There’s no guide book for the big stuff, and it’s a pain in the ass.

Nothing happens until you decide. Make a decision and watch your life move forward. — Oprah

I will be among the first to say that I am extremely lucky to be where I am right now. I am a recent college graduate who is taking a gap year. There are not many people who have the luxury to do so. However, I am among many my age (and any age, really) who have no idea what they are doing. I have many existential conversations with my family about who I am, what I’m doing, and where my life is headed. It was on my 21st birthday that I came to the following conclusion while talking to my father about adulthood:

Nobody ever actually grows up. We’re all pretending that we’re adults while the child inside us wonders how the hell we got here and who thought it was a good idea to give us this much responsibility.

So what does this mean? It means that we’re all a little bit lost, and it’s okay. There are many people who seem to know which way they are going, and that, to me, is absolutely amazing. There are twenty-somethings around the world that have put their genius ideas into action and have created names and spaces for themselves. I will be the first hopeful to say that even they have issues with their identity, their purpose, and their goals sometimes.

I am so incredibly baffled by the overly confident twelve year olds I see on the street who seem to have their whole life figured out. I know that I was like that at one point as well, and my question is this: when and why did that change? I think one of the biggest things that changed was that I was let out into the open waters of life.

From the time one is born until about the time they are 18 (give or take a few years for extenuating circumstances), a person’s life is essentially figured out for them. Until they can properly walk, talk, eat, poop, and sleep on their own, they are handled by whatever parental figure they have. After that (let’s say 5–6 years old and on) they are in the school system. This means that every week day, they have a set schedule. They know when they are going to wake up, where they are going to be, what they are going to do, and what’s going to happen if they don’t do any of the aforementioned things. It’s around the time of college, or post high school years, that a person first hits their first melt down. Or at least, that’s what happened to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have grown to have a very positive and loving relationship with my meltdowns, they are my catharsis at the end of a long stressful period and the reset button that creates a fresh start.

I had everything figured out until college; I knew exactly where I wanted to do and how long I wanted to be there. When that didn’t pan out I went to plan B. It was while I was going through with plan B that I realized that I didn’t actually want that at all. Here I hit my first taste of uncharted territory; however, it wasn’t even all that uncharted. At the university that I went to, the admissions office estimated an average of seven academic major changes before student graduated. Seven! I felt lucky to only go through two by the end of my college career. It was like this that I managed to get through either the most stressful or least stressful (depending on who you ask) years of my young adult life.

Now I’m here. I no longer have the rigid constructs of the public school system that I spent my adolescence in. I am also devoid of the loose structures of the university that I spent the last three years in. I am “free”. Free to make my own decisions… whether they’re good or bad.

Once one is sent out into open waters, there’s nothing to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do anymore (concerning things that are legal and morally sound). I can no longer hold my parents hands in the hopes that they will guide me in the right direction. I have been given a shovel, an emergency flare, and an empty map; I must make my own way now.

This is the most frustrating thing I have ever had to do.

Making my own way means that I have to decide whether something is right or wrong. It means that any decision I make, I must either back up or back off. I am now left on my own to make the biggest decisions I have ever made, and it’s only going to get worse.

I have grown up in a society where directions are given freely and decision making skills are taught sparingly. I know that whenever I am given a piece of paper, I automatically look at the top to see what I have to do with it. I know that whenever I’m given any decision, even whether I want a small or a large hot chocolate, I will take more time than necessary to come to a conclusion.

I yearn for a guidebook to tell me what to do. I want some sort of reference material to know what decision I should be making, and why it’s better than another, and something to look to when I’m sad and I’m getting cold feet.

Should I move to a different country?

Was he actually the one?

Should I spend my money traveling or save it for an unknown future?

Are my ideas powerful enough?

Should I pursue a higher degree?

These and many more ideas plague me on a daily basis and I always come up with one answer: I don’t know. That’s the problem with spoonfeeding a generation; once they have to feed themselves they don’t know how to hold a fork.

In the end, it’s the big stuff that really matters; but it doesn’t always look so big. When I turn around and look at what I’ve crawled, walked, and tripped past to get where I am now all the big things that bothered me look so small. I know that in the future I’ll look back on these things that look so big now and smile, wishing that I could come back to these days.

Being out in the open is scary. It feels as if I’m blindfolded after having been spun around many times and I’m just walking straight ahead unsure of what I may bump into. I have no fancy GPS, no Google to give me all the answers. I must rely on the things that I know and I feel. There’s no guidebook for the things that I face while I’m out here and it’s frustrating and terrifying. I guess that’s the point, though.

Without these dark, scary, annoying moments I won’t be prepared for the ones ahead. There’s no guidebook because there’s only one person who would write the guidebook in a way that I would find helpful: me.

I think the most frustrating thing about having to figure it all out isn’t the act of doing it, it’s the uncertainty of whether I’ll make it to the other side of whatever I’ve encountered. There’s only one way to find out, though, and that’s to keep going. I know that the decisions I make won’t always be the best, and they definitely won’t be the most efficient, but they’ll be mine. The few “big” decisions I’ve made have led me to this point. I look forward to where the next few will lead me, even if I have to flatten a few bumps to get there.

The higher one jumps, the longer they’ll be in the air.