Life Updates – Hello, Adulthood

For anyone who’s kept up with my blog, you might have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Since my last post in July, I’ve gone through a series of experiences one might summarize in a phrase as “growing up.” I moved to a new apartment. I got my first “real” job. I started some new hobbies. I’ve made new friends. I’m spending more time thinking about what direction I want to go in life. My life has taken on a whole new rhythm, to say the least.

I believe that we are all constantly developing and changing and learning new things. And no, I don’t think anyone ever reaches the pinnacle of maturity, but some of my experiences from this summer–and in the last year–have challenged me in ways that I didn’t realize I needed, wanted, or could even handle. And because of these things, I finally feel like I can say I’ve fumbled my way into adulthood.

Here I am. It’s nearly winter and I’m ready to reflect on what might appear to some as superficial markers on the road to adulthood, but are nonetheless my lived experiences keenly felt.

Dealing with job rejections

I’ve never been good at dealing with rejection (or self-perceived failure). As a kid, I would cry if I didn’t get a personal record at swim meets. As a high school senior, I broke down in sobs when the final college rejection letter came, dashing my Ivy League dreams. Even in college, I felt shattered each time a flute audition or exam didn’t go my way. But I learned from these experiences and I kept going.

When I went on the job hunt, I thought I was prepared for rejections. At this point, I thought all my prior experiences with failure had made me an expert at falling down and getting back up again. I’m sure they did help me a little, but in the end they were just a taste of the challenges to come.

Trying to capture your life’s experience on a 1-page resume, 500-word cover letter, and 20-minute interview is hard. Having people tell you that you aren’t the right fit, even after hours of meticulously tailoring your narrative, your experiences, your value to the organization, is hard. Wanting nothing more than to contribute to a worthy cause and then getting told no, is hard.

My confidence was put through the ringer. Every rejection felt so personal even when I kept telling myself that it wasn’t. While finding comfort in others was extremely helpful, the only thing I knew that would get me to where I wanted to go was to try again.

And you know what they say, 36th time is the charm. In late August, I landed a job at an organization that I greatly respect. I’m thankful to be in a place where I can learn and grow for the next phase of my life. That’s what’s important to me.

Financial literacy

I guess another part of growing up is financial literacy. I know they tried to teach me these things in high school, but it just seemed so intangible back then. And it’s not like I don’t know how to balance a budget, I’ve been reading program and organization budgets for a few years now. I currently work in development, which involves lots of interpreting and writing about finances. But when it came down to making personal finance decisions, like negotiating my salary, figuring out how much to put away for retirement, or picking health benefits, I was scared. I had no precedents to follow.

It was during this time that I realized how important it is to have mentors in your life. People who you trust and can go to in these situations. Something that I noticed from this experience is that I have some personal relationship building to do. I have people that I considered as mentors, but I was still nervous to talk to them about personal finances. Being an adult means choosing your relationships (more on that later) and figuring out who to go to with these questions. This was a process for me. Luckily, I was able to open up to a few people and get their opinions. But in the end, I knew the decisions still had to come down to me.

Changing perception of time

Something that I’ve noticed in the past few months is how different the passage of time feels. My concept of time has completely changed since graduating from university. I used to think that two years was so far away. Now, two years seems like the very near future.

I used to think about my life in hours, days, semesters. Now, I’m thinking about my life in months and years. We haven’t even hit the Winter Solstice yet, but spring seems right around the corner. In the fall, I impulsively bought a plane ticket to France for February 2018 because there was a crazy sale and February didn’t seem so far away.

What’s interesting is that while I feel like the weeks go by faster, things around me seem to change at a slower pace. I don’t know if it’s because my life as a professional isn’t as fast-paced as my life as a student or if it’s because I’m just settling into who I am.

When I was living in France, I felt like I was constantly being bombarded by new experiences, new information, and new people. While I was in this state of constant stimulation, it was hard for me to project even three months into the future. Now that I’m in a place where I can more or less predict who I’m going see and what I’m going to do everyday, it’s easy for me to think about something three years down the line.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about all this, but it’s a new feeling and I welcome it–for now.

