I have absolutely no idea what I am doing with my life.
And I am absolutely terrified.
I still live at home with my parents in the suburbs. I am not in love. I am not dating. My car broke down last year, and I still can’t afford to replace it. I have lost most of my income, and my industry has yet to recover. I just got rejected by grad school for the one thing I actually thought I was good at. I am almost 29 years old, and I feel more lost now than when I was 18 and trying to find myself. I feel more lost now than I think I ever have.
I used to tell myself that if I hadn’t “made it” by 25, I had to give up on my dreams and just move on. Twenty-five seems like such a faraway time. I could not tell you where the last four years of my life went. I have gained so much and lost far more than I ever anticipated.
One of my kindergarten teachers told my parents that I was going to be a failure because I used to cry so much. I have always been more emotional than most people around me could handle. I have always been complex. The different one. The one that makes you stop and pause and just wonder, “Why?” I have carried that teacher’s statement with me for my entire life. Every time I lose my way and things do not go as planned, I cannot help but hear her voice echoing in the back of my mind.
It is so difficult not to view yourself as a failure when someone already decided so young that it was your destiny. Someone looked at a sad, scared child and decided that she would never amount to anything. Someone destroyed my dreams before I ever had a chance to know them. Maybe this is the reason why I have never been able to find my footing. I have always drifted aimlessly between paths, constantly unsure of what it is that I really want to be doing with my life. I often wonder if anyone out there is ever actually sure or if some of us are just better at faking it than others. I wonder if some of us just choose something for the sake of choosing, even when their heart is screaming in protest. Does that make life any easier? To plant your feet firmly on one path, putting one foot in front of the other, until you finally learn how to walk on your own without ever looking back?
Or do they still feel a pull at their heartstrings when they catch a glimpse of how things could have been for them if they had chosen differently? Do they look at those of us wandering through this life and think, “They are the lucky ones”?
I have always been stuck between wanting to stay true to myself and wanting to make something of myself. I am too afraid to settle, but I am also terrified of being stagnant. I want to learn new skills, but I am so afraid of failing at them that I rarely give myself the chance to try. I have so many interests, but so little drive to pursue any of them. I have never thought of myself as particularly smart or talented, so why would I ever allow myself to explore something new? What good would it do anyway?
I have always felt like I know a little bit about a lot of things, but that I am lacking an immense amount of knowledge on one subject alone. I am not an expert in anything. I have so many interests, but sometimes, I feel like all I have succeeded in doing is spreading myself too thin. It is almost like by trying to stay so true to myself, I have made it impossible for myself to truly succeed. I find myself living in an in-between world made out of fear and indecisiveness, and I am not sure if I will ever have the courage to truly move on.
When I used to picture what my life would look like in my late twenties, this was not it. I used to think that once I graduated college, I would find a great job, and then slowly everything would begin falling into place. I was supposed to be married by now to my college boyfriend; I was never supposed to be alone for this long. I should have found success by now; I never thought my industry would be gone. I was so sure that I had finally put myself on the path that I was supposed to be on. I made a choice. I went to college and pursued that choice. I did my internships; I paid my dues. And yet, here I am. Just as lost as the day I started this journey.
I did everything according to plan. I did well in school so I could get into a good college. I did well in college so that I could get a good job. I fell in love so that I could get married. I worked more than I slept so that I could finally be successful. And still, I have failed.
I have lost almost everything that I have ever worked for in my life, despite always doing things the “right” way. And even when I did have everything, I still wasn’t happy. All I have ever wanted for myself was to be happy. But I have also been reminded that happiness is not a goal we are supposed to strive for in this world. Happiness is not a tangible thing that you can brag about over drinks. Happiness can’t buy you a fancy car or a mansion. Happiness won’t get you any clout. We live in a world where it is better to be miserable and “successful” than happy and just trying to find your way. We live in a world where emotions are treated as a sign of weakness. Where we chastise a child for shedding a tear and praise them for being stone-cold and “brave.”
Why do we do this to ourselves?
We don’t have to live this way. The only reason we have any of these rules about how we are supposed to live our lives is because we created them. One day, someone came up with the equation for a perfect life, and now we all spend our lives desperately trying to fit ourselves into it. We chip away at the things that make us unique, beautiful individuals in favor of comfort and the illusion of success. We spend our lives striving for dreams many of us do not even want for ourselves because that is what we are told to do. And if we don’t hit those milestones or check off all of those boxes? We are failures. If we deviate from society’s prescribed path to success, we have failed. If we dare to dream bigger than the tiny boxes we are given to live in, we are desperately pushed back in. Some of us make it out, but not all of us do. My almost 29 years on this earth have taught me that in the world we have built for ourselves, not all of us are allowed to have dreams.
We have to do better than this. This is not the world anyone deserves to grow up in or grow old in. We are all so vastly different, and it is time that we start celebrating that fact. Not all of us will get married or be CEOs because not all of us want to live that life. Just because your life is different than you were taught it should be or than you thought it would turn out does not mean that you have failed. We do not always have control over the things that come our way, so you cannot hold yourself solely responsible for every single thing that does not work out the way you hoped it would.
Some days, life will go according to plan. And other days, life will light your plan on fire and laugh at you while it burns. You are no less successful on your bad days than you are on your good ones. What we have been taught to see as failures are really just opportunities to try again. To do better next time.
I hope you start giving yourself the chance to do better next time rather than just giving up.
I hope the next little kid who isn’t afraid to show their emotions is encouraged to keep feeling them.
I hope no one ever tells you that you are a failure, because I know that you are doing the best that you can. And even when you aren’t doing your best, you are still here, and that is just as remarkable.
To anyone else who feels like they have fallen behind in life, you are not alone. Think back to the first time you ever doubted yourself. Now imagine that moment happening to someone else. Would you tell them that they have failed? Would you call them stupid or berate them for trying so hard to keep up in a world that is doing everything it can just to keep them down? Chances are that you would not. So please, do not say those things to yourself either.
Let them call you a failure. Let them think what they want. Because at the end of the day, your life is about you and your needs. Your desires. Your life is about you, so start showing up for yourself. Even if no one else does.
I may have absolutely no idea what I am doing with my life, but I am trying. And I promise you that is all that matters.