Friday, June 04, 2010


Ten years out of high school. I won't say that time has flown by and it doesn't seem like that long ago, because it seems like ages ago. On my 28th birthday I dressed up in a jean skirt and what I thought was a cute purple top and looked at myself in the mirror. I no longer weigh 100 lbs. like I did when I was 18 but I deemed myself not fat. My face is not wrinkled but some of the freshness of youth had worn off compared to my high school graduation picture, which sat helpfully on the dresser near the mirror I was looking into. I would say I look "more mature" rather than "older," ha ha.

As I looked at the photo I remembered the deer-in-the-headlights feeling surrounding my high school graduation. Theoretically it's a day I should have been preparing for my entire young life, but I wasn't ready for it. It never really occurred to me that I would be free at age 18, and as a legal adult I could have done whatever I wanted. Blown off college. Gotten a job at a convenience store. Gone traveling around the world for a year. Maybe it is part of the public school process and/or societal attitudes, that somehow I both hated what I saw as the assembly line of life where everyone knows college follows high school but still went along with it. It has taken me a very long time to grasp what it means to be an adult. I think some people realize this much earlier, before they finish high school, even, but for me it was a much longer and more painful process.

Just over a year after my 18th birthday I would go through the classic 19-year-old crash and burn. This was the second-worst experience of my life, next to my parents' divorce. There's no picture of this, but in a lot of ways it was just as important of a milestone as a graduation. Looking back I can recognize this as fundamentally an identity crisis. I had never really gotten to the bottom of the questions, Who am I and what am I planning to do with my life? At the end of the crisis I still didn't know.

Perhaps inevitably, at age 23, I would crash and burn all over again. I had gone to computer science grad school mainly because I didn't want to get a real job in that field (I wouldn't admit this to myself at the time but it was true just the same). After two years of grad school I was (predictably) miserable, facing a dark abyss where my future should have been. Uggghhh, 23-year-old self, what were you thinking? This time I broke out the self-help books and tried to answer some questions I had never bothered to answer.

I want X. I am doing Y to get X. I passed my calculus classes in college, I studied logic and algorithms in grad school, but somehow I failed to grasp that fundamental concept. Five years, another round of grad school and three jobs later, I won't claim to have the identity issues resolved but I haven't had another "who am I" meltdown and doubt I ever will again. It's the blessing of being 28, not ever having to relive that particular feeling of lost-ness. I'm so much more willing now to rip up the four-year degree plan, cancel those classes and get my money back, call about the trip I've always wanted to take, and take time off if I need to, if it's what I need to be happy. No, I would not want to be myself at 18, 19, or 23 again, even if it meant rolling back the pounds and erasing a few blemishes from my face. Geez, I was dumb back then. The innocence of youth is more like the stupidity of youth.

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