When I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up. I loved to swim (I was good at it, too) and I thought dolphins were pretty cool, so it made sense.
But in fourth grade I realized that being a marine biologist very much involved the latter half of its title—biology, aka science, aka the subject in school that always landed me the lowest grades and the most tears—and my dream died faster than the sea monkeys I made my mom order for me in the mail that year.
Some time after that, I decided I wanted to be a businesswoman, though the type of business I was in wasn’t as important as the outfits I would wear to work. I pictured myself strutting through a bustling downtown—maybe Chicago, but maybe New York or London or Paris—always on my way to a very important meeting, and always while sporting a pair of beautiful pair of high heels. It was the idealized working woman that Andrea in The Devil Wears Prada calls “the clackers.” My dream was to be a clacker.
But then in high school, I realized how much how much I loved writing. Writing a paper was like solving a puzzle but with sentences instead of impossible mathematical equations. I loved figuring out how to argue a thought or tell a story with my own flair. I (almost) always looked forward to going to English class.
One day while watching Seinfeld—reruns of which I’ve watched since I was in grade school, at first because it was on before The Simpsons but then because I started to understand its humor—I realized that Elaine worked in publishing. I liked to read, I liked to write, and I liked Elaine. Publishing! My dream was really to work in publishing.
So I worked at it. And then, after what felt like 47 internships, a lot of stress balancing school with work, and some tearful fights with my dad about “realistic” jobs post-graduation, I surprised everyone (my dad, my fellow English majors, and myself), when I got a job offer with an independent publisher. It was unbelievable: my dream was coming true! I showed up to my first day of work with a packed lunch, a notebook, and a lot of nerves.
In the seven months that followed, I went in to work every day ay 9am. I went to meetings, sent emails, read manuscripts, organized events, communicated with authors, and many, many other things. But I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t getting the results my boss wanted. I didn’t know how I could do more, and I was too afraid to ask for help. I started to feel uncreative, unmotivated, and unhappy with that job. It turned out my boss was pretty unhappy with me, too.
It’s been exactly two years since that last day at my first grown up job, and I really do believe that it was for the greater good. It made me re-think more than just what I wanted to do next with my career–I also considered my location, my relationship, my friends, and my general well-being. I was happy in Minneapolis, but I certainly didn’t feel committed to staying. I kind of wanted to move somewhere totally new, but it wasn’t the right time for me emotionally (or financially). I missed Chicago, but I worried that moving back would be the safe thing to do. Then I realized I didn’t care. I got a job that was good enough for the time being, packed up my first studio and moved back home. My mom was very excited, and so was I.
It took another seven months to realize I was bored at that job, and before the year was over I found myself a better one (at least for me), which is the same one I have now, one that remains both interesting and challenging. Even though I’ve been in my current position for over a year, I still held three different 9-5 jobs between the ages of 22 and 24, which is crazy because many of the adults I know have had the same number, if not fewer, in their entire lives.
I’m turning 25 today, and it’s been a hard concept for me to grasp. In my head, both Marine Biologist Becky and Clacker Becky were 25, and she lived in a nice apartment or house, maybe with her husband and a child but certainly with a dog. Luckily, by the time Publishing House Becky became the dream, I had watched too much Sex and the City and become too cynical of a person to think that I’d be anywhere near ready to settle down by 25.
There are days that I feel proud of myself—like when I finish a creative and fun project or have a particularly good day at work and realize how much I’ve grown professionally in two and a half years—but when I think about my idols and what they were doing when they were 25, I start to feel kind of bummed out. Sure, I’ve written some listicles and book reviews and started a blog that I’m (sometimes) proud of, but by the time Nora Ephron was 25, she had already put in a few years at the New York Post (during which she broke the story of Bob Dylan’s secret wedding). The reach of my work is still pretty much capped at my number of Facebook friends.
What’s hard about being 25 is that there isn’t a standard platform for what I should be doing. For my entire life, I’ve been surrounded by people going through different versions of the same experiences. In middle school, all my friends were getting their periods. In high school, everyone dealt with social anxieties, emotional immaturity, and wearing outfits we now regret. Freshman year of college, we had a lot of fun, drank too much, and made questionable choices that became learning experiences. For a while, things calmed down and we became more focused on school, our theses, and trying to figure out what to do once we graduate, but by the end, everyone was having fun again. The next year, when we were 23, was harder, but there seemed to be a common feeling of uncertainty. In a way, it was comforting to know that we were all in this weird in-between stage together.
Now, my friends and I have different lives and different problems. We spend our days doing different things: from working in corporate offices to getting Masters Degrees to tending bar. Some of us own condos, and others still live with Mom and Dad, but most of us are somewhere in-between. We make different amounts of money, but we don’t really talk about it. We go to both weddings and funerals, sometimes within the same month, and we deal with our range emotions for each in private ways. I can feel myself judging other people’s choices–their relationships, their moves, their promises–because I’m judging my own, too. But I’m over those feelings.
This year, I don’t want to keep thinking/talking/writing about the things I want to do/change/be. I want to say I’m going to travel and actually go somewhere and see some things. I want to take an idea for a personal project and see it through from beginning to end. I want to focus less on what other people are doing and figure out what’s best for me.
But I also want to put my laundry away the same day I do it and wash my face every night before I go to bed.
And I want to feel responsible enough to have a dog.
Guess I’ll take on 25 one step at a time.