A couple of weeks ago, my best friend and I started to read through the “novel” I wrote during my 8th and 9th grade years in school. It opens on the protagonist, a girl on her first day of high school, and says something akin to, “Four years from this moment, she’d be in college. Ten years from this moment she’d be on her own, thinking about a family.” So…the protagonist is 14 years old at this point. Ten years later for her is my “now”: 24 years old.
Let’s all take a moment to collectively laugh at 8th grade Katlyn’s timeline of adulthood.
When I was in high school, my mid-20s seemed so far away and so “adult.” Now that I’m in the middle of them (no pun intended)… what the hell was I thinking? I’m firmly in the “you can have ice cream and pizza for every meal and no one can tell you not to because you’re an ADULT™…but also you need to pay bills and maybe not eat ice cream and pizza for every meal because you’re an ‘adult'” stage of adulthood — I spend roughly 90 percent of my time feeling simultaneously too grown up and not grown up enough.
I feel like I’ve been confined within this box of expectations and arbitrary milestones surrounding my professional and personal achievements (like, why am I not VP of Social Media Things or married and pregnant yet?). That confinement is most likely the result of a combination of self-inflicted pressure, social expectations, family expectations and FOMO (that’s still a think the kids are saying, right?). I’ve worried so much about fitting into the boxes in front of me that I haven’t considered that I don’t have to change myself or my own expectations to fit some prescribed approximation of what “successful” life looks like for a 24 year old woman.
In a shocking twist, the past several months have shown me that shoving myself into a space that didn’t fit quite right is kind of like convincing yourself a pair of super cute shoes will somehow magically fit, even if they’re not the right size. They don’t fit, no matter how cute or how perfect they look. You’ll just end up with a broken heel or a blistered toe (or both).
Just like it’s okay if you have to visit the shoe store a few times to find the perfect pair, it’s okay if it takes some trial and error as you settle into adulthood. A big part of the growing up experience for me has been adjusting my expectations: learning that it’s okay to put my own needs first, to disagree with my parents, to fight for what I believe in, to reach for what I want, to walk away from all the boxes placed in front of me so I can explore where I fit.
Also, it’s okay if I thought life was taking me one way and then realize that’s not the right direction after all. Sometimes, you buy the shoes and they’re your favorite pair, but you still get little blisters every time you wear them. Eventually, you might realize you don’t need to settle for cute shoes that hurt because cute, comfortable shoes do exist.
But I digress (and the Irresponsible Millennial™ in me wants to go shoe shopping now…).
Where I am right now is very different than where I pictured myself even six months ago (and definitely different than where I pictured myself when I was 14). Adulthood requires a lot of flexibility, which has always been a challenge for me because I’m an anxious perfectionist who likes to plan ten steps ahead. For the first time in my life, I’m finding it possible to set down some of the anxiety around where I “should” be so I can appreciate where I am.
It’s hard to find that appreciation when I look back at the boxes everyone (myself included, sometimes) wants to shove me in…but they’re behind me because I am finally ready to let go of the need to make my life meet anyone else’s expectations but my own. I am incredibly happy with the space I’m occupying at this moment in time; I feel fulfilled and challenged and appreciated and loved and smart and funny and sometimes even sexy (!).
I have reclaimed so much joy and creativity as I’ve gotten to know myself again, and it only took a little adjustment of my expectations to see that, while I might not be engaged, or buying a house, or getting a six-figure pay raise, or whatever else…where I am is amazing. I reached the maintenance stage of therapy honestly for the first time in my life, my relationship with my body is so much healthier than I ever thought possible, I am writing again and painting again and reading again and cooking again, and my talents are being recognized and appreciated. I am asking for what I need from my relationships and finally getting comfortable with setting boundaries and standing up for myself.
24-year-old Katlyn looks nothing like what 14-year-old Katlyn expected her to. And honestly? I’m damn glad.