What Do You Want?

There’s something that they don’t tell you about when you graduate from college.

Actually, there’s a lot of things that they don’t tell you, including the 95% chance that the first year after college will suck no matter what you’re doing with it. But recently I’ve been noticing something about the people around me. Unfortunately, I think it’s something we can’t escape, and something that will happen again and again in our lives.

My friends and I are in our mid-twenties now. We’ve found apartments, moved to new cities or towns or countries, figured out how to hold down jobs or at least how to keep from starving. We’ve dated, or haven’t dated, or are looking to date. The crazy feeling that the world is unstable, that you’re just grasping on to any surface that seems like it will stay put, has faded. We’re building lives, and we’re surviving the economic conditions into which we graduated. Go us, right?

The thing is, because of the situation into which we were loosed upon the world, a lot of the jobs we have and living situations we’re in were born out of necessity. And we’re grateful to have them, but with relative comfort comes growing doubt.

I have smart, driven, passionate friends. They don’t want to just get by with a job that pays the bills, come home, drink beer, watch TV, sleep, and then start all over again. They want to pursue the arts or develop their skills or start businesses. And it seems like 25 or so is the time when we’re starting to worry that we’re losing time, or more insidious, losing momentum.

We’re just young enough that it still feels kind of silly to worry about “the rest of our lives,” but we’re getting old enough to feel like adults and start to think about building a foundation for those lives. Long relationships that were heretofore about enjoying a person’s company at the time have to undergo scrutiny in order to determine whether or not they’ll be satisfying in the long run. The question of whether to go for a promotion at work or to apply for something new, closer to what you thought you wanted, is facing us. Then there’s the option of graduate school, the specter of debt, even hints of the ol’ biological clock ticking.

Also, and maybe this is just around me, but I’m hearing a lot more of this from the women in my life than from the men. Not to overgeneralize–the three guys who founded Underscore with me have all recently either changed jobs or decided to look for new jobs. I wonder if this could be the genesis of the conflict we see over and over again in sitcoms and other fiction between women and men, the one about the “need for commitment” (not just relationship-wise, but to a stability of lifestyle).

I’m really not sure how I feel about all of this. My first reaction to seeing more and more people getting engaged and married and having babies is a healthy, “Not me!” But at the same time, I’m starting to think about what those things mean, and to think about my future with or without them. I want to have the opportunities necessary to change my life completely if I decide to, and yet I also find real comfort in stability–in being able to plan for a year, three years, ten years from now.

Do I want to get an MFA? What in? Should I focus on acting again, or get more and more into arts administration, or write prose fiction or plays? Do I have to choose? I don’t know. And that’s what a lot of my friends are facing now. We know we want something, but we’re still trying to figure out exactly what that is, and we can’t approach it until we do. In the meantime, we get the joys of cognitive dissonance, and the frustration of low-level existential dissatisfaction, which, let me tell you, can make you feel very guilty when you remind yourself that you have every advantage and that you’re doing better than 90% of the world.

That doesn’t make it any less of a real or valid thing to feel. So for now, I guess we’ll keep on keeping on, and keep trying to figure out what it is we want for the rest of our lives. I hope, too, that we remember to take the time to enjoy the chances and freedoms we still have.

It’s weird, not having a road map. It’s terrifying sometimes. But sometimes it’s really, terribly exciting to be on the road with the people you care about, at the start of your own story.

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