aging // enlightenment

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This is my first newsletter as a 26-year-old!!! That’s right—not only am I now in my late-mid-twenties, but I also have to find my own health insurance and hope that I will not require a hospital visit because I can literally not afford it. I am less than thrilled with the amount of unsolicited responsibility I’ve been gifted.

This is the first birthday for which I haven’t been jazzed.  In the month leading up to the big day, I spent nearly every day navigating the Covered California website only to find that once I picked my ideal health insurance plan, my application wouldn’t go through on the site.  And then when I tried to live chat with someone for help, they disconnected after not resolving my problem. Also, I got the flu, followed by laryngitis and the whole time, I had to think about what I’d do if I had a terrible disease and didn’t want to pay to go to the doctor.

Not only this, but I’ve been consumed by this dark, sinking feeling that’s been whispering in my ear, “You haven’t accomplished enough and you’re almost 30, you loser.”

I’ve always been a fan of deadlines. Perhaps it was because I was on the staff of a fantastic high school newspaper, and knew the importance of getting things done on time. Maybe it’s because I’ve always up for a challenge since first grade, where I stayed up reading a reviewing 15 books one night so I could finish first in a competition. Though, something tells me it’s a product of my high-functioning anxiety more than anything else. I’ve always liked to get things done. I like the process of doing just as much as I like the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve completed a project. Even now, when I don’t really have deadlines because I’m floating in a strange unemployed limbo, I still like to set goals just to prove to myself that I can achieve them.

The thing about this most recent “deadline,” however, is that I didn’t even know it existed until it was too late. I’ve seen Facebook “memories” that tell me I graduated four years ago, and have officially been out of college longer than I was in it. I’ve yet to be paid for an industry job, and always seem to come close, only to fall on my face. I’ve seen my peers land jobs and get paid to do what I want to do. A wonderful combination of all these experiences culminated in me freaking out because compared to some, I have accomplished very little. Suddenly, I felt like I had missed my first deadline. (Literally the first. I have never turned anything in late. Thank you, stress hormones!)

I wish I could say that I discovered a magical solution that will make someone be less self-critical and more excited about the future in an instant, but I can’t. Over a number of weeks, I did a lot of sitting around, grumbling to myself about how I shouldn’t have looked at someone’s Instagram feed because I would draw comparisons. I did some Twitter scrolling, busying myself with Chrissy Teigen food pictures and occasional advice from board artists at Cartoon Network about how to be successful (tip: you have to go to Cal Arts). I took a lot of naps in the middle of the day.

And slowly, as I continued on with my life and my work, I came to realize that my life was not actually caving in with each passing second as I neared 26. And then I started to realize a few things:

1. Work is work, no matter how much you love it.

I tell myself that what I do all day isn’t really work because I enjoy doing what I do. However, this isn’t 100 percent true. It is work. If you are dedicating time and effort to something with a goal in mind, it is work. If you are working towards your dream career, then the steps you’re taking are work. If you whine alone about how you don’t want to fix the plot holes in a story, it is work.

And if you work, you need a break. For so long, I’ve called everything but breaks, my “breaks.” I’ve taken walks for the sole purpose of ironing out character details. I’ve watched documentaries that were secretly research for whatever projects I was working on. I’ve written blog posts I called “venting,” but were really just created as content, and were not actually for my well being at all.

Honestly, I’m still working on this one, so I can’t say I’ve ironed all the details out. But something tells me it will involve yoga or playing Mario Tennis for the Nintendo Switch or something like that.

2. Every person is on his or her own path, and these paths will greatly vary from one person to the next.

I uttered variants of this to myself time and time again, but I finally believe it. No one’s career path is going to look the same as the next person’s. I mean, maybe if you’re in the tech business (is that even what they call it?), you get a paid internship and it turns into a job right out of school, but for creatives, this is often not the case. So much of our success depends on luck and timing, and these are things that are out of our control. Behind almost every success story, there are so many weird things that had to go just right.

What we can do, though, as we’re waiting for that sliver of opportunity, is to work on things that make us happy. Make things that only we, as unique individuals, can make. Create things that make our hearts sing.

To compare oneself to someone else is unnecessary and not useful, and will literally just make you anxious and not want to do anything, and that’s how you end up taking a nap for 3 hours in the middle of the day. I would know.

3. I am okay.

I have loved ones within driving distance and/or a phone call away, a roof over my head, and a tiny, semi-full fridge. I’m doing just fine.

These are the things that keep me going when all I want to do is give up and take a job as a corporate shill, knowing that while I won’t be happy, at least I’ll be able to go to the doctor without going into debt. They help me remember that I have control over how I feel, even when I don’t have control of external forces. They let me know when it’s time to take a step back from whatever I’m doing, and stop thinking about the future for a moment, and that doing so won’t literally kill me.

Along the way to this 26-year-old enlightenment, I picked up a few other, less momentous, but also kind-of-important tidbits that help me from time to time:

-You can apparently put wax paper in the oven.

-Get a credit card with good cashback rewards.

-The imperfect produce subscription box is insanely affordable if you keep referring friends for $10 off codes. (If you want my code, let me know. You get $10 off, too!)

-Sometimes the best thing you can do for your body is to let it rest.

-Quit hate stalking your enemies.

-Wear a moisturizer with SPF.

-Wear moisturizer in general.

-Sleep aids are not evil.

-Sulfates are, though.

-Eat when you’re hungry.

-Breathe.

These, combined with everything else I’ve learned along the way to 26 have soothed my fear of impending doom, and made getting older a little bit more pleasant. I think I’ll be just fine, after all.

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