In some ways, twenty-five flew by with little to report. But in others, it transformed me:
I got to know the person I will spend the rest of my life with.
While this is unsurprising given my age, it is surprising given that I do not have a significant other.
The last fifteen months comprise the longest I have been in the same place with the same job ever. Because my world was too-frequently-changing before (semester to semester, rotation to rotation, city to city), because I myself was changing too frequently before, and perhaps because I fundamentally was too young to understand — and accept — them before, twenty-five was my first opportunity to recognize key qualities about this person I see and spend time with every single day.
This person is me.
Growing up, I had an extra-curricular obligation almost everyday, including weekends. Between my activities and homework, I always had a reason to reject social invitations if I didn’t want to hang out. I was never avoiding anyone specific, though. My dance team and coursework served the same purpose in college, and soon after graduating, I voluntarily undertook a book-writing project which mandated hours of undistributed focus.
These artificial reasons for being “busy,” were actually my need to spend time alone, doing things that I enjoy, just, by myself. It felt abnormal to say, “I want alone time,” especially because I never heard anyone say it to me.
Sometime during twenty-five, a switch flipped. I started to identify my need for this special time and went so far as to plan it into my life (mostly weekends). I aggressively defend alone time. It recharges me for future social interaction. Notably, it is not always productive. Sometimes I just want to sit on my couch, alone, on a Saturday night, and watch a television airing of The Parent Trap (even if it’s the Lindsay Lohan version) for the millionth time.
And though I occasionally slip into the need to rationalize it (work, errands, fatigue), I have finally come to terms with saying “I need alone time,” without caring how my statement will be received.
2. I am not superhuman
Earlier this year, I wrote an article on Medium that, by some stroke of luck, went viral. Wanting to make the most of the magic before it wore off, I immediately took on multiple simultaneous writing projects: Going for a double-hitter on Medium, submitting variations of my article to publications, enrolling in a writing course, maintaining my personal blog, and starting to write for a non-profit.
All this on top of an actual job.
For the next two months, thinking about writing, a historically therapeutic hobby for me, filled me with insurmountable stress.
The pieces I wrote during this time were haphazard. After two good-but-not-great Medium articles, two rejections from VentureBeat, two rejections from children’s book publishers, and a draft returned to me with more red than black, I finally stepped back.
Though its virality will always puzzle me, that article’s strength came from the fact that it was my sole focus when it was being created (outside of work). I put a lot of (very awake) brain and heart into it — without working on seven other articles at the same time.
Humans accomplish more (and better) with less and I am no exception to that rule.
3. I am family-first
I lived at home for twenty-six months after graduating college. My parents assured me it would lighten the load of my student loans, but I was too naive to see that. I pitied myself for sacrificing “fun” and “youth” by not living in a glamorous city with “everyone else.” When I finally moved to San Francisco, I likened it to liberation from confinement.
For months after moving, visits home were accompanied by an uncomfortable anxiety of all that I was missing in the city. Hadn’t those twenty-six months been enough?
This past May, I went to dinner with a friend whose family was struggling through financial and health hardships. She expressed the difficulty of living so far from them. I listened, silently ashamed that I sometimes felt inconvenienced by the geographical proximity to mine.
One morning just a few weeks later, I was asked to come home for a family meeting. On this particular day, it meant begrudgingly rejecting an opportunity to spend time with a boy I liked. In that family meeting, however, I was irreplaceable.
My family’s need for me to be home persists, but the visits feel less mandatory. Instead, I voluntarily leave the city to spend evenings, weekends, and long weekends with my family, even if it means forgoing trips to Big Sur or wine country. I can’t be mentally present anywhere else when I know my family would benefit most from my physical presence.
When I lived at home, I believed I was happy and comfortable despite living with my parents. I was embarrassed to be living there. With perspective, I see this as childish. I feel adult enough now to accept how much my parents’ happiness fuels my own, and how lucky I am to live just a train ride away.
4. I want to belong
This was my first year living in San Francisco during Bay to Breakers. When non-friends asked me about my plans, I said that it “wasn’t my thing,” but that I “might do something with my friends.” I didn’t actually have plans or invitations to do anything, and this didn’t bother me — until the day of.
My neighborhood was part of the Bay to Breaker route. As I walked through and past groups of friends I was surprised to find myself wishing I was part of one of them (some more than others). I was an outsider, not just to a particular group of friends, but also to a shared city experience where, but for a day, rules and reality were ignored.
Facebook and Instagram were relentless, exposing groups of happy friends sharing the day together.
It wasn’t a fear of missing out (FOMO), but simply feeling left out (FLO?) despite my belief that this event was “not me.” That afternoon, when my hair stylist asked me if I participated in Bay To Breakers, I responded that “we” had enjoyed watching the crowds. There was no “we.” It was just me.
That was when I realized how even my strong sense of self and individuality needs to be one with the masses every now and then.
These lessons surely aren’t secrets to life and they likely aren’t unique to me. But they are definitely not applicable to everyone.
The most important “facts of life” are facts about yourself. You will spend the rest of your life with yourself — get to know each other.