Have you ever noticed that no one seems particularly eager for the arrival of their 22nd birthday? That there are no Hallmark cards for people between the ages of 21 and 25, and that no one when asked responds, “Heck, yeah man! Can’t wait for the big two-two!”
That’s because, up until age 22, or sometimes even later, you spend your whole life preparing for the next school year — the next paper to write, the next class to take — but once they hand you that weird piece of paper with your name on it, that’s kind of it. You either go to grad school or … you know … just figure it out.
And unless you have money or a plan — which you probably don’t, since you just spent every moment (and saved penny) of the last four years earning the degree now mounted like a deer’s head your wall — you have no choice but to pack up your college experiences and brave the infamous “real world.”
And by “real world,” I mean your parents’ house. You suck it up and move back in with your parents.
As you re-enter your childhood bedroom, it seems significantly smaller and – somehow – pinker than the last time you were home for winter break.
Horrified, you stare at the mountain of stuffed animals on your bed and think to yourself, did I really earn a bachelor’s degree while hoarding hundreds of Beanie Babies on the other side of the state? Can they revoke my degree for that?
Stuck in this foreign/familiar space, you feel yourself losing touch with the independent college-self you were a few weeks ago. Slamming doors and arguments over who gets the car slowly but surely make their way back into your daily routine.
Without homework to avoid, laundry becomes an actual chore. The hamper feels a little heavier without the stolen quarters from your roommate jingling on top. And once you run out of your counter-culture hippy detergent and go back to using Tide, it seems like your years of freedom were for naught.
Beyond the city limits of your college town, all the rules are different. Suddenly, your school-town jargon becomes a foreign language, one that Rosetta Stone doesn’t have a box set for, and worse still, you encounter people who refuse to understand the nuances of your (VERY SOPHISTICATED) college culture.
So what do you do without your college identity there to define you?
Well, for a while, you wait. Just like Dr. Seuss promised you would. But, instead of waiting for a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, you wait to grow restless. Restless for the independence you just had a few weeks ago and become compelled to look for it again.
Then you apply. Apply for jobs you don’t want, and some that you do. Apply for internships and overseas voyages and organic farming licenses. You find out that you’re underqualified for the Peace Corps, which you had always counted on as your backup plan.
You take up running and volunteering, cooking and drinking, singing and, ultimately, knitting – even though you swore after a particularly traumatic project to never do that again.
Then, almost without being aware, you start your own business, the kind with actual clients. Business cards that have your name on them create a bulge in your wallet and cover every square inch of your desk because, at the time, 500 seemed like a totally reasonable number to order.
People begin to reach out to you, asking for a recommendation, a thought, for a moment of your time. You pretend less and less to know what you are doing and find more and more that you know what to do.
Coffee transitions from a noun into a verb, and it is often the reason you take the train downtown to meet impressive individuals in their impressive corporate offices, only to discover that, in fact, they are also impressed by you.
And you keep pressing forward, hoping that in one of these places, a confident, accomplished individual from the crowd will turn around, and you will look yourself in the face.