Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by my friend the ultra-prolfic and talented Jordan Rosenfeld. Read and share and comment and get one of Jordan’s books and send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ’em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.
Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter.
My problems are minuscule in the grand scheme of things; my life is pretty awesome and I’ve got all of the tools that I need to be successful. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of major challenges and struggles, but I’ve come out of each and every one stronger, smarter, wiser, and older than my real age. My soul is old.
I moved to NYC after graduating from college in Oklahoma to pursue my dreams (what were they, again?) I completed the internship that I’d been dreaming of for a couple of years and felt like the world was mine…every other minute.
Eventually though, I was poor, cried almost every day because I was so stressed about money, fought thoughts of regret about moving away from home, and needed a job. I worked part time at kind of grueling jobs, and now I’m on the temp-track…working at amazing places around the city but unsatisfied and unsettled. Still eeking by to pay the rent every month and still wondering if this is the right place for me to be.
Yes, I love New York. And yes, I know that I am experiencing a kind of life that many people my age will never get to experience. I am lucky. Why am I complaining?
When do I stop trying this? When do I give up and move home? When do I throw in the towel?
I want to help others. I want people to see that kindness can change the world. I want to walk the earth and take people with me. I want to experience new cultures and share my experiences with those who cannot. But are these dreams so out of this world that I need to bring it down a notch? Am I out of my league, here? And I should just cool my jets and be patient?
One minute I’m loving life and the next I’m thinking “FUCK THIS SHIT!” as I walk to my apartment in the snow, groceries in hand and hood blowing back. One minute I’m proud of myself for making it here and the next I’m like…SHIT, IM ALMOST 24! WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!
So, I’m trying to manifest the job that I want but I don’t know what exactly that is. It’s taking a little too long and I don’t know when to give up. Because at some point…don’t I have to? Isn’t there a limit on trying? I know that people reading this will think “NO! GO FOR IT, GIRL! DON’T EVER GIVE UP!” But when my pockets are empty it isn’t that easy.
Dear Almost 24,
First, can I just tell you that you sound vastly more mature than I did at almost 24, like frankly I’m tempted to turn to YOU for advice. But it’s interesting that your letter came today, do you know why? Just this morning in the shower—where I get all my big ideas—I had this thought: I miss the idealism of my twenties. I miss that part of me that went to protests over war and big oil, that insisted on only using non-toxic, organic products on my person and reducing my carbon footprint. That could stay up all night and go to work the next day and party again the following night. That had such conviction in my beliefs that I would argue with you for hours, convinced my zeal would be enough to make you change your mind. God I miss that conviction. I miss that I didn’t do more with it when I had the energy.
I believe that the idealism and conviction of twenty-somethings fuels the world: you are the ones that found start-ups and create campaigns against hate and racism. You are the ones who reassure the anguished teens suffering bullying that it gets better, and the ones with the spirit and energy to take risks—big, bold, brazen risks that the rest of us are too lazy / tired / burdened / comfortable /privileged to take. And I’ll tell you what: I can’t think of a better place in the world to be full of just that kind of chutzpah and vim than New York. Though I was born and raised in California, my parents are New Yorkers, and I spent almost every summer, and many winters, of my life there. And every time I leave my cousin’s Brooklyn home and step off the subway into Manhattan, I come alive with New York’s hot, pumping magic. For a little while. But I’m 40 now, with a young son, and I don’t sleep as well as I used to, and so New York wears me out pretty quickly. I wish I’d lived there in my twenties. One of my besties from high school was there—I could have roomed with her. But I took the safe road. As a writer, I think I missed out on a few paths that living in New York would have opened me to. Yes, this is a regret of mine.
Here at 40, I’m okay with the fact that life promises more shades of gray than certainties. At 40, you walk the razor’s edge of responsibility and joy more often than not. Your passions might get quieter. You probably won’t want to go out as often, and if you do, it will be with small crowds of people you know really well. You might have kids in various stages of development, spend more hours dreaming about those days in your twenties when you lived it up in New York, even though you barely had two dollars to rub together, and you had to walk home in polar vortex weather, and you never quite knew what you were doing or where it was all leading (spoiler: nobody does, not even gorgeous young French models or successful stock brokers. Nobody knows, they just pretend they do).
What I don’t miss about my twenties is the agony of wondering exactly what you’re wondering: if this moment is good enough or if there is a better one, if I should stay in my crappy job as a personal assistant to a grouchy TV producer or if I should take the leap and work for myself as a freelance writer, where passion and industry meet. I don’t miss the anxiety of worry that I might not “arrive” wherever it was my heart wanted me to go. But anxiety is just fear projected into the future. It’s trying to maintain control over something that hasn’t happened yet. There’s so much happening right now in your life. The struggles of the twenties are a metaphorical labor required for you to give birth to the adult who will carry you the rest of the way. If I could time travel, I’d tell my 20 year-old self: Take more risks. Say yes more often. It will all be okay.
What I hope you’re taking from this is that you are in one of the most dynamic but also agonizing times of your life. You are an adult in age but you probably don’t feel like it much of the time. I want you to run with this passion. I want you to remember that there will be years ahead of you for throwing in towels and figuring out your career, for becoming a buttoned-up, serious person who pays taxes and wears clothing that needs dry cleaning. This glorious, halcyon time you’re in now—it’s brief, a blink, a flash. Don’t miss it. Believe it or not, you could spend the next decade of your life wandering and wondering, testing and experimenting, couch-surfing and proclaiming you’re “following your bliss” and there will still be time. Time to get married and have kids. Or time to open a non-profit organization, time to find a permanent home and make a difference.
The time for living with the bracing euphoria of your youth in one of the most vibrant, connected, innovative cities in the world, when you have no one but yourself to worry about? That time is damn short.
What resonated with the power of a giant gong in my heart in your letter was this:
“I want to help others. I want people to see that kindness can change the world. I want to walk the earth and take people with me. I want to experience new cultures and share my experiences with those who cannot. But are these dreams so out of this world that I need to bring it down a notch? Am I out of my league, here? And I should just cool my jets and be patient?”
No, my sweet, these dreams are not out of this world and you are not out of your league. Don’t bring them down. Go into them. Go to those places. Take people with you through words or photos, or literally—organize tours, crowdfund your way there, sell your own homemade artwork or sing in the subway. Go for it wholeheartedly, with all the energy and steam and yearning and passion that you have. Do it for us, the 40 and ups who didn’t. Do it for your own future self, so that she may someday get to share with an almost 24 year-old that life is precious and short and she soaked up every moment.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld is managing editor of Sweatpants & Coffee, and the author of the novels Forged in Grace and Night Oracle and the forthcoming A Writer’s Guide to Persistence. Her essays and articles have appeared in: The Billfold, Brain, Child, Bustle, Medium, The Manifest-Station, New York Times, Role/Reboot, Washington Post and more will soon appear in: Purple Clover and Stir Journal. www.jordanrosenfeld.net @JordanRosenfeld on twitter.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.