I have this general problem. I am almost 30, and I am not a grown-up person. I am a college drop out, have never had a ‘real’ job. I’m working for almost 3 years now at a job that doesn’t pay a lot, but really easy and it’s basically the only one I could get. And I also still live with my mum [I live in a country which is in a constant, 25-years long economical crisis, so it's not really easy to get away from that] Also, most of my life I’ve been really shy, so no girlfriend ever either. I do feel much more confident in last 2-3 years, but some things I still cannot overcome.
Most important, I cannot commit to anything really. Whatever I start doing [like trying to learn some program language to maybe be able to work in IT], I never finish, I easily get bored, lose concentration. It’s like that with almost everything. I always delay things, because of laziness and sometimes fear. I get in a fight with a family members cause I’m keeping everything inside, and than it explodes and I [and them] say stupid things. I don’t even know what I want to be in terms of professional career. I have one idea, start reading about that, than I get bored and go to something else.
I live in a small town, most of my friends moved to a bigger city. I want it too, but in order to do that, I’d have to find a job. That is really hard right now even for someone who has a college diploma and better skills than me. I know I’m not stupid, I know I am good at some things [though my knowledge in any area is too general], but how do I make that step and start really trying hard to be better at something? Obviously, that’s not my only problem, but I feel like I have to change something in this area to be able to improve in some others…
Elodie Under Glass here.
Yes, adulthood is a scary horse. You can make up all sorts of excuses not to get onto its back: “Oh, I have a funny feeling in my leg. My horse allergy is playing up.” But in the meantime, you’re not winning any races, and everyone else knows that you’re secretly afraid of horses. Your dreams are big! Your intentions are good! But you have to get on the horse.
These are hard times for our generation. The Horse of Adulthood has never looked so unappealing. Raised to believe that we were entitled to a better life than our parents had, we are confronted instead with stagnant housing, staggering tuition fees, rampant unemployment, climate change, recessions, and rains of frogs. It is rough to be an under-thirty; I sympathize greatly. Why would you want to get on this horse? It doesn’t look like it’s any fun to ride, and it also looks like a very long fall from its very tall back. You know that if you trust yourself to this animal, you risk rejection, failure and hurt. It’s easier to be “lazy and afraid” than to commit to this animal.
There are so many reasons not to touch it, it’s a wonder that anyone ever manages to – wait, what? Your friends have already – what? Balls. Did they get better horses? Because you can’t even find the start button on – what? They’re winning the – how did they do that? They entered the Olympics? They’ve won the Olympics? WHAT IS HAPPENING.
So I have two beginnings for you, two opposing-but-necessary thought-pathways that you have to synthesize into your brain. They are contradictory. You will not like them. But you must read them. They are:
- These are hard times, and it is okay to be where you are! Your position is perfectly understandable, and there is absolutely no shame in it. You can work on this, and you can bring yourself into the life that you would like to have. Everyone takes a different path, and no one path is better than any other – some people simply come into themselves later in life.
- These are always hard times and everyone is in a recession. You are out of excuses and we are running out of patience. Others spent their twenties improving themselves, taking joy in their skills, building their futures and forming their hearts in the very same difficult economic climate; you spent your twenties so terrified of risk and rejection that you bummed yourself right out of the game, and it’s nobody else’s responsibility to haul you back into it. You are not inherently entitled to a regular wage, a pleasant job, a comfortable home or a willing girlfriend, and complaining that life has not yet handed you these things because “you still need to work on your confidence” is naive at best and offensive at worst.
Absorb and reconcile these two pathways in your head. Both are true. You are in an understandable place; but you have been selfish with your energy and lazy with your opportunities. You are going through some very real, very difficult stuff; yet you have not given very much to the world. You have to pay something into the Universe’s collection plate before you can reasonably expect to get anything back. Give some piece of your body, soul, time, energy, labor, strength, intelligence, humor, wisdom, skill or beauty to the world. You have to risk! You have to work for it. You have to work to be good at working!
What I want you to do is to forgive yourself, and try to understand yourself, and to spend some time with yourself; but I also want you to understand that there is work that you have to do here. You won’t get what you want without it. For example, once you receive the Magical Hat of +5 Confidence, you won’t stumble happily into Having A Girlfriend. You have to work to make yourself into a person who can have a relationship. This is labor. You have to work to make yourself into a person who can maintain a relationship. This, too, is hard work. You have to work to make yourself into a person who can handle the change of a relationship, whether it changes in death, breakup or marriage. Work? This work will bring you to your knees. And we haven’t even tackled the complexities of “living on your own” or “plowing into a career” yet. It will be hard, by god. You’ll probably hate it.
But so far, you have not demonstrated that you can carry these burdens at all. Simply showing up at your workplace for 3 years has done absolutely nothing to build your character. (And please know that I know that you are good and smart and sweet. I believe it.) You live with your doubtlessly-lovely Mum, but of the twenty-one meals that the two of you presumably eat in a week, how many do you cook? What do you fix around the house? Are you a good housemate, who brings something to the home and pulls their weight? Or does your Mum have to spend her own time, care and labor to maintain you? Just because it’s your childhood home doesn’t mean you can’t grow up in it. That was rather the point of it all along. You need to start paying back the Universe for what you’ve been taking for thirty years; you can start by increasing 50% of your workload around the home. (Which will increase to 100% when you do get your own place. Think of it as life-skill-building.) If you already shoulder a good portion of the responsibility, then congratulations, you’ve got free time to spend!
Risk and rejection, El Capitan, that’s what you’ve been afraid of. You’ve been worried that you’ll commit time, labor and money into improving yourself in some way that you’ll hate. You’re getting bored as a defense mechanism. Unfortunately, you are no longer a teenager; you are losing the time that you need to build a future for yourself. Your twenty-year-old self did nothing for who-you-are-now, and you are doing the same to your forty-year-old self right now. You’ve really got to do something.
