… on turning 29
Location: Boston, Massachusetts (home)
Music: Ray Lamontagne – Old Before Your Time
Tomorrow I will be 29 — it still hurts to write that — and am approaching a dangerous intersection. Behind me lies the peaks and valleys of my early twenties, the rolling hills of my budding career and life in Boston, and the highest mountains of my trip abroad. In front of me are two familiar, yet newly paved, streets. Important decisions need to be made, and I’ve never been a decisive guy. My trips to Blockbuster video growing up always took way too long, even after my mom’s reassurance that I could rent the other game next weekend. I was young then, inexperienced and unconfident, or at least that’s what I tell myself. Now I only have a year left until I pass that next road marker — the big 3-0. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Your early twenties, if anything like mine, will be dominated by a carefree, live-in-the-moment attitude. This is good; embrace it. Make mistakes early and learn from them. Your early twenties is a period of tremendous growth and change and, with any luck, some amazing times with an ever-evolving core of friends. These years will contain a series of firsts, some better than others, and at 29 you will be thinking of both the good and the bad fondly; however, listen to your conscience. Don’t ever assimilate to a crowd, stand out rather than blend in, and do what makes you happy. This is also the time when impending adulthood begins to seep through the cracks and fills your brain with doubt. Trust yourself; work hard and be nice to people. It may take some time, but karma will catch you on the upswing. Looking back, it would be wise to find someone to settle down with early on. The road gets bumpier ahead, and life’s journey is always better with someone in the passenger seat. Even if you can’t make it work forever, experience true love before pessimism and jaded people are all that’s left to keep you company.
Your mid-twenties will be a definitive evolution of your sense of self. It’s when most people begin to shed the habits of our teens and begin to enter the period where we’re known as “Young adults.” Don’t believe the false labeling; there’s still nothing adult about it. If you worked hard and were nice to people, it will be a time of many successes and probably even a few devastating failures. Take it in stride. Know that you are fully capable of changing your life and your circumstances if need be. Again, trust in yourself. Read the Power of Now and learn basic mediation. Let go of the baggage you probably accumulated in your early twenties and start fresh. Start to eat better and take care of yourself physically; reap the benefits of extra energy and focus. And of course remember, this is only a ride.
At this point my twenties are almost concluded. I’m a changed man. I have adult responsibilities like rent, health insurance, and making sure my fridge is always stocked with (good) beer. I can appreciate a well-tailored suit, and I actually enjoy wearing one. I take my job seriously, and I strive to produce work that makes me proud to attach my name to it. I am living in a city that I love, and I enjoy spending time with my nephew, watching his personality develop in his first year of life. I am leaps and bounds over my early twenties self, but, oh, yeah, that rapidly approaching intersection…
To take a left is a well-worn road traveled by many before me; buy a house, find a good woman, settle down, have kids, have family game night and hopefully remain a kid like Phil in Modern Family. There’s a big, future-oriented piece of my brain that loves this idea. I can picture my eventual lake house in the mountains of NH, sipping a cold beer and watching my kids play in the yard; but I am also old enough to know that reality is never that perfect. Responsibilities and debt accumulate until my lakeside peace is broken by my wife hounding me about the bills and how the anxiety-ridden future is ruining our present. Love fades, people grow apart, children, unfortunately, get damaged in the process; these are the realities of half the marriages of our generation. It’s hard not to be cautious with those numbers. But the big decision is figuring out if its worth it, is the risk worth the reward. I think it is, with the right person.
To take a right is to turn back, turn away from the real world and all the stress it brings. It’s the life I realized was possible as soon as I came back from my first four months abroad in Europe; the life of a traveler, a constant drifter working remotely and living life on my own terms, filled with adventure and new experiences. Glorified through books like On the Road by Kerouac and Into the Wild, it’s entirely possible to find work that allows you to, in essence, be working-class homeless. Stress-free and far fewer responsibilities than family-man Adam, there are still many potential risks on this road: running out of money, bed bugs, getting too drunk and losing your Passport, to name a few. But the biggest negatives are homesickness, missing out on my nephew’s childhood, never having kids of my own or trying my hand at marriage. Could I live with that?
Realizing that you have the ability to shape your own life is one of the defining moments of your twenties; taking the necessary action is the next. A year from now I will be further down that road, and on the eve of turning 30, even closer to having to make a pivotal decision, with my mortality and regret weighing in on each shoulder. With many possibilities of directions splayed out before me, the options can feel overwhelming. But I am constantly reminded the beauty is in having the choice at all.
This reminded me of where I was at 29; I had to really think about that. (I’m 47 now.) I had two children, a husband I’d known for ten years, and we’d lived in three different homes together by this time. Don’t be surprised by ambivalence. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about marriage v. single, it’s the grass can always look greener; so don’t make the mistake of overly romanticizing either — but, yes, by all means, be romantic.