On Wasting Your 20s
So I just turned 30 last week.
I know, I know. I don't look 30. I still get carded buying cough medication and trying to get into R-rated movies. Moving on.
Despite the cultural pomp and circumstance surrounding the Big 3-0, my birthday was a non-event. It was a strange, kind of boring, kind of sad day, to be honest. I was sick and it was rainy outside, and I just felt a bit lonely. More than that, I just felt a little defeated. After all, you have to have some of that customary, "Oh my god, I wasted my 20s, drinking beer and eating sushi like a giant sad puppy in human clothes" malaise.
Now that it's been a week, I've slept. I've taken some cold medication and gotten some work done. I took a walk or two. I feel better. And so, having come out of that particular funk, I'm had some thoughts about the whole idea of "wasting my 20s."
The age-old adage of "Your 20s are where you fuck up" is true enough, I guess. You're probably not very smart, experienced, or resourceful yet. You're somehow expected to arrive in the world as an adult, when your brain's probably not done being a teen yet, and have this whole grown-up thing Worked Out. You're also expected to completely fuck up. I mean, fuck it all up. Party all the time! Drink too much! Date the wrong people! Hell, marry the wrong people if you can! You're young! Burn your bridges! Time is on your side!
So many movies and books are dedicated to this hackneyed old plot, so feel free to fail. Culture condones it. Just make sure you finish school and get a great job and get your life together and buy a house and get married. Do all of those things to fuck up your life, but be sure to be successful while doing it. It's what you have to do. Make that 30 Under 30 list or die trying. Shrug emoji.
But...what if you didn't fuck it all up? What if fucked up stuff just happened to you in your 20s?
What if you spent your 20s being responsible for your parents or siblings? What if you're taking care of your children? What if you're helping take care of other people because they can't work, or because they're sick? What if you have to take a series of lousy jobs to keep the lights on? What if you have to drop out of college? What if you fall behind? What if you're broke because you've been sick for years? What if you've had an accident, or a chronic illness? What if you've had serious bouts of depression? Did you fuck it all up then? Are you fucked up?
What if you were too busy trying to stay alive to fuck up your 20s by partying and being bad with money? What if you didn't have time for fun? What if you had no Mumblecore coming-of-age moment? Did you waste your 20s then? Did you lose your youth? Are you really an adult if you went from teen to grown-up with no socially acceptable, commercially sanctioned in-between? If your 20s are the grace period for the rest of your life, was it all for naught?
So yes, by the measure of many, I certainly fucked up my 20s. I dropped out of college and took shitty jobs to keep the lights on. I didn't make plans. I spent a lot of time working at places that I absolutely hated, and making sure other people were taken care of, and crying myself to sleep. There were years when I didn't know if my family would lose their house. There were years that I was certain I would be dead soon.
I never made it onto a 30 Under 30 list. I didn't those publish five novels. I didn't even move out. I'm 30 and just now about to wrap up my undergrad work while 20-somethings sit next to me in class in awe that I'm so old. Oh well. They're still young, and life can still disappoint them at any moment.
So, yeah. I turned 30 last week. I turned 30, having gone through my 20s assuming I would already be dead or homeless by now. So happy belated birthday to me.