Sometimes being 23 is a horrible thing. At 23, you’re far enough into your twenties that it feels as if you should have things figured out by now. In fact, you’re far enough into your twenties that you know people who do have things figured out, or at the very least, who seem to. Screw you Jennifer Lawrence for being only 22 and having won an Oscar (And for being the envy of men and women across the country. No, the globe. No, probably the universe). And don’t get me started on Justin Bieber. Talk about successful young wunderkinds who make the rest of us look bad.
In your twenties the world should feel like your oyster—pardon the cliché. And, sure, sometimes it does. But other times it feels instead as if it’s time to become that person who you’re going to be for forever. Which, when you’re only 23, is a pretty scary thing, since forever is a very, very long time.
Liberal Arts College is over. The real world isn’t about having hobbies. There are no elective requirements in life. It’s time to specialize in one area, to funnel yourself into your career, to decide what you want to be when you grow up.
You’ve been asked the question practically since your life began, but now it’s time to have an answer. What do you want to be? Okay, I guess that ‘s not so hard. I want to be happy. But what should I do to be happy? What do I want? Well, there are two sides to the happiness coin: the side of dreams and the side of goals.
My dreams tell me that I want to live in that wonderfully broad, empowering sense of the word, in the way that Jessa from Girls or Shug from The Color Purple might use it. I want to travel everywhere—to live abroad in London, siesta in Spain, barter in Spanish at a market in Peru. I want to live like Carrie Bradshaw, spending money I don’t have on brunches, parties, and clothes, and eventually find financial success by writing a book that Parisians adore.
And then there are my goals, those expectations that I have for myself when I imagine what life will be like for grown-up me. They’re less exciting, sure, but no less vital to the happiness equation. So, what are my goals? I want a career that I’m proud of and that will allow me to support my shopping habit. I want to publish a book that people actually read, though I’m flexible on whether or not those people live in Paris. I want a dog. I want a walk-in closet. I want a family with kids who mean as much to each other as my sister means to me.
I want everything—isn’t that what you’re supposed to want at 23?—but sometimes, it’s just overwhelming. Your dreams, your goals, your life: it can all be so utterly, impossibly overwhelming. So much so that sometimes, the only thing you can do is nothing. You just need to hole up and hold still. Of course, standing still is the scariest thing of all; the world keeps moving, even when you don’t, and the last thing you want is for life to pass you by.
But really, what else can you do? When you need to hold still, that needs to be okay. Maybe you’ll fall behind. But one day—maybe the next—you’ll wake up and feel better. And then you’ll start moving again. Maybe with purpose, maybe just wandering, just moving to move, but in the end, I think, you’ll always catch up and find yourself right where you’re supposed to be.