I am very much in the middle these days.
At 25 I occupy that peculiar no-man’s-land of the 20s where youth and inexperience are on one side of the playing field and “knowing-what-you’re-doing” lines up opposite. I work in student affairs at Virginia Tech and even there I find myself in the middle: the middle of the semester, the middle of long-term projects, the middle of the work week, the middle of the work day. All signs point to where you’ve been and where you’re heading.
I both relish the middle and wish I was anywhere but the middle. It’s a simultaneous appreciation for doing something in tandem with wanting to be finished. Done. Moved on to what’s next.
On the “youth and inexperience” side of the field, I find myself thinking that life JUST got started. How can I already be working full time? I was in high school just a few years ago, and that was supposed to be the beginning of the rest of my life. I’m still closer to the beginning of having a job, of being independent, and of figuring out what I’m supposed to do with this life. The beginning is a nice place to be; it’s full of hope, possibility, and questions about what could be, about what you think about when you stare at clouds and watch the sky.
On the “knowing-what-you’re-doing” side, things are a little different. High school for me was nearly ten years ago. I’m closer to that next car payment than I am to my first drive. I’ve started to notice that each decision we make for our lives—where you’ll live, if you’ll have roommates, what job you’ll take, when you’ll click ‘checkout’ and buy that expensive thing you’ve had percolating in your Amazon cart, the list goes on—all of those little, tiny, insignificant decisions have implications and consequences. Your rent dictates how much you can afford to pay off those loans each month. Where you live isn’t necessarily HOW you’ve always wanted to live, and where you work doesn’t always mean you’re content with the work you’re doing. The middle? That’s like looking up at the clouds and noticing that some still look like puppies and unicorns but way more are starting to look like dollar signs and responsibilities.
But I do believe we should teach ourselves to relish the middle. What other time is there in your life that you can look back on and say “I had one great week and one crap week so what was the difference between them and how can I fix it?” More often than not, the difference is something you have control over. Independent, absolute control over the decisions you’ve made, the things that have happened as a result, and the epiphany that you are in the driver’s seat. That’s the silver lining of the middle. Spinning wheels are an opportunity to figure out where it is you want to go. A ticking clock reminds you that you’re alive and you’re breathing and time is being kept. So what can you do with that time?
I tend to make bucket lists every couple of years as a means of marking time and what I’ve accomplished since the last list. I can remember the absurd things I’d put on bucket lists as a kid: 1) Have a pet tiger; 2) be a cowboy; 3) also be an architect; 4) ask Nicole to be my girlfriend (this was like 5th grade so it was a big deal then); 5) learn how to play the guitar, etc., etc. Somewhere on that list I always wrote “get my own apartment.” That became the ultimate sign of independence and success for me from a very young age. I shared a room with my brother until I was 15, and soon after that I had college roommates. The apartment was always an elusive, unattainable goal-- a sign I hadn’t made it yet, that I was still in the beginning.
You know what I learned when I finally got my first apartment? It’s expensive. And living alone is not necessarily something I’m cut out for. The middle hath shown me my life has other plans.
But I guess that’s the thing about the middle, about clouds, and about every apartment that ever existed—wanting to get where you feel you should be makes it easy to overlook every moment of introspection and self-awareness as a beginning, a conscious moment to choose what’s next.
And that’s the great thing about beginnings is that there’s still plenty to learn. So for me, 25 is the beginning of my later 20s. I know a lot about being youthful and inexperienced, and I know increasingly more about responsibility. When I started working full time, my dad gave me the best piece of advice I can offer to any new professional or, really, anyone who aspires to start something new: Be confident of your abilities, but mindful of your inexperience.
The balance between the two is essential for keeping a level head. When every middle is a beginning, the middle isn’t such a bad place to be.
I’ll talk to you soon.