9 Things I’ve Learned The Hard Way

Today marks the 8,541st day that I’ve been alive. That makes me 23 years and some months old. What am I doing with my life? Working a couple of retail jobs and trying to get by, like countless other people that I know. And that’s terrifying.

I’ve been out of high school for five years. In those five years, I’ve managed to try my hand at a college education three times. Immediately after high school, I attended CCNY in New York City for an academic year. I was 18, reckless, and enthralled with New York; my studies took a passenger seat, and by the end of the second semester I had failed every single class I’d registered for. The second time around, I enrolled in SUNY Potsdam for all of a month and a half. Before the semester completed, I realized that my fate was to be the same as it was in New York- I was going to run out of money and I couldn’t seem to secure a job. I withdrew and moved back home to save myself the hassle. Attempt number three, I finally reasoned that it would be smart to stay local. I studied at a community college for two additional semesters before realizing that I had no direction. What I wanted a degree in was still unclear, and so my drive and ambition began to lull. I couldn’t even find it in me to finish out the semester, and I stopped going to my classes altogether. That was in the Spring of 2012; since then, I’ve been languishing in a period of dormancy. The only thing I’ve managed to gain from those five years of indecision is an obscene amount of student loan debt.

To reiterate: I am 23 years old. According to society (and my father), it’s crucial to enroll in college immediately after high school, because otherwise you’ll never go. You’ll get lazy. You’ll enjoy the lack of mandated education so much so that you’ll fall into a groove and you’ll never come out of it. Believe me when I say this: that’s bullshit.

I felt pressured after high school to attend college for exactly the aforementioned reason. I really thought that if I didn’t go straight into it, I would never go. Maybe that would’ve been true. But if I’d never gone, at least I wouldn’t have upwards of $10,000 in student loan debt that I can barely afford to pay. At least I wouldn’t feel that I’d wasted all that time. At least my options would be less limited.

I really envy those who know straight through high school what it is that they want to do with their lives. They go right into college and graduate four to five years later with a degree in their field of interest, land a job, and the rest is history. Obviously, it isn’t so cut and dry. But unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I have a wide array of interests spanning the spectrum of creativity: I write, I produce music, I draw, I cook, I bake, I read. At one time, I wrote screenplays. I even dabble in role-playing game creation. Granted, there are a select few of these things that I am better at than the others, but they’re all passions of mine. How am I possibly expected to choose? What if I chose to go with a degree program in creative writing, but halfway through I realized I didn’t want a career in it? I would switch majors and prolong my college education, thereby accruing even more debt in the process. That doesn’t sound appealing in the slightest. My point here is that you shouldn’t go to college until you’re sure of what you want to do.

Sure, that’s why you’re required to take a variety of classes, just in case you change your mind. You may be taking up English Literature but you still are required to take classes in science, math, and history. It is to prepare you for the possibility that you might switch paths, and that’s OK, to an extent. But when it’s not okay, is when you’re sure of the route you’re taking. It’s your money after all, and there’s nothing more frustrating than having to dole it out on classes that don’t pertain to your interests. Even if you’re convinced that you know what you’d like to pursue, it may still change before you graduate. I had a friend who enrolled in college under a Childhood Education major; she initially wanted to teach little children. But by the time she graduated, it was with a degree in Fashion and Textile Technology- a complete 180. If you have the time and money to be able to change directions, then by all means, go right ahead. But if you’re like me, and you don’t, and financial aid is limited, then every decision you make is incredibly crucial. Note that certain fields don’t even necessarily require a college education to thrive in.

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And what if you make it to graduation, you finally have that measly piece of paper that carries so much weight, and you can’t find a job? I’ve heard several times before from waitresses or store clerks that they’re months or even years out of college, and they’re still waiting for a job in their field. I think if I were to ever make the decision to go back to school, I’d need to be guaranteed upon enrollment that I’d find a job within a year after graduation. After all, I would not have wasted all that time and money to work waiting tables. That was not part of the deal.

Now that we’ve covered potential educational deterrents, let’s discuss how emotionally draining it is to be aimless and wandering. I’m invariably unhappy with my life as it stands. Upon hearing that, most people would probably say something along the lines of, ‘if you don’t like your life, do something to change it.’ I see those words plastered all over irrelevant images on Tumblr and Facebook all the damn time. Golly, I never would have even thought to try to change my life if it weren’t going as planned.

That’s sarcasm.

You honestly think that anyone who’s unsatisfied with their life hasn’t considered doing something about it? Yes, there are people out there who whine and complain and have the means to do something, but don’t. But there are also plenty of people who may be in a position that doesn’t allow them to make any changes. More often than not, those types of circumstances revolve around a lack of money. I’ve been there multiple times, and I wish there were an allotment of unnecessary bullshit that could be expended. But there isn’t. Sometimes, it keeps happening. Most times, it’s unexpected, and every time, it really sucks. You just have to weed through the rubble and you’ll always make it out alive, albeit with a few less fucks given each time. Contrary to popular belief, when you’ve hit bottom, there is elsewhere to go than up. You could also continue straight ahead, along the bottom.

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Let me begin to tie up these meandering, loose ends.

At eighteen, nobody knows what the hell is going on. That’s the irony of it. That’s the age at which you think you know everything, but in actuality you know very, very little, about anything. In the past five years I’ve changed a great deal; I’ve matured, I’ve begun to care less about the opinions of others, and at twenty-three, I’ve finally learned to like who I’ve become. I’ve only just managed begin to hone in on an inkling of what kind of career I’d like to have. At twenty-three. That said, why was the world convinced that I was capable of making such huge, life-altering decisions when I’d just entered into official adulthood? I think it is safe to say that most if not all 18 year-olds are ill-equipped to do so. I certainly wasn’t ready, and I wasted a lot of my time because of that.

