Getting old is weird.
I thought the cliche that “time flies” was reserved only for people around my parents’ age, but now I’m saying it as often as them.
Looking back 6, 5, 4, 3, or 2 years ago, I don’t know if I would recognize myself. Hell, I could say the same about 6 months ago. Simultaneously, I’m the same, yet different.
I could not have imagined where I was heading, what I’d be doing, or how it all would fit together. Unlike others who knew exactly what they wanted, I drifted between possibilities that never felt like the right fit. I jumped in and out of law school, economics, teaching, psychology, and anywhere in between.
Then, I couldn’t pinpoint my identity—only what I wasn’t. Now, I have a clearer grasp on the things that used to bother me: career path, family, acceptance, and myself. I figured this much out only because of two things. First, I learned to listen to my inner thoughts and ask why. This includes what bothers me equally as much as what I want.
To what bothered me, I learned to listen not to the fear itself but the root of that fear. For example, I used to think that I was wasting time because I didn’t have a career that I was working toward. How then could I make enough money to have financial freedom? Would I ever be happy working at a place that I didn’t find fulfilling? What would my kids think? (I don’t even have kids for the record.) One fear leads to another. It’s easy for these thoughts to continue endlessly, and the way to combat them is to ask why:
Desires deserve as much scrutiny. Over the years, I’ve had a list of unchangeable wants that defined me. These have also changed. (Spoiler.)
Through questioning my desire to be an artist, I found that I wanted to impact and help others. This freed me to see that I can achieve this in more ways than being an artist. I can do this as a friend, supervisor, colleague, acquaintance—really in any role.
You know that kid that never stops asking why? This process of interrogating your worries and wants thrives when you have that attitude. The answers won’t be revealed from the first why alone. Keep asking until you get to the root of it. Often, it will force you into an uncomfortable space. And that’s okay. In fact, the only change that will come is because of entering into that uncomfortable space.
If listening to one’s inner thoughts is the first step to gain clarity, then the second is acting on those thoughts. Sometimes, there’s something that can be done (“I’ll listen to my partner better in the future”). Other times, one can only accept the situation as it is (“I didn’t get the job that I wanted”). In either case, each individual has control over how he or she responds.
Believe me, I rarely like that in the moment. Usually, I just wish that the situation would change by itself. And even though I know that I’m better off choosing to accept the situation, I still want to yell and scream when someone else is given credit for the work that I’ve done. Nonetheless, remembering that I can choose what is an appropriate amount of focus to give to any thought is liberating. I can then choose to redirect my focus to something more productive and meaningful.
I don’t know where life is going still. I have one corner of the puzzle figured out with many pieces waiting. Some still need to be found. And that’s okay. To be fair, I’m still in my mid-twenties. Laugh if you want—I bet I’ll laugh at this in 5 years. Nevertheless, I don’t worry like I used to. Not because life will work itself out, but because I am aware.