Hey, All You 20-Somethings: Breathe


Three months ago, I quit my job, put most of my clothes and books and sentimental knick-knacks in storage. My friends and I gave up the lease on the house that we shared, on the island in the Pacific Northwest where I was raised and where I have lived on and off since I graduated from college. I packed my car, renewed my tags, forgot my spare tire. I had some people to see and not a whole lot, specifically, to do.

If you are a 20-something reading of this offshoot, you may be jealous. You may be derisive. You are almost certainly, whether in the depths or at the surface of your subconscious, weighing your choices against mine. The myriad possibilities of adulthood, which are beginning to take shockingly real form in the lives of our peers, sometimes threaten to squash us unless we carry a big stick of self-righteousness, clumsily whittled of the doubt that comes with being this age.

When we encounter people around our own age who appear more contentedly creative or professional or in love than we are, the doubt is like an passing "Ahem." It's light enough to carry in a briefcase. We confront it in the pages of our empty notebooks. In moments of sleepless worry we wrest the blanket away from it, feel it in the heat of our own faces. This is the doubt that drips steadily from the computer screen as we scan Facebook and watch what our contemporaries are up to -- or watch what our contemporaries want us to believe they are up to, online lives carefully curated to impress.

There were friends who admired me for embarking on my romantic journey, and I could tell there were those who pitied me for the lack of impressive anchors -- career job, significant other, rent-controlled dream apartment -- that might have kept me in place. Nonetheless, in need of a change, I went. My journey started in Seattle, stretched down to California, ran amongst redwoods, popped up to Portland, zinged east, hit Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

It wasn't always easy, wasn't always fun.

Sometimes it was wonderful.

Sometimes my car overheated, and midway to Yosemite the radiator cracked.

I found one flake of a gold while panning, about one third the size of a peppercorn.

I dropped my phone in a gas station toilet.

I watched the sun set over San Francisco.

I developed a certain smell.

I observed a diamond-and-emerald necklace in a head-sized window on 5th Avenue.

I burned my friend's mother's chopsticks on the stove by mistake.

I picked a sad song on a jukebox in a bar and killed the merry mood and got glanced coolly at.

I slept in my car. I slept in my tent. I slept on an air mattress.

I bought shoes that were too small for me.

I kicked a habit.

I saw wild dolphins out beyond the surfers just before the wind picked up.

With helpless trepidation I watched the bank account I'd built up during the period when I'd had two jobs take a couple bounces on the diving board and cannonball towards zero.

Like anyone my age I often wondered what on earth I thought I was doing. Yet the friends on whose couches I slept, who intercepted me on either end of a sweaty, air conditionless, traffic-logged lonely drive, expressed an admiring wonder at my choices (freedom, unemployment, picking up hitchhikers) and serious, brain-wearying worry about theirs.

Doctors-in-training, commune-dwelling vegans, fashion-industry-insiders, startup whizzes, tree-loving landscapers and corner-office-occupiers all had the same confession to make: they were not entirely sure that the life they were living was the life they wanted to live, and they were pretty sure that truly cool people their age didn't have this problem. This admission caused them deep shame. I was standing right in front of them -- unemployed, underwashed, confused and steering dreamily towards broke, and they were thinking "What if I had done that, instead of what I'm doing?"

And of course, I looked back at them thinking the same thing.

Everyone is worried about their choices. Those in cities worry if they'll ever get out to the country, and those in the woods think they might be missing the opportunities of city life. Young professionals are terrified they've forever bid farewell to fun and freedom, and those with throw-away jobs are down about not making as much money as they could be and not appearing accomplished enough. Some who are dedicated to school want more room in their lives for other things, those with roomy lives desire that space to be filled. Single people want relationships, settled people wonder if they're missing out on something, traveling types miss stability, stable ones are restless, old friends want new friends, new friends miss old friends, and basically almost everyone my age has some dangling worry trailing around after them everywhere that they're somehow not doing everything, that what they're doing is not altogether the right thing, that they are missing out.

A million lessons can be taken from this. All I want to say is, don't for a second convince yourself that you are the only who knows this doubt. Do not be ashamed. The doubt is natural, and everyone you know -- yes, even that person -- carries it sometimes too. Allow yourself to be peaceful. Allow yourself satisfaction in what you have. If you really don't like it, allow yourself permission to make changes.

All y'all are beautiful. Unclench those butts.