Taking risks

Recently I’ve stopped regularly playing flute. For those who may not know, being a musician has been a large part of my identity for a long time. In some ways, I should have seen this coming. During college, there were many times when I felt pulled in different directions by my many interests. I felt the pressure of having to specialize and graduate within a reasonable amount of time in direct conflict with my desire to learn more broadly.

Those pressures went away when I moved to France. I had a clean slate. No one knew me. The vast majority of French people don’t know about the societal construct that is the American university machine. (Believe me, American universities are very weird places with very weird institutionalized practices.) For a year, I got to be an observer. I got to live life, learn by experience, and the only person evaluating me was me.

It was my year abroad that made me realize that there are so many experiences that I have yet to have and these aren’t things that a book can teach me. I made the conscious decision to pursue a career, to learn something new.

To me, it felt like a risk.

Defining relationships

Defining relationships is hard. I’m not just talking about romantic ones. I’m talking about friendships, familial, professional, and everything in between. When I was little, I had such clear definitions of what relationships meant. My family is the people I live with. My friends are the people I go to school with. My teachers are the people who give me new information. Your partner is the person you marry. I follow the rules made by adults.

When I got to college things changed a little. I could call my professors by their first names. I could meet new people all the time. I could choose my friends. They didn’t have to be people I knew from school. They could be older. They could be younger. They could even be–wait for it–graduate student TA’s! It was up to me to decide who I talked to on a regular basis. If I didn’t want a friendship to slowly fade away, I needed to put in effort.

Recently, I feel like lines have become even more blurred. Who do I consider my family? Who do I love? Who do I respect? What does it mean to have professional relationships? Are we still friends even if we don’t talk all the time? Who makes the rules?

In the end, I’m starting to realize that relationships are just connections between people. Sometimes a group of people. Sometimes just you and one other person. Relationships are so uniquely dependent on the very human, very flawed, but always very beautiful people you meet in your life.

I find myself moving away from trying to define what I have in a relationship and more towards just trying to enjoy each other’s company for as long as we can maintain it.

Defining new goals

I already said that I’ve stopped playing flute. This in no way means that I love music any less or that I love the arts any less. In fact, I think it’s my love for the arts (in the broad sense of the word) that is pulling me away from flute playing.

Recently, I’ve felt compelled to explore other forms of creative and intellectual expression. I’ve felt compelled to find my authentic voice and I’m not sure that flute playing is the perfect medium for me. It’s a medium I cherish, but I feel like there is something else out there for me.

I know for a fact that I have an artist’s heart. Creating, expressing, and sharing emotional moments is something that I need in my life, but I’ve realized that it doesn’t have to be through flute playing or even music. So I find myself in a phase of experimentation. I’m studying languages and politics. I’m practicing yoga. I’m reading more. I’m writing more. I’m learning digital arts.

Maybe it will lead to something. Maybe it will lead to nothing. I will never know unless I try.

8 thoughts on “Life Updates – Hello, Adulthood

  1. Cindy, I love this piece. You are a strong, honest voice for your generation. In some ways I have felt that millennials have hard time growing up because there are so many different avenues available to explore and some become paralyzed in making a decision. I love how you embrace the nuances and gray areas and just let it be. Looking back I wish I had less of prescribed life and and worried less about defining relationships, success etc. and just being open to the experience of life. I am still learning to adult, it never ends but does get easier!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One more point to clarify: it’s not so much that there are too many choices it’s that my generation, (including me!), has fostered anxiety and fear of failure. Social media doesn’t help either. Uggh, we’ve made adulting even harder.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your words Sue! So much of this process has been me getting over my fear of failure. These days I’m just trying to take experiences as they come and enjoy them while I can. It’s not easy and I find myself in existential crisis mode a lot, but it’s kind of cool that, so far, I’ve always been able to make it through.

        Like

  2. I have never heard such a good description of time perception! Also, most people in academia do not perceive the bubble in which they live. And, you will come back to the flute, I’m sure, and you will play even more beautifully than when you played in college.

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  3. I really love everything you’ve said here! It’s such a strange but freeing point in time… I know I’ve changed immensely from one year ago spending Thanksgiving in France as an assistante de langue. Glad you’re taking everything with such optimism! Congrats on getting a job!

    Liked by 1 person

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