You know that feeling that you have when you're absolutely sure that there is vital information that you need to know if you have any chance of surviving and you're not sure what it is or how to get it but you're positive you don't have it? That feeling of doom that comes from the understanding that not having this knowledge is guaranteed to make you incapable of either performing the duties you're expected to perform or successfully navigating a tricky situation? That old metaphor of the lack of instruction manual when it comes to life?
Well that's the feeling I've had for the duration of my adult life.
When I was growing up, I lived with the assumption that someday, somehow, I would become an adult. There would be some transition wherein I would become a capable, independent, intelligent woman who was able to successfully navigate difficult life situations with wisdom and acceptance rather than stupidity and panic. I would learn, perhaps magically, to balance a checkbook, to hold my temper, to take charge of a chaotic situation, to respond calmly to people who were out of control, to do basic household maintenance by washing the dishes and doing the laundry and going grocery shopping on a timely, regular schedule.
This was what being an adult was to me. And I believed, whole heartedly, that it would happen. I didn't know how or why exactly, but I trusted that if I made responsible choices I would reap the rewards of an organized lifestyle.
Nearing the end of my twenties I can no longer make the excuse that perhaps I'm just in prolonged adolescence. The belief that I was just like everyone else because so many people nowadays do not accomplish basic adult milestones until later in life. The hope that I was simply a little late in gaining an understanding of the rules I need to play by. I don't think that anymore, it's just been too long.
Especially because, unlike a lot of other people from my generation, I didn't take time off from school to backpack around Europe or move to an exciting city to "discover myself" or take so many drugs that it took me a few years to emerge from the haze and start living. No, I was responsible. I went straight to college after high school and straight from college to grad school and straight from grad school to a job. I studied a skill, started my career- no pause, no break. I had one big trip- after grad school, and I did back pack around Europe. But my job was already set in stone with a return date before I left and that three weeks passed by far quicker than I could have realized it would.
Now, five years later with an educational background that firmly places me in the felid that I've been working in I feel more lost than ever before.
This is not the life I thought I was working towards. I hate my job on a level I thought was reserved to those who burned out after twenty years in the field. After only five years I have become so jaded that I no longer believe in my career path. I would happily go back to working in a boring office if it meant more money and less stress and the saddest thing is that despite 6 years of college and over $40K in student loans and five years of work experience I think that I could easily make more as an administrative assistant and have a fuck of a lot less stress.
And that naive belief that I had before that the money meant nothing in comparison to the knowledge that I was helping people? I don't have that anymore. I've become so cynical that I would happily say "Fuck off" to every client I've ever had if I could earn a decent living and go home at night without a billion worries on my mind.
And all those adult skills I thought I'd have learned by now? Balancing a checkbook, staying calm and rational in chaotic situations, handling drama with wisdom and composure, maintaining a household? I don't have any of them. Am I as bad as I used to be? Hell no. But am I nowhere near what I envisioned? Ions away from it, it seems.
And I don't think there are any other adult milestones that might suddenly bring that knowledge I seek. A career? We've already covered that disaster. A relationship? I'm with the man I'm going to stay with for the rest of my life. We just went to a wedding (not ours, obviously). People talked about the bride groom like they were "adults" now because they were considering another person's needs as importantly as their own. I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take for them to become as dysfunctional and miserable as most married couples. I certainly don't think they're any less stupid than I am, probably a lot more so because they actually believe it'll work out. And kids? If my belief system isn't jaded enough to convince me that bringing a child into the world would be the biggest mistake I could possibly make then I don't know what is. I'm messed up enough, I don't need to mess up anyone else. So there's no other milestones I'm expecting to magically transform me into a responsible adult.
And that thought- that I don't know something I really need to know in order to survive- it plagues me. I feel more naive now- with my years of experience and lessons learned- than I did before college.
Then again, maybe that's what's wisdom is. Knowing enough to know that you really don't know anything. That you're only as smart as the smart people you parrot. That you only have half a chance of any given situation ending well, despite how many times you've done it before. That no matter how hard you try to prepare and organize there will always be a billion factors beyond your control that can easily fuck things up irrevocably and all you can possibly do is try not to drown in the mess left over.
I don't know. I'd like to think not. I'd like to think that that wisdom, that composure, that ability to handle the things that come my way will grow over time. Maybe it's not an "adulthood" thing. Maybe it's a "mid life" thing or even a "senior" thing. I don't know. All I know is if I lay on my death bed many, many years from now and I still have that feeling that I didn't know vital information I really needed- I'm going to be pissed.