Clueless Going on 30: Why It’s Okay to Still Be Lost
Despite what we’re taught, there’s much to be found in getting lost.
This past Birthday, I entered into the last year of my twenties…and as I sit here looking out my window, I can literally see 30 rounding the bend like an Olympic speed skater. Thirty seems far too high a number for someone like me, who’s still struggling to write her to-do list, let alone check any of the boxes. A number that high connotes such a firm rootedness, perhaps a 401K and a ‘Save the Date’ postcard. These things still seem like eons away for me, as I struggle to figure out what it is I still want my life to look and feel like. And while I don’t want to minimize how far I’ve come in honing in on the moving target labeled “what I want,” still at 29 there remains much more pavement to pound in what sometimes feels like a race to the proverbial finish line.
Just 4 years ago, I was well on my way to, at what the time seemed like, “having it all.” A promisingly stable corporate career, a committed relationship, reasonable financial standing and most importantly: certainty. I could look out 10 years ahead, probably even 20, and tell you exactly where I’d be, what I’d be doing and who I’d be doing it with. Everything was right on schedule and abiding diligently by the rules that I, with the help of societal expectations, had set for a woman of my age. But alas, with the evolution of any individual engaged in personal growth and exploration comes the ever-present threat of a complete and total shake-up: a quarter-life crisis. The floor dropped out from underneath me as I came to the uncomfortable and inconvenient realization that the things I once wanted, I no longer did. The things that once fulfilled me, no longer did. The person I once was, had packed up and left. So I started anew, cleared the slate and re-calibrated based on hours of panicked self-reflection on “What now?” I ditched my career to pursue a graduate degree in a new field and closed the book on a long relationship, unsure if I’d regret doing either.
Today, as I continue what sometimes feels like aimless meandering toward a vision that’s only half defined and still constantly shifting its shape, it can be difficult not to look around and compare my path to those of my peers. It seems like everyone else is putting down their trays and starting to eat lunch as I’m frantically searching for an open lunch table in the busy cafeteria. My friends are finding their husbands, settling into their long, stable careers and reveling in the certainty…the guarantee…the predictability… of what’s to come. Meanwhile, I’m watching Nat Geo documentaries that prompt me to toy with the idea of moving to the amazon to study hallucinogenic plants as a modern-day shaman. The discrepancy between us feels expansive, and leaves far too much room for self-criticism should I fail to manage my own demons.
Truth be told, the only thing that feels consistent and steadfast these days is my own uncertainty: Uncertainty around what I want my career, relationships and overall existence to look like at the end of my time here. Whether I want a big beautiful house in the suburbs or an RV that never stays in one place for more than a few weeks. Whether I want a rooted life of conventional simplicity and tradition or a nomadic circus of weird experiences and fleeting thrills. Right now, I think it’s somewhere in between. Next month? Who knows. I’m white-knuckling the edges of my spirituality and softly fanning the embers of my belief in a grander plan..my belief that the universe is using its joystick and guiding me by way of both synchronistic meetings and spoiled plans. So far, so good.
It has taken me a year or so to accept and find comfort in this grey area…in this vast space between “no longer” and “not yet.” After having made a little fort here in my own uncertainty and exploring its unique and underappreciated beauty, I have come to quite like it here. It feels like trespassing…in a place we’re told from a very young age that we shouldn’t linger for too long. We’re hard on ourselves for not knowing only because we’re taught that happiness and fulfillment are served only at the destinations…at the milestones labeled “financial security” and “marriage.” We’re taught that the journey exists only for the purpose of reaching the milestones that promise us all we’ve been looking for, and that we therefore must swiftly end the hunt and grab the closest open seat. But who made these rules? And are they happy? Do the destinations offer all that was promised to them?
I can tell you this: I tried that approach already. I stayed on the well-worn path and reached many of those societally dictated milestones. I kept grabbing the closest open seat. But, the longer I stayed seated, the harder I had to work at drowning out my own inner voice, the one begging the question “Does this feel right?” Resting for a while in certainty’s cool shade and following the rules felt nice for a while, but it didn’t feel like home. Not for the woman I was then nor for the one I would eventually become.
And yet despite all the things I’m still unsure of these days…what I know for sure is this: It’s okay to not yet know…it’s okay to never really know…whether you’re 30, 45 or 87 years old. It’s also okay if you thought you knew, only to realize you still don’t. It’s okay to exist in a constant state of re-calibration, with u-turns, and wrong turns and recurring stall outs. It’s all okay.
Why? Because it simply means you’re alive, and you’re listening, and you’re asking the right questions. It means you’re paying attention to your ever-evolving needs as a complex human being who is constantly re-discovering themselves, the world, and their place in it. It’s far better to have a navigation system that constantly re-routes you than one that leads you to the wrong destination, or worse, into a muddy ravine you’ve got no chance at escaping.
We must realize that certainty is an illusion, a mirage we create and cling tirelessly to so that when the heat of the desert becomes too intense, when things get too hard, we can take comfort in knowing there’s a destination in sight. We can spend our lives mapping it all out and attempting to control for every possible unpredictable variable…only to be derailed in one single instant…one tragedy, one diagnosis, one “I don’t love you anymore.” Nothing is ever certain. And so with this realization comes a need for us to tame our insatiable collective craving for certainty, because it’s forcing us to settle…to settle for careers, relationships, and lives that don’t feel quite right. It’s forcing us to rush through the beauty, the growth and the joy to be found in the journey. We’ve become so obsessed with finding our “happy endings,” we’re missing the happiness resting right at our feet. The kind available for our use right now, and in every moment, even when we don’t yet know what tomorrow holds. Remember: no one can ever know what tomorrow holds, even those with the surest, most fail-safe plans.
So with that, my hope for the world is that we challenge what we’ve been taught to believe about the space between what is and what will someday be. That we resist becoming so intent on getting there that we lose our ability to just…be… here. Because eventually we will all get there, at whatever time, in whatever way we’re meant to, and when we do, the destination will only feel as good as the journey itself. So just take pause for a moment. Make a little fort here, look up at the sky and enjoy where you’re at today, even in all your insurmountable uncertainty. All we really need to know right now is that there is so much beauty to be found in not knowing.