In the opening paragraph, I made mention of being terrified at what I have [not] done with my life thus far. Usually, when I am having a discussion about potential careers and uncertainty with a family member or friend, the response is almost invariably, ‘you’re still young yet; you have plenty of time.’ This is only true in theory. That phrase would have given me hope a few years ago. But when I hear it now, I disregard it. It seems to be universally acceptable to be working in retail or in the service industry while you’re in and out of school in your late teens and early twenties. It seems to become less acceptable as you get older. As you reach your thirties, forties, fifties, people assume you should have your life together and it’s frowned upon if you don’t.

Personally, the idea of having plenty of time since you are young is very misleading. First, youth does not equate a long future ahead of you. Your life could end later today, or in a week, or in 4 months, 2 days, and 16 hours. How much time you have on this earth is not a constant. It is a variable, and there’s no equation to figure out the value. Second, believing that you’ve got plenty of time causes you to use that as a crutch. You think, ‘that’s right, I am only 23, I don’t need to decide right now.’ But before you know it, you’re 33; ten years have passed and you’ve accomplished nothing. Then you’re scrambling and wondering where the time went. That’s an entire decade you could have spent doing something you absolutely love, if you’d worked a little harder when you were younger. I would rather be spending my days as a happy and healthy individual, and living out my passion full-time now, than convincing myself that I have time to decide and put it off. Instead, I’m finding difficulty in scraping by, putting on airs for the sake of the consumers’ happiness and being miserable. Nobody was born to do that. Some may be exceptionally good at it, but customer service and its counterparts should be a phase, not a career. I’m not saying that you can’t love it. I’m saying that it should be looked at as a steppingstone, and not a destination. (And I’m not referring to corporate positions. I’m talking about menial, dead-end day jobs in which you struggle daily to bite your tongue.)

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Morals of the story:

  1. It’s OK to wait to go to college. In fact, it’s better that you wait until you’re sure of what you want to pursue. Some career paths don’t even necessarily require it.
  2. A college education does not guarantee that you’ll find a job.
  3. It isn’t always possible to change your life if you’re unsatisfied with it.
  4. When you’ve hit bottom, just keep going. You’ll eventually make it.
  5. At 18, you don’t know shit. If you’re 18 and reading this, you’re probably rolling your eyes and scoffing, and that’s exactly what I’d expect. Thanks for proving my point.
  6. Being young doesn’t mean you have a lot of time.
  7. Jobs that challenge your self-esteem and ethics are not careers and are not worth it.
  8. Never settle for mediocrity; always strive for more until you’re happy.
  9. Corey Stoll is the most attractive actor I’ve ever seen and I want to have his children.

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Those eyes. I die.

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6 thoughts on “9 Things I’ve Learned The Hard Way

  1. Your ability to discourse on a topic of such raw emotion with clarity and passion – and engage readers like myself who are in a different stage of life and experience – should be more than gratifying. It should spur you on, as it obviously has, to ind your niche. When I was your age – I know … big YAWN – what bothered me most as I thrashed about for a landing was, WHY? The same question I asked as a five year old was the same question I was asking as a twenty-something. WHY am I doing this? WHY am I here? WHY? WHY? WHY? Needless to say I read a lot of philosophy 🙂

    1. You’re the reason I continue to do what I do- it’s immensely gratifying beyond belief. This topic in particular is something I’ve been ruminating about for months now. I wanted to find a way to sublimate my frustration in a way that may be of aid to others, so I vomited my thoughts onto a blog post and there you have it.

      Trust me, I really do enjoy hearing that you can relate, and that goes for anybody, too. Personally, I’m finally past the ‘why’ stage and have landed on the ‘how’ platform- how I am going to get to where I want to be, what I need to do to in the meantime. Philosophy has always been a point of interest for me as well. 🙂

  2. This post really resonates with me, seeing that I’ve recently turned twenty and I’m already in a shit ton of debt, but I’m not even done school yet! A lot of things you talked about are the issues I deal with almost on a daily basis. I was basically pressured to go to university (of course I didn’t really think it was an awful decision, but just saying that I was basically brainwashed to think university is the only way out in life) and now I’m halfway done and my future is so filled with uncertainty, it’s a shitty deal. I, like you said, thought I knew a lot when I was 18 too, which is completely ridiculous. I thought I was so mature and ready to take on the world, but was I ever surprised.

    That being said, I wish you lots of luck with finding your way. 🙂

    1. Hi there, Flora. I’m glad you were able to relate. 🙂

      That’s the catch about university- it is a giant chance game, much like anything in this life. You can make it to the finish line and earn that degree, but that’s the easiest part about it. You may never find a job. (Please know I’m speaking generally, and not about you specifically.) I’m not at all trying to discourage you, but the uncertainty and the copious amounts of money required to receive an education are extremely daunting. I was told on numerous occasions when I attended college in New York City by my brother that college isn’t about soaring on through, but about the experiences you have along the way. Yeah- I ran out of money, I couldn’t afford to eat, my classes were all mandatory and none too engaging; some experiences, huh? 😛

      Thank you for stopping by, and thank you for the well wishes. I wish you all the best as well, and if you ever need to talk when things get to be too much, feel free to send me a direct message on Twitter if you have one. Or, you could even email me at iamwhatiwrite[at]gmail[dot]com.

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