It’s my birthday week (yay!) and I stopped to think for a moment today about turning 23.
I asked my dad last week if he’d ever imagined what my sister and I would be like when we grew up when we were kids.
It occurred to me that when I was younger, I never imagined what I’d be like when I was in my twenties. I never stopped to think about what I would like to do, or who I would be as a person.
When you’re a kid, your future is defined by what you want to be when you grow up. It’s the first question adults and teachers and your friends ask you.
The answer from the time we can formulate thoughts to the time we graduate college is very much the same.
It may go from an astronaut to an aerospace engineer, but we learn early on to define our beings, our intentions, by our careers. It defines everything from the toys we choose to play with, the people we choose to hang out with and the colleges we choose to apply for.
I’m about to turn 23 and I’m still struggling with the “what do I want to be when I grow up?” question.
Over the years I’ve wanted to be a vet, a wildlife painter, a wildlife rehabilitation center owner, an author, a spy, be a nuclear physicist, a forensic investigator, a Nat Geo photographer.
Here I am, at 23, having had quite a few jobs, a handful of internships and two careers.
And yet, being a “Marketing Manager” is the least defining aspect of who I am today.
The world puts this magical boundary on adulthood. There’s some undefined point in time, a moment, when suddenly we’re adults and we have our shit together and everything is okay. As a kid, its this dream spot where you’ll have freedom and adventures. As a wildly struggling teenager, its a lifeboat to cling too when the world is spinning out of control. As a college student its fuel for the late night study sessions and the ramen dinners, its the justification for more money than you’ve ever seen piling up in student loans.
That magical moment of adulthood.
I turned 16 and got my driver’s license and nothing changed. I survived teenagedom and got into college and nothing changed. I moved my tassel and got my diploma and nothing changed. I found my first job, quit my first job, traveled the world to find myself, got another job, got engaged.
And nothing changed.
This magical moment of adulthood? Its not real.
There’s no moment when you have your shit together and the stars align and you’re perfectly happy and your life has purpose and you have it figured out.
From what I’ve seen of that magical world of “adulthood” is not something I want to strive for.
Adulthood suddenly comes when you realize that you are literally dying in a windowless office, working a job you hate.
Its that moment when you stop trying, stop dreaming. When your life revolves around mortgage payments and trips to the grocery store.
Its the moment when you stop feeling like a kid, that you truly become an adult.
And that moment is one that I will forever run away from.
Its Friday night and we’ve been out of toilet paper since Tuesday. My kitchen is full of dirty dishes and I forgot to renew the registration on my car, which is, coincidentally, dying. I don’t know what I want to do for a living when I grow up, but I do know that what I’m doing right now isn’t forever.
By every marker of success that we learn to judge by early on, I’m failing.
I am proud of who I am today, as I get ready to turn 23.
I am NOT my career.
I am NOT the cleanliness of my apartment.
I am NOT my relationships.
I am adventurous. I am confident. I am accountable. I am compassionate. I am patient. I notice the little things. I am smart. I am loyal. I am creative.
I am passionate about causes I care about and I am up to some pretty amazing things.
I wish that at 8, at 16, at 20, I would have realized that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter what I decide to do with my life, or if I even decide on any one thing.
I wish that I had spent more time focusing on what made me happy, on being a good person, on developing skills and qualities that made me proud of who I was.
Because today? Today I never want to grow up. I never want to reach that scary place of adulthood. I want to make mistakes and grow from them. I want to eat ice cream for dinner more nights than I’d like to admit. I want to go to the store in my pajamas and prioritize travel and adventure over retirement accounts and a down payment on a house. I want to be madly and passionately in love, I want to see the beauty in every moment. I want to do the things that make me happy, even if that means never being rich.
At the end of your life, your success is totally and 100% defined by you. Did YOU lead a life you were proud of? Not the world, not your parents or your friends, not even your significant other.
Success then, is being the best possible version of yourself.
Its not your job, its not what you do or don’t do.
Its who you are.
Whether you’re 15 or 55, I hope this gives you the courage to tell the world to piss off (as my British step-momma would say). Stop stressing over things you can’t control. Enjoy the little moments and don’t try too hard to grow up – after all, its a myth.