Like most girls who grew up in the 90s, I had a subscription to Seventeen magazine. I probably shouldn’t have because I was only twelve at the time and, as my mother often pointed out, “There’s no reason to buy this. You can get it at the library.”
She was right. But even still, there was something special about having the latest issue delivered right to my mailbox. I’d usually read it in a single sitting after school and then page through it every day for a week afterwards. I liked looking at the ads as much as I enjoyed reading the articles, which is probably the first sign that I would end up being a writer for a marketing agency.
Regardless, I read each issue of Seventeen so many times that I practically had them memorized – which is why I can still remember a Q&A from around 1994 in which a high school student describes, in detail, the symptoms of depression and asks why she has them since “everyone says high school is the best years of your life.” In response, the columnist pointed out that wasn’t at all true and then suggested she see a doctor.
I let out a huge sigh of relief when I read that because even though I was only in middle school, I was hardly having the time of my life and I sincerely doubted anything was going to change in the next few years. Thank you, Seventeen, for setting realistic expectations, if only just the once.
In many ways, high school was a pleasant surprise for me. I had a close circle of friends, my class was oddly free of cliques and bullies and everyone went about their merry way even as I did ridiculous things like joined the German club or edited the yearbook. Still, graduation couldn’t come fast enough. Catholic school, especially in a small town, was stifling.
Plenty of people I knew at the time – dance instructors, teachers, managers at the library where I now had a part-time job and could read back issues of Seventeen at my leisure – insisted that I’d like college better.
“You’ll love it,” is how they put it. “It’s going to be a whole new world.”
And I believed them – right up until I got to the campus of Drexel University and realized that two – yes, two – of my writing courses centered on drafting and editing my resume. By my sophomore year, a third course had added cover letters to the curriculum. I used all of that newly developed writing prowess to land a criminally underpaid internship that involved escorting a French actor dressed as General Lafayette on a mall tour in Bucks County to promote Valley Forge Park.
I was bored and I hated every minute of it, just like high school. To make matters worse, whenever I told someone I didn’t enjoy college, they insisted, once again, that these were “the best years” – which was true enough so long as those people thought that the highlight of my life was getting ejected from a mall food court after a certain colonial re-enactor brandished his sword at a small child and his mother. These things are subjective.
After college, I took an entry-level job in the media relations department at Comcast. On my first day, HR gave me a Blackberry and a free DVR-equipped cable box. It was 2006, and such a show of technology was so unexpected that I was certain this was where my “real” career would start. It all looked pretty good until the two women who hired me resigned. On their way out the door, they did me the favor of suggesting I take the next Amtrak to New York City and get a job at a PR agency. A few weeks later, having done just that, what was left of my team wished me well on my way to Manhattan, where they predicted I would have “the time of my life.”
I’d love to tell you that was true, but I can’t. Not exactly, at least. The truth is, New York is fun and exciting and busy and once you get there you can’t imagine how you got by living anywhere else. But it’s also a lot of work. And it’s crowded. And dirty. And expensive. And lonely. If you’re just getting started in your career, it’s not the easiest place to learn. People say moving there is a “sink or swim” moment, but it’s really more like, “swim or get drowned.”
Luckily, I landed in a decent agency and I turned out to be good at my job. One day, a few months after I had moved, my boss took me out to lunch and after several glasses of wine, slurred, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be set. You have a good job at a great agency in the best fucking city in the world!”
It was a refreshing spin on the tired “time of your life” bit, but the message was still the same. I kept waiting for the city to turn into some magical vortex to the best years of my life, but, sadly, it never did.
“Thirty is the new twenty.”
I bought into that hype, as did anyone whose 20s were marked more by corporate clawing and climbing than the carefree bliss buffet that Hollywood leads us to believe it will be.
Of course, no sooner had I turned thirty than I was told from a very reliable source that it was thirty-two that was really the golden year.
“Just wait,” she said. “That’s when your career falls into place and you meet a man and you finally learn how to fix your hair.”
“I’m a vice president,” I reminded this woman. “And my hair already looks great.”
“Just wait until 32…” she insisted knowingly.
“I’m dating a doctor,” I added.
“Thirty-two,” she repeated. “Wait for it.”
I did. And believe me in the years between 30 and 33, I tried. I found a hobby. When the doctor and I didn’t pan out, I started dating. I changed jobs. I traveled. And when, on my thirty-third birthday, it felt like not a single thing had made a difference, I had a full-scale breakdown in a bar that was aptly named No Fun.
By now you know the rest of the story. A few days after I turned 33, I quit my job with the intention of taking a year off to travel. I had no way of knowing for certain, but I believed doing so was going to make me happy. Ironically enough, very few people shared my optimism. Hardly anyone heard my news and said, “Congratulations. You’re going to have the time of your life!”
But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past two years. I’ve had rough days and bad weeks, but I wouldn’t change a thing. If anything, I regret not doing it sooner. I spent all of my twenties and part of my thirties waiting for people’s predictions to inexplicably come true instead of doing what I wanted. Or in my case, figuring out what I wanted.
I know such thinking is pointless, but I can’t help but wonder what I could have accomplished if only I had realized all that sooner.
HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. #yeats #dublin #ireland #poetry #sunset #summer #beach #love #travel #travelgram #traveling #travelblog #blog #blogger #beautiful
A few days ago, when I turned thirty-five someone warned me that the years between now and 40 are “the last good years for a woman.”
“Use them wisely,” she advised.
I didn’t ask this person to elaborate, but I’m sure her thinking has something to do with fertility and youthful skin and earning potential. That may all be steeped in fact, but I don’t believe a word of it. If I’ve learned one thing in all of this, it’s that generalizations aren’t accurate and putting stock in them is a recipe for disappointment.
I fully expect 45 to be just as good as 35. Because the truth is, now that I’ve seen how great life can be, I won’t settle for anything less.