Why 30 is not the New 20

Life is funny isn’t it?

Today on facebook TED posted this video.


It’s the end of a pretty good day, a day filled with places to go, people to see, and purpose.  It was a good day, and I thought, ‘hmm that looks interesting.’

I have to tell you, this video is me right now.

I turned 26 this past May, and I’m having a hard time reconciling myself to the fact that my 20’s are almost over, and I’ve accomplished nothing I thought I would and a bunch of things I couldn’t have even dreamed.  I find myself, so often, taking account of where I am right now, the things that brought me to this place, and the adventure that lies ahead.

Honestly, as I take account, I feel so lost, and I feel so much sorrow for this time that I have lost.

When I graduated high school, I thought I wanted to be a band teacher.  Not because I felt some deep sense of calling, but because I was one of those girls that was pretty good at a bunch of things, but not great at anything.  I played my instruments well, I made good grades, I had good friends.  I never failed anything I attempted, I seemed to be good with kids and people, math, biology, spanish, and a whole host of unrelated things.  So I chose what I thought I could do well.

I chose to become a band instructor.

I only applied to two colleges, an all women’s school that is held in high esteem but with a not so great percussion studio, and a small public university with the best teaching school in the state and a good percussion department, and I chose the public school because of the percussion department.  They wooed me with their multiple percussion practice rooms, and beautiful marimbas.  None of that’s really important, what’s important is that I chose it because of what I thought I wanted to be.  I enjoyed band, was a good leader, and thought sure, I want to be a band director.

My 18 year old self said, ‘self, you don’t stand out in anything you do, so let’s do this thing that you like and could probably be ok at.’  I had no idea what I really wanted.  I had no idea who I was.  I spent the next few years trying to make it work–stumbling and failing and not caring at all, by the end of it.  I would not say that my college experience was a waste, I certainly enjoyed college.  I enjoyed some parts of my major, and really enjoyed the non-music classes (go figure).  I expected college to be somehow…different.  I thought it would be a community of learners that sat under trees reading and thinking and dissecting life with one another.  When I finally realized that I had made this mistake, this error, I left school.  I worked hard at a “real job” and thought that perhaps I’d go back to school, perhaps I would find a way to move up at my work and make that my life.

Fast forward some time, and I’ve become a missionary.  That may have seemed fast for you, but I promise for me, it happened even more quickly than that.  I had been discerning a potential call to mission even before I left school, and when I saw the opportunity and got a little encouragement from an outside party, I applied and prayed.  I decided that it was either missionary or back to school to pursue a degree in social work.  I still do not know what possessed GBGM to accept this lost young person, but they did and here I am.

I’ve had the last two years of my life planned and prescribed for me.  I was told what work to do, where to go, and how long to stay.  I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.  Ukraine forever changed my life, and Miami….well we’re still playing a wait and see game there.  I have been lucky, and blessed.  I’ve always had good opportunities for professional and spiritual development, and I acknowledge that not everyone makes out so well after abandoning college.

I find myself with 10 months left on my contract wishing I had known at 18 what I know now.  I can’t ever get that time back.  I don’t regret that time at all, but where could I now be, if I had known better then.  I’m sure when I’m 40 I will look back to this time and say I wish I would have known then, and boy do I wish I knew now.  I face, very soon, another big decision.  I feel that I am at some profound crossroads in my life, and whatever this next decision is it’s going to shape the arc of my life.  I would love to say that I’ve evolved past the expectations of success set by previous generations, set by my family.  I would love to say that I would happily float through life accepting opportunities and going with what feels good.

But the reality of my life, is that I am a practical person.  It’s always been my worst quality.  I wear flats instead of heels.  I don’t blow dry because it’s hot as mess here.  Practicality almost always wins, and that practical part is asking, well if you do this, where does that take you in 20 years?  Can you retire in that place?  How does it set you up for a career?  Does it put you in a position to care for your parents in 30 years, or for a family should that ever come along?  Will I be able to have a home and live comfortably (though my standards of comfortable are probably quite different than the mainstream)?  As I analyze the options, what is being made very clear to me is how little time I have left for these decisions.  If I want to become a clergy person, I need to finish my degree, then go to grad school, and by the time I’m done with all of that, I’ll be way deep in debt (probably) and I’ll be 31.  Which is not old, but it’s no spring chicken for a new career, though ministry is, I would reckon, one of the few career paths that has such a high number of, we’ll call them, late bloomers.  Perhaps I go back to Ukraine, and teach and make a life for myself there.  What lies beyond that?  Do I stay there forever?  Will I be fulfilled teaching English and working at the Student Center?

I wish so badly that I could have done all of this in a different order.  That I could have done this program, and then went to school focused on the things that I want for my life.  Even so, do I know that I still wouldn’t be right here freaking out about what’s next?  I do think that I want to go back to school, but that’s two or three more years of education that I can’t afford, and then what?  I start some new career which a bunch of other doe eyed folks 10 years my junior that will likely get promoted above me faster because their young brains are more awesome than mine.  The thing is, as I sit here, a grown up faking my way through, I know that I’m in life right now.  That life is currently happening, these will be years that I will remember fondly one day, years that I will miss in when I can no longer ambulate.  What will I choose?  What would you choose?  Somehow I feel this decision is too big for me, or that I somehow know what I want or need but am too afraid to seek it…..and truthfully the latter scares me more.

In some ways I’m still that 18 year old girl that’s looking at her options and wondering do I choose that which I’m good at, but perhaps not great?  Do I choose the comfortable place that I’ve established for myself?  Do I choose the daring option?  I don’t want to continue to choose my path based on comfort.  I chose this program because I couldn’t not choose it.  There was no other real option, but to try even if I would be rejected.  I knew I had to do it.  I knew that God was calling me here, but I somehow lack that urgency and calling for what’s to be next.  I know this next decision is huge, that it’s the difference between “landing in Alaska or landing in Fiji”, and yet I feel that I have squandered some of these years due to uncertainty, and lack of privilege in a way.

The difference this time, from that 18 year old girl, is that I am more sure and certain of myself than I have ever been.  I have somehow over these years found my voice, and become a fearsome woman (to some at least) that lets few things get in her way.  I honestly don’t know what’s next, but I’m pretty sure that whatever it is, it is going to shape the rest of my life.  I have to choose wisely and prayerfully.  I have to hope that it’s not too late to pursue the career I want, or the life I want.  I know that I’ve taken a slightly different path than most, and I feel secure that this was not all for naught.  Even with all of this certainty, all of this voice, and adultness I’ve found, this is truly a terrifying moment for me.  I hope (and in many ways I know) that whether I choose Fiji or Alaska that it’s lovely when I get there; that the road was full of adventure, love, and laughter, and that when I look back this defining moment, and the many others that will come, that I will be satisfied with this life I’m making.