In exactly one month and twelve days I will turn twenty-five. I know that, realistically, there will be no perceptible change when I officially enter the second half of my twenties. No dramatic shift that happens when the clock strikes midnight. Still, the age seems significant, somehow, and – if I am being honest – daunting. Turning twenty-five means a few things: being able to rent a car; losing the option to be on a parent’s insurance; even (finally!) reaching full brain maturity.
It also means that I need to figure out what the heck I am doing with my life. See, when I was a ripe, young, teenager, I maintained the exciting belief that I could do anything with my life, open any door available to me. As I am getting older, however, I am beginning to see those doors slowly closing around me, and I fear that I need to choose one quickly before I am locked out altogether.
When I was twenty-two I started a blog on which I profiled successful women who had built passionate, inspired careers in order to understand their paths to career satisfaction. I interviewed a woman who worked at Disney World while simultaneously pursuing a PhD in dolphin cognition, a woman who left a corporate job to build a business as a full-time yoga instructor and running coach, a woman who had been published over twenty-five times in scientific journals and worked to improve health for immigrant populations, and even a woman who worked for the Peace Corps in Togo building a library.
In the process, I learned that each of them had clear visions of what they wanted to achieve, and still found time to honor interests outside of career like dancing, building a family, and continuing education. At the time, this exploration was exactly what I needed to feel empowered and inspired, myself. It was liberating to know that there were options. That one day, I too might find a path to success and peace.
Now, three years later, I have completed a Master’s degree in epidemiology and work full-time in project management for a healthcare company. Most days I love my job. I love the thrill of actually helping to improve patients’ lives, the creativity needed to design new projects, the palpable sense of passion and commitment I see in the providers I work with. Then there are other, less frequent days when I am riddled with doubt.
On those days, I fear that if I allow myself to truly, one-hundred-percent commit to my current career that means I will have to officially let go of my other dreams. The secret dreams that I keep quietly hidden in the deepest corners of my heart. Over the years, those dreams have included being a professional writer, moving to Paris or New York City, or even working for a healthcare NGO in Haiti. Like ships, those dreams are beginning to sail away, and I am left watching, my feet buried in the sand, wondering if I should chase one down before it completely disappears.
Possibly (OK, entirely) as consequence of the pressure I felt around turning twenty-five, this past month I gave myself permission to explore one of my longest harbored dreams: to become a writer. If you really want to be a writer, I told myself, then you have to produce. Simply keeping a journal and writing sporadically when the desire strikes is no longer going to cut it.
So, I made a plan to dedicate at least an hour each day to writing, and to my surprise, the words spilled out of me. It was as if the words I in my head had been waiting there for me to write them, like water pressed against a floodgate, releasing in a deluge. Those weeks spent writing were cathartic. Each day after I wrote, I felt lighter, freer, and more connected to my creative mind. The words I wrote helped me to process my thoughts, find meaning in my experiences. But writing quickly became a burden when it started to interfere with other areas my life like my job, my friends, rock climbing, and even just simply watching Netflix or scrolling through Pinterest.
While lying awake one night, unable to sleep from being overwhelmed by my busy schedule, I had a relaxing thought: I do not need to write every day. It is OK, I thought, for writing to a passion; something that I do as self-care, like lighting a scented candle and pouring myself a glass of wine after a really long day. Although a weight was lifted from my shoulders, I was forced to come back to my original question: would I be OK letting go of this dream?
The thing is, I am beginning to see the seeds of my unlived lives growing into trees around me. I have not published a book, I do not live in Paris or New York City, and I am not working in Haiti, and frankly, I am not on the track to be doing any of those things any time soon. But, I have chosen one seed, and each day I continue to water it, and slowly, slowly, I am watching it grow.
If I think about the things in my life that I am the most grateful for right now, all of them were the result of my own intention: I have an awesome, creative boss who constantly encourages me to grow and achieve professionally; I live near my loving, goofy family who provide support when life gets too hard; I am surrounded by smart, hilarious and inspiring friends who continuously fill my life with light and joy; and I even have some free time to rock climb, read good books, and spend all my cash seeing stand-up comedians. Frankly, it’s a pretty fantastic little life I have been working to build, and I am proud of how it has grown so far.
Still, there is that voice in my mind, a mere whisper at night, wondering if I will look back and regret not watering the other seeds, wondering if I chased the right dreams. Or maybe, one day, those other dreams will reemerge in unexpected ways. Maybe, I will end up writing, or traveling or even working for the World Health Organization further down the road. Or maybe I will not, and that will be OK.
I do not know where my life will continue to grow in this next phase, but I am starting to feel confident about a few things. I know that in a month and twelve days when I turn twenty-five, I want to be surrounded by my family and friends. I know that I want to spend the day laughing, eating delicious foods, and drinking craft beer. I know that I want to appreciate the unique little life I have been building each and every day. And maybe, for now, that really is all I need to know.