I don’t want to hand down another edict, suggestion or listicle of what it means to be a 20-something, a 30-something or a teenager in our modern world. I do want to make an observation.
It means whatever you want it to mean.
Because the constraints we place on ourselves, that the world places on us, that reading lists of what we’re supposed to have learned, what we’ll discover, what we are, is limiting the astounding potential we all have to be whatever we are.
When I was a kid, my parents told me I could be whatever I dreamed. I dreamed of being a ballerina, a writer and an astronaut. When I was 8, I took a ballet class. There were three of us and an impossibly graceful dancer who placed a stapler on the floor and asked us to jette over it, then a bell, then a ball. The items got bigger and bigger, and my confidence shrank accordingly. My butt stuck out when I plied and I couldn’t get my pigeon toes to point as far outward as she liked.
I still have my tutu, the sparkly satin and lace leotard that my mom sewed beads onto late into the night before my first and last recital, but I gave up being a ballerina somewhere around the time she replaced that ball with a chair.
Math and science stymied me from arithmetic through trigonometry, and astronauts have to climb much higher than the fourth rung of the ladder, the furthest I can make without my stomach churning me back down. If I can’t figure out the formula for a corner shelf, I sure can’t propel a rocket into the sky, although the awe in my chest when I see those jets ignite hasn’t expired with my aspiration.
When I was choosing a college, my parents changed their tune. Writers don’t make money, they said. There’s no paycheck in poetry. Better choose mercenary, better choose a career. So I did that. I did that, and more. I found my own way to make a living in the way that makes my heart beat, and I’ve learned something, so far.
My path isn’t yours. I can’t tell you what you should have learned in your 20s, because I’m still learning. I can’t tell you what I wished I knew in college, because we didn’t have the same journey, and we won’t. We can’t.
We are all individual rockets, blazing our own fiery beacons through the sky. To write lists of falsified, generic wisdom is to cut off a jet as we pass a milestone we never knew was there, and weren’t aiming for anyway.
So 20-somethings, teenagers, 30-somethings and beyond, I don’t have any advice for you. I don’t have any for myself, because I don’t think we need it. What we need is to walk with our eyes open, our hearts open and our ambition aimed at the sky,
Because when I gaze up at those stars, I see sequins on my leotard, the sparkly pencil I used to write my first college essay, the twinkling potential that reminds me we’re all so small, all so powerful beyond measure. Do you, my fellow travelers. Whatever that means in your head.