles. So I did. And I got a C. And It was horrible. But I graduated. And now I have a job.
Now, I do things I’d prefer to not do every day. The little things don’t really count – you know, the basic human things like waking up and dragging myself to the gym and eventually inside the gym and onto the treadmill. But I also do other things like go to birthday parties I don’t want to go to and not drink all of the beers when I know I have work in the morning. Striking a good balance between absolute freedom and obligation is super cool.
Can I go out on a Wednesday? Sure
Should I stay out past 2AM? Absolutely not.
Which would I prefer? All of the beer!
Do I want to go to so-and-so’s second cousin’s boyfriend’s birthday party? No. It’s snowing.
Will I go? I’ll make an appearance.
Why? Because so-and-so is my good friend and putting in effort in your relationships and friendships matters in the long run.
The easy thing and the right thing aren’t always the same thing, my friend. [To paraphrase the great Albus Dumbledore].
The coolest thing, though, is that lurking in the background at all times is the idea that if I wanted to pick it all up and go, I could. I really and honestly could do anything I want. It’s totally up to me to weigh the consequences versus the risk and at this point, at 23 with a steady income, the risk will never be lower. There are days when I find myself googling apartments and jobs in Tennessee and Florida, just because I can go if I want to. Sometimes I eat cookies for breakfast and sometimes I sleep right through kickboxing or call out of work because it’s literally 6 degrees out. I will never be freer than I am today to do literally whatever I want with my life. And I love that.
This sounds all like common sense, you say? You’d think that to be true. I certainly did. Until I realized I knew a person who truly, truly only did exactly what he wanted as long as it wasn’t too scary or hard. And at first, I was really envious of it. I wish I gave so few shits about things that everyone else gives lots of shits about. Except I really, really care about things. A lot. So I could never be that cool. But I wish I could be.
But, then I took a step back. If you’re not challenging yourself and taking yourself out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself for a greater good, then what’s the point and where do you stand to go from here? Apathy appears to be cool, but it’s not. It’s lazy and ugly. Do I really grow as a human every time I drag myself to a friend’s stupid birthday outing? No. But it does matter to me to keep that friend around. If you can let just a little bit of work get between you and your dream/future and be unwilling to make even the smallest sacrifices or take small risks for other people or even for the long term benefit of yourself, honestly, what are you doing? What’s the point?
So, I’m only 23 and my parents still pay a big part of my way in life and I’m endlessly thankful for them allowing me some time to get my feet wet, but today I sat back and thought about my unfettered ability to make a decision for my own good. And that’s when I realized that maybe I’m not just playing grownup anymore. Maybe I’ve arrived. (Or at the very least I’ve RSVP’d yes.)