What are you doing with your life?

A few weeks ago, I received an invite to my five-year high school reunion on Facebook. I looked at it, gasped, and then stopped thinking about it. Well, after my meeting with an academic advisor today, I am reevaluating that “gasp” from a few weeks ago.

I started at Ohio’s Miami University Hamilton (a regional campus of Miami University) in the spring of 2009. I am still in college and my path to graduation is as tumultuous as ever. And it’s my fault, of course. Regardless of anything else, it’s my fault and therein I burn with frustration.

Admittedly, I didn’t want to go to college. I had no plans to. Thus, you see, I didn’t start right after I graduated high school in the spring of ’08. Instead of starting in the fall of ’08, I waited until the spring of ’09. As I said, I simply did not want to. I was a seventeen-year-old kid. What the fuck did I know about starting, attending and planning college? Not a damn thing. Was I prepared for it when I started in 2009? No. Have I figured everything out now, four and a half years later? No.

First, let me outline my failings because I want to be open as possible in admitting the faults I made. I’m not trying to absolve myself or shift the blame to someone or something else. My main mistake was not planning compounded by procrastinating. I had no conceptualization for what it meant to be “in college.” I simply thought I would take classes I enjoyed and found enriching and that would be enough. Well, it wasn’t. Years later and I’m still dealing with general requirements and my major, which both should have been decided with in those early stages.

Then, again, what the fuck do I know? I’m going to keep going back to that because that’s how I feel. If this post feels a tad bit bitter and resentful, that’s because it damn sure is. I’m pissed at myself, I’m pissed at how college is structured (I’ve spoken of such in the past, I won’t reiterate that here), and I’m pissed at allowing myself to be influenced by others, so really, just myself again.

All my life, all I’ve heard is that you must go to college, you must get a degree, and therefore, you will get a good job. There was never – to my recollection – a discussion about the investment, the amount of debt one incurs, the commitment, and everything else in between. Instead, higher education seemed like a trip to Woodstock where you’d hear some kick-ass music, get high off some trippy shit, and maybe get lucky with a girl or two. But that’s the culture, right? Simplify, simplify, simplify. And again, I’m not absolving myself. I fully understand and accept that I was a dumbass. I should have investigated the loans, the tuition costs, the scholarships, the grants, the job market, the course schedule I would expect, majors, minors, etc. and been more prepared. But I didn’t and I wasn’t. The only thing I possessed was that initial hesitation to start school, which didn’t sit pretty with my family and especially my father. In some respects – what am I saying – all the respects, I caved to such pressure. I caved to the pressure to conform to what was expected: go to college, you idiot.

I mean, did I have a back-up plan beyond not attending college? Hell no. I was winging it, as I usually do. Obviously, I had images of grandeur – publishing a book, going on a worldwide book tour, and enjoying life in a log cabin in the middle of Maine (don’t ask). But what changed because I went to college? Nothing, I was still winging it, except this time I had thousands of dollars riding on my success or failure.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been things that I have enjoyed immensely about my college experience. I’ve interacted with a plethora of truly wonderful, intellectual professors and students; I’ve grown as a writer and a person by accumulating new perspectives and ideas; and via college, I get to work on a newspaper, which I undeniably love, as if it’s my ginger child. Even so, unequivocally, I would still denounce the stupidity behind it all and this goes back to my “gasping” at the five-year high school reunion invite…

I see all these people I went to high school with generally around my age on Facebook; their lives scrolling across my feedback in all its incarnations, but what sticks out most are the friends that are married or getting married and with or soon-to-be-having kids. What’s going on here? Why do they seem to have everything figured out in their early twenties and I don’t? We’re talking about birthing another human being or making the commitment to be with another human being for life; how can they be so sure so soon?

You see, I envisioned my twenties as a wondrous time of self-discovery and growth; I would travel the world, writing about my experiences trying authentic Italian food in Venice or trying to make the Queen’s Guard break their posture at Buckingham Palace or a tête-à-tête with an exotic female Spaniard. Okay, the last one seems far-fetched, but my point is this: I’m not supposed to have this whole “life” thing figured out yet and why is that not acceptable? When you were a kid, you could get scrapes and bruises, frolic in the mud, ask stupid questions, not know everything, and wet the bed (wait, what) and that was acceptable. When did that change? Does the advent of “adult responsibility” suddenly repudiate our ability to fuck up? Am I not allowed to get a few scrapes anymore? Or splash a few more times in the puddles? I’m not the head of a family; I don’t have a toddler depending on my bringing bread to the table. Responsibility is a good thing and a way in which to mature as a person, but that shouldn’t mean you can’t make mistakes or that you ought to have it all figured out. One of the most liberating statements I know is, “I don’t know.” Because most of the fucking time, I don’t know.

