A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On the Subject of "Aging"

One reason that I have felt so confused and directionless is that only within the last few months did it hit me that wow, I’m twenty-seven and I’ve never held a full-time “adult” job. I worked a full forty-hour week at a few low-paying jobs that I held during college and after I earned my Bachelor’s degree, I took a thirty-hour-a-week job as a Teacher’s Aide. That gig felt like a full time job because I spent the day trying to keep up with five-year-olds who have the energy levels of tiny rocket boosters. Then I worked part-jobs while I attended graduate school, and after earning my Master’s degree, I started working as an (part-time) adjunct professor. This can be a lot of work, depending on the number of classes that you’re teaching, but still isn’t considered full-time employment.

Basically, I’ve spent my entire life working too hard for too little—but that’s how it is when you start out. I repeat: when you start out. I’m beginning to worry that by the age of twenty-seven, I should have “gotten somewhere in life,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

But what does that really mean? Why does “getting somewhere” have to do with your position in a company, the amount on your paycheck, or whether you own a house yet?

In the six years since I graduated from college, I have gotten married, moved to Washington D.C., learned how to make and sell jewelry, gotten a Master’s degree, presented at three international conferences, learned how to paint with watercolors, and moved to the New York City metro area. I haven’t done as much traveling as I would have liked yet (because the funds of a graduate school student with a book addiction are quite meager), but there’s still time for that; meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed exploring both Washington D.C. and New York. So why should I feel dissatisfied with my life?

I don’t feel discontented, in fact, but something external is telling me that I am falling behind. I couldn’t tell you what I’m falling behind, exactly, but it must be something important. Otherwise that nagging feeling wouldn’t have quite so much power to wake me up in the middle of the night. It is, after all, a quiet voice—but it has quite a lot of sway sometimes. And that little voice is telling me that I need to find Direction. A course a little bit different than the one that I’ve been pursuing.

I’ve been shoving that feeling aside for a while, but what has finally motivated me to change directions to find full-time employment have been the endless discussions between my husband and myself about finances and home ownership. The facts add up this way: in order for us to be able to afford a house in New York, I would have to get a full-time job and make X amount. If I continued to just work part-time and we popped out more than one kid, little Jeremy Jr. and Lauren Jr. would be sharing the tiny second bedroom in our apartment. That could get pretty awkward when they hit puberty. Also, we’d never be able to afford that cruise in Greece that I would like to take, or have the cash to tour Italy or buy a boat. So once I took stock of all of these factors, I started feeling much more motivated to find a career that would guarantee full-time employment.

Career choices aside, being twenty-seven doesn’t really make me feel “unsuccessful” or old. I really enjoyed being twenty-five; two and five are both round-looking numbers, which appeals to me. Some friends of mine had some sort of quarter-life crisis when they turned twenty-five, but I just thought it was cool that I had been alive for a quarter of a century. Twenty-seven seems a little odd, although I can’t fully explain why. Seven is a pointy number, which I guess isn’t all that appealing to me.

What does make me feel old? Well, there are a couple of things that I’ve noticed lately:

1) January 19th, 2011 was Buffy Summer’s thirtieth birthday. If you read my last post, you know that I grew up admiring the teenage heroine, and to imagine her as thirty years old is almost more foreign than realizing that I am nearing that age.

2) When I looked down at my favorite thick, brightly-striped socks from the Gap, I saw that there were finally holes in the toes. This made me realize that I’ve had these socks for ten years, which seems somewhat impossible. I still won’t get rid of them, of course—Gap doesn’t make cool socks like these any more.

3) Sometimes I look at my bookshelves and realize that it’s been five or even ten years since I’ve read some of my favorite books. Are they really my favorites if I haven’t read them in ten years? I ask myself. (They are stories that made such an impression on me at the time that I read them that they have never faded from my memory, so I think they count as favorites in a way. I’m planning to re-read some of them this year, though.)

4) Conversations that I’ve had over the last year with my students, in which I describe “the card catalog,” have made me feel extremely old. It’s not that I have trouble with technology changing at such a fast pace, but it’s strange to realize that many of the people with whom I interact have never used the card catalog or listened to a “mix tape.”

5) I had the same feeling when we went to the American History Museum in downtown Washington D.C. and saw, in the History of Technology exhibit, the Apple computer that my family owned when I was young. (Does anybody remember the all-black screen with the display characters in that bright neon green?)

Other than these strange moments, though, I don’t really feel old at all. In fact, part of me feels as though I could still happily spend a few more years experimenting with different jobs before settling down to a career. But because my husband and I know that we want to have kids in a few years, I know that it’s time to find something a little more permanent. It’s really more about growing up and accepting responsibility, not just achieving something particular or feeling successful. It’s not about being older; it’s about being more mature. So it’s time for me to be more realistic… which ultimately will allow me to fulfill more of my dreams, anyway.

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