My wasted 20s: A Story about trying to do it all over again at 33.
I am a single, young professional in her early 30s. I graduated from UC Davis with degrees in Art Studio and Russian Language and a minor in Film (as you can guess, I'm rolling in the dough now). I got super involved in our local radio station (KDVS) where I served as Publicity Director and hosted my own music show for a good 5 years. I was in my element and I loved all of those crazy days, deep underground in a tiny broadcasting heaven. At the same time I painted, drew, spent hours in the photo lab. It. Was. Awesome.
And then I graduated and moved back home with my parents until I found a job. It’s a common story, right? But what happened next was the first of a series of decisions that would come to haunt me for the next 10 years. I got into the habit of making situational decisions that took me far, far away from the path I wanted to go down, in exchange for a directionless, circular racetrack (that was full of potholes and banana peels).
"But what happened next was the first of a series of decisions that would come to haunt me for the next 10 years."
See, given all my art, music and broadcasting experience in college, I should have hit up bigger radio stations, production companies, TV stations and flown the coop and maybe knocked on NPR’s door and offer to make copies until I could get in as an assistant somewhere. But no, what I did is get a job and apartment… in the same small town I went to college in. Yeah! Take that world! I was a big kid now, with a boyfriend and my own apartment and a job! But my first job wasn’t the best fit (as most first jobs aren’t) and after a year and a half, I needed out. Which led to my next situational decision which was to get a “secure” 9-5 gig with “health benefits” and an “easygoing environment.” I’m an adult, right? This is what adults do. So I became a clerical temp at UC Davis and eventually got a job in a department where I was the youngest person by about 20 years in a giant pool of career secretaries (note: I have nothing against career secretaries, its just not where I wanted to be). After a few years, I found myself with a very nice paycheck (I bought a brand new car!) but I was feeling isolated and stuck. I was uninspired to do any creative work or do anything social; this wasn’t good. So then I decided to go back to school. I was 27. This seemed like a good decision. Except I didn’t go to grad school, I went for a 3rd bachelors because clearly, I’m a glutton for punishment. I got accepted into a really expensive, prestigious art school in Oakland and spent all my savings and took out loans for my first semester of a BFA in Animation. Halfway through my first semester it was very clear that this wasn’t the right path at all (there were a multitude of reasons, I’ll save them for my future memoirs). So I finished up my semester and when the money ran out, I thought the only sensible thing to do was to move back home with mom and dad. Looking back, I realize I could have stayed in the Bay, renting out a room and getting any kind of gig I could find but the truth was, I was too scared.
"but I’m getting to a point where it feels really good to just accept that hey- this is where I’m at and this is how I got here. This realization is good."
So back home I went and instead of recognizing the great opportunity to reinvent myself and start fresh in a brand new direction, I made another familiar, safe decision: move out and get a sensible job. After all, you must have health insurance! And so I entered phase 2 of my Administrative Arts training and down the rabbit hole I went. During this phase I again moved back to my sleepy college town (how is that possible, right?) got laid off (thanks, broke California) and was reassigned to more administrative adventures that I had come to know so well. Then some family shit hit the fan and I entered full-on “I’ll fix everything!” mode. And clearly, I couldn’t but unfortunately it took me a couple years to figure that out.
Then came a couple more confusing long-term relationships and whaddya know? My tiny internal flame just got dimmer and dimmer. I knew I was way off target but I wasn’t sure I knew how to get back on track. So I decided to get away and took a few trips to NYC, LA and Chicago and refueled my soul’s gas tanks (as Steph likes to say). While I was away I felt AWESOME. But when I came back… I still felt stuck. So I got away again and took 3 months off work and went to live with my uncle in London for a little while. It was AMAZING. But I had kept my job. And that made me uneasy. I was worried that I’d come back from this amazing experience and repeat the same goddamned pattern I’d grown so accustomed to in my 20s. But I really had to come back for a number of practical reasons. So last June 12th I touched down in Amurikah and…
I felt stuck again. (GAH!)
Ok, so now what?
Well, in the last couple months I’ve forced myself to examine the string of choices I made in my 20s. It took me a while to get over the disappointment of the missed opportunities during those years but I’m getting to a point where it feels really good to just accept that hey- this is where I’m at and this is how I got here. This realization is good. I mean, it can feel kinda crappy but it’s an amazing way to learn a lot about yourself.
The good news is it’s not something I can’t get myself out of. So, yay! And though sometimes it’s hard to realize it, I might actually be in a prime spot to finally make that move into a direction that brings me happiness. This might actually be my time. So I just started a class at City College on the Business of Music because my dream is to one day start an indie record label or music publicity business. I’m currently involved with a local nonprofit that helps communities start their own radio station and amelping coordinate efforts to bring an indie, low power fm station to downtown Sacramento. I’m illustrating a kids book my friend is writing and though its taking forever to get it done, the thought of soon completing this project brings me immense satisfaction and who knows where it might lead? I took my Leica camera to London and came back with about 25 rolls of film, full of photos that I am slowly making my way through and posting online. Little by little, I am feeding that little flame inside and though it’s still pretty tiny, I feel it starting to grow. At the moment I still have that crummy admin job but I’m applying for other gigs and I hope something bites soon.
"I am feeding that little flame inside and though it’s still pretty tiny, I feel it starting to grow."
I’m not sure if this long-ass, convoluted story makes any sense to anyone out there but me (actually it rarely makes sense to me either) but I will say that starting over is hard. Especially when you’re a creative soul who wants to do it “their own way.” Self-doubt and confusion are constant enemies at the moment but there’s a voice inside telling me it’s worth it. I think I know why I was so bummed about “wasting my 20s.” It’s because I (incorrectly) believed that a successful life has to be one, uninterrupted, constant line of progress. But now I see that life is anything but that; starting over is the name of this game. How else are you ever gonna get good at it unless you mess up and start it all over again?