Post grad feels like an in-between in life — a blank canvas of possibility before family and mortgages arrive in some fuzzy far-off future. There is hope in this wide expanse of 20-something years for new cities and challenging work and interesting people.
The expanse can also remain a quiet nothing, if I let it. As weekends and months and seasons pass without much change, I feel the weight of nothing and the fear that comes with it grow heavier.
I’m a baby adult — frustrated by my untested wobbly limbs and fumbling words and general inexperience in most skills that are important. Like how to make interesting small talk with executives, or apply for a car loan.
I walk into my office, a gray and glass corporate building tucked amongst three others just like it. I get coffee and answer emails while the air conditioning freezes my lungs one cell at a time. Click of the Keurig, rhythmic patter of keyboards, sigh and sip of coffee.
I sit next to the CEO in a pitch meeting and offer feedback. I counter the opinions of coworkers 20 years my senior. I lean into the conference table with crossed legs and a neutral face; my heels snag against the corporate carpet. We tick towards 5pm.
Everyone rustles to leave and I quietly exit. My feet pick up speed, thunder down concrete stairs and burst through office doors to tumble into a friend’s beat up SUV with a backpack over my shoulder. We drive towards the interstate, the sound of unbridled laughter and pounding music around us. I shake off the office crust and breathe in a mess of Friday air that whips hair from my bun and thaws my frozen lungs. My friends, still in college, throw profanity and love across the car in equal measure.
I miss this.
There was a vibrancy in that car that can’t be found in the quiet rustle of an office. As life transitions from the breathless potential of university to the consistent hum of adulthood, I’m not sure how to mourn the loss of that energy. A full time job was the goal, after all.
I look across a forest of monitors and see people from every stage of life. There are the newly engaged, the ones with families, and the seasoned workers with waving white hairs and a look of good-natured patience for the rest of us. I feel impossibly young.
I turn twenty-three. I finally settle into my job. With settling comes an itch: There’s a sense of urgency in the air, as if I have a limited amount of time to accomplish what I hoped for in my life. The urgency is muffled by the comfort of slow weekends and evenings binging Netflix.
I collapse on my couch after work and open my laptop to peruse fall boots and apartment decor; it’s easier to craft my wardrobe than my future. I scroll past friends’ new lives on Facebook and Instagram. I wonder if the color is fading from their lives as well.
I used to see my friends regularly at the campus coffee shop or dark apartment parties. They have since scattered across the world after we stepped down the graduation stage steps. Tight knit communities have dispersed and deep relationships have faded in the distance our new jobs demand.
Now I meet college friends at downtown bars and community events. Instead of final exams, we talk about our co-workers and the cool assignment we got last week. We mention the ping pong tables, bean bags, and beers on tap in our millennial-friendly offices. We discuss the travels we have planned for relief from our 9–5 routines.
I have a couple friends that forego the small talk and ask —
“So, what are you excited about lately?”
I pause. Oh. That’s the hard question. It asks “Are you seeking fulfillment in your life? Are you pushing yourself? Are you growing?” It’s a question about passion, and whether I’m doing the work necessary to have a healthy amount of it in my life.
Some weeks I don’t have an answer. That scares me.
School provided a current that drove me forward no matter how motivated I felt. New semesters produced new classes and fresh faces. Opportunities were abundant with benchmarks and deadlines to prompt action. After seventeen years of that inherent movement, I find myself floating, unsure where to go next.
I’m starting the arduous process of deciding what I want, what meaning it will hold, and how I want to spend my days. Existential crises ensue. I’m struggling to determine my future without losing my enthusiasm for life.
Some days are full of friends and free iced coffee samples and dancing at my standing desk. Some days I struggle to stave off the stagnant air and shadows that gather in my mind. I want to say it’s all ok, and it’s still so early, but I don’t always feel that way. I fight to find fresh air in the midst of claustrophobic familiarity.
Those college friends from the getaway car graduated in May. One of them went to live in Argentina to eat or study or something. He spent the following months sharing his adventures around the world through Instagram. He’s living in Spain now.
The other two went to live in Wisconsin to work for a big company related to their degrees. I wonder if they get their coffee, answer some emails, and long for the getaway car sometimes. Knowing them, they crave a backpack and a one way plane ticket to a country with a language they barely speak.
Some days I want that too.
I don’t know how to reconcile this next stage of adulthood with the restlessness still tumbling in my chest. But I think the itch is good. It’s the drum beat of curiosity that beckons me to keep going. To move forward. To ask myself “what am I excited about lately?”, even after I stop seeing the friends who pose that difficult question.
I need to reconcile with the itch, every day, because it makes me better. Because when the itch ends, and the curiosity burns out, and the discomfort with familiarity ebbs away — that’s when I will have truly ceased to move forward.