I don’t know how others my age are already building a life with their significant other and raising children, but I’m not there yet. I don’t want to be there. And it’s not even just wives and husbands and babies. Others seem to have this whole career path paved well beyond my purview. People even in classes after me have already graduated, obtained degrees and are moving on to presumably their career. Certainly, there’s this quote to take into consideration, “The problem with people is they compare their behind-the-scenes with others’ highlight reels.” And there is no better “highlight reel” than a Facebook feed, right? I’m not going to assume it’s all rainbows and butterflies for them, but on the surface at least, they have “it” figured out.

Absolutely, I do not want to denigrate those with kids and husbands/wives at my age; they are doing a service to society and it’s difficult work, I’m sure they get fulfillment out of it, quite obviously and maybe they still seek personal enrichment beyond that context. Yet, and maybe it’s selfish, short-sighted, arrogant, whatever you want to say since I’m not a parent, but I seek more than that. I don’t want to die with my biggest accomplishment being able to connect my biological function with that of a female; although at the moment, that would be quite the accomplishment…

I want more. And what is that? Again, I have no damn clue. People keep asking me questions like, “What are you going to do with your life? What kinda career do you want? How are you going to make money?” Well, when I figure that out myself, I’ll sure as hell let you know. Am I dramatizing it too much? I guess, but I feel as if I’m under a microscope sometimes, as if I was supposed to “be something” already. As if, my expiration date’s nearing and the faint aroma of “wasted” is in the air.

Am I saying I want to revert back to when I was twelve and didn’t have to worry about a degree, enormous debt, paying bills and generally contemplating the complexities of my future? No, I wouldn’t even want to go back to when I was seventeen prior to entering college. I like who I am now and how I’ve changed even in those years. Sure, I would go back just to say to my younger, less hairy self, “Dude [per the parlance], don’t spend so much money on Wendy’s cheeseburgers and wrestling PPVs, write more and dear god, talk to more women.” Hindsight is a natural reaction to regrets we bear, but why even view it as such? I stumbled incredibly well upon entering the hallowed grounds of higher education. I fell flat on my face with my first credit card. I misfired in my first relationship, which ended quicker than I could say, “Wait; hold on!” And if I was into gambling or better yet, knew how to gamble, I’d bet the house on the fact that I’ll surely fall again and again and again.

Maybe that’s what your twenties are all about, right? Stumbling around, bumping into pockets of maturity, tripping over divots of recklessness, and generally just…living. If this sounds slightly hedonistic, maybe it is, but is that so bad? Is it so repulsive to want to figure out yourself? I can already see some rolling their eyes saying, “Stop complaining and go live in the ‘60s, you hippie.” Well, if that’s the charge, where’s my peace shirt and flower?

I do want to elaborate on the probable criticism, as I find that worthwhile to contemplate when being introspective. Am I merely complaining? Is this like that silly “first world problems” meme? I mean, come on, asshole, a kid in Africa doesn’t even have the faintest notion of “higher education,” never-mind that he’s starving and dehydrated. You live in an air conditioned house paid for by your parents; you don’t have that many bills and maybe you’re hyperbolic about the “pressure” around you. I would contend such criticisms humbly, though.

I reject the “worse-off” argument. That is, people, especially those in developed countries, cannot complain about their personal problems when quite obviously, there are those far worse off. Such is a given, however. Someone, somewhere, despite how bad it could ever get for me, probably has it worse off than me. But what kinda standard is that? Moreover, isn’t the reverse then true? Can I never be happy because no matter how happy I perceive myself, someone, somewhere probably is happier than I am? Is it right to evaluate happiness, sadness, success, failure, problems and so forth on such a scale? I don’t think so and in fact, I would argue that it’s detrimental to confronting, dealing with and correcting problems. So, sure, I can’t understand what it’s like to not know if I’m going to eat the next day or if I’m going to even be alive the next day, but does that make my problems any less my problems?

Ultimately, then, if I go to the five-year reunion and someone whose name I’ve surely forgotten, but whose face looks awfully familiar, asks me, “Brett, what have you done with your life since you graduated?” (And first off, let’s admit nobody I know would ask such a banal question, but work with me here.)

My hands will probably sweat a little and dig deeper into my pockets, I’ll probably break eye contact and pretend to take a sip of some one dollar punch and respond while looking at a notecard, as I’d forget his name (if you haven’t caught on, I am abysmal with names), “Sir Johnathan Wayne Yelland once said, ‘To be or not to be…could you repeat the question?”

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