So start. You can’t get anything until you’ve done something. You can’t even win the lottery without buying a ticket. I don’t know if you should enroll in a degree program without any direction; nor do I know if you should go to university to acquire this direction. I just know that you start by getting on the horse. Learning to ride it comes later. The plan comes later. Your salvation lies in the motion.
Step one. Check in with someone outside your family, whether they be a faith leader or a psychiatrist or an employee counselor. I do recommend that you look into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, because what you call “laziness” may be part of a pattern of conflict avoidance and risk-aversion – stories that you tell yourself so that you don’t have to feel like you’ve failed. Also, you can drive yourself into a brain-chemical rut this way, so please go talk to someone if you feel like that could be an issue. A nice doctor can tell you if your short attention span and lack of focus have underlying medical reasons, or if you need to get some medicine to get back on track. I am not that doctor.
Step two. Put yourself into the universe. Finish something, Capitan. I don’t care what. Let your obligations to your future self be a motivation. So I want you to volunteer. Do some work or labor for free. Let me be blunt and capitalistic: you don’t value your own time highly enough to make money or build skills with it, but there are people who could desperately use that time. Since you’re not using it, pay the Universe with it. I’ll take your word for it that you don’t have many marketable skills, but you do have empathy and compassion and a pair of hands. Got a strong back? Work on a community farm. Got a broken back? Sign up for Horsesmouth or another online mentoring forum. Try to help people; try to pay back this debt you carry. Build your skills. Build your connection to the world.
Step three. Take risks. If you volunteer, choose something outside your field. If you usually only do IT, do some manual labor. Do things you’re patently not good at. What is the worst that can happen – you’ll take the wrong job and you’ll starve? I’ve done that! I survived. It’s a bit extreme, and I don’t recommend it, but it certainly builds character! And that’s what you’re writing in for, isn’t it? “Dear Elodie, I need a bit of character.”
Step four. Read these.
David Wong’s 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person. You need to read this. Now. [eta: with the caveats that it includes some problematic language including fat-shame - learn more in the comments - and that it strongly implies that people who do not work are not valuable. You are inherently valuable, Capitan.]
“What, so you’re saying that I can’t get girls like that unless I have a nice job and make lots of money?”
No, your brain jumps to that conclusion so you have an excuse to write off everyone who rejects you by thinking that they’re just being shallow and selfish. I’m asking what do you offer? Are you smart? Funny? Interesting? Talented? Ambitious? Creative? OK, now what do you do to demonstrate those attributes to the world? Don’t say that you’re a nice guy — that’s the bare minimum. Pretty girls have guys being nice to them 36 times a day. The patient is bleeding in the street. Do you know how to operate or not?
“I don’t have the money to take a cooking class.” Then fucking Google “how to cook.” They’ve even filtered out the porn now, it’s easier than ever. Damn it, you have to kill those excuses. Or they will kill you.
Then check out Jen Dziura’s When To Make Massive and Ballsy Life Changes For Your Career.
If you are in either of the situations I’ve described above – everything sucks, or everything is just-okay with no upward movement – then try a little experiment. How about a mind map? Start with where you are now. Plot two paths: incremental improvement (i.e., fixing your current situation), and radical, shocking, temporarily painful life change towards something better. Plot what is likely to happen as a result of each path in six months, one year, five years, ten years. Add a little side-arrow for the worst-case scenario for each path.
You’ll probably find that the worst-case scenarios for both paths are about the same. I mean, you could die in Moldova, or you could die being hit by a car on your way home from a data-processing job in Albany. But seriously, worst-case scenarios are often, well … feelings, or else very remote risks that look silly when you write them down.
Is the chance of a worst-case scenario greater when you take a riskier path? Probably. (Although people get laid off from “safe,” boring jobs all the time.) But is there any chance at all that that safer path will lead to the awesome results that you want?
And then, just for fun, I prescribe Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Suess:
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And then things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
Once you start feeling motivated and productive, get your Zen on. Try to be mindful and present with your tasks. Try to illuminate your day job; if you must sell clothes, learn to love the clothes. If you must chop carrots, be grateful for your knife. This is your real job. This is your real life.
“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”
And when you have gotten to a place where you can work mindfully, then reach for what Dear Sugar calls a big life, and realize what you sound like when you complain about your job. Read A Big Life:
You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t say this as a condemnation—I need regular reminders to stop feeling sorry for myself too. I’m going to address you bluntly, but it’s a directness that rises from my compassion for you, not my judgment of you. You must separate the global injustice (why should some be shackled by student loan debt when others aren’t?) from the individual reality (I’ll be paying this damn bill forever).
As you and other long-time readers of this column may know, I’m a socialist at heart, but when it comes to the actual, individual way we live our lives, I adhere to an entirely pull-oneself-up-by-one’s-bootstraps creed. Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.
And when you are chastened and motivated, grateful and mindful and humble? When you have paid back the debt to the Universe for your years of taking, and when you have begun to give? When you stop being the passenger in your life and become the leader?
Then you’re already on the horse, and you haven’t even noticed that you’ve joined the great migration of the Adults, taken your place in our great endless meandering journey. You learn how to live as the person you are in the world that you live in, and you learn to change yourself and the world. You don’t just cling on for dear life; you learn to ride. The horse teaches you, and you teach the horse.
Did I do good? you’ll ask it shyly, and it will tell you: you’ve never been anything else.
Hold these truths. Read these things. Walk these steps, and keep on walking. I believe in you, El Capitan; please go forth, and show me that my belief has been a good investment.