Twenty-Three–Cooling Off That Crucible

The other day I went off on a mini-tirade about some of the reasons that being twenty-three (or in any part of one’s twenties for that matter) can feel like a crucible of suck. When I feel lost, it’s easy to get bogged down in little details like the highest levels of poverty in the US since 1959 and 85% of college graduates moving home after graduating.

Since the bad must be balanced with the good, here are some cooling experiences that someone in their twenties in 2011 can dip the crucible of suck into after the purifying flames, producing strong and flexible adults, like tempered steel. One hopes.

#1 Freedom-Being in one’s twenties means that one can ask in the middle of the night, or upon waking in the morning, “Is this what I want?” more easily than at any other point in life. Few responsibilities, few ties, few financial obligations. We can decide to move to a new state or continent on a whim. Even if one is lucky enough to have a job, a lot of time can be devoted to developing whatever traits one wants to grow. Want to learn guitar? Sweet. How about Thai cooking? Do it. Want to take up underwater scuba rock-climbing? Invent that new sport. It feels pretty fantastic not to be tied down to any one place, person, or thing.

#2 Ability to get by on almost nothing-This goes with the freedom…and the necessity of getting by on very little if there’s no job. Or just a small salary. Luckily for many of us, responsibility is being delayed and we can continue to get by on minimum wage or less. I made a total of $800 dollars while I was volunteering in Chile, and that was almost enough to get me through six months (travel not included). Yes, I was in South America, where it’s all a little cheaper. But I will most likely not be employed at all in 2011, and though I will be broke I will be able to get by. And to pay for some pretty incredible experiences, through traveling like a broke backpacker.–Amazing experience in 2011 #532, swimming in the highest thermal pool in the world outside San Pedro de Atacama

#3 Massive changes-This is the point in life where one can still change considerably and rapidly without messing up responsibilities too much. Didn’t like a college major? No problem, study something else for graduate school. Don’t like a relationship? Now’s the time to explore being single. Want to move to a new country? Do it. It’ll be easier than at any other point in life. I chafe a bit under the constant changing, but it’s worth the trade offs. Stability? Pstsch, that’s what my thirties will be for!

#4 Potential-Because of all that change and freedom and total lack of direction, the possibilities are pretty unlimited for someone in their twenties. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but the great part is that life is a chain reaction. Each new opportunity brings a suite of others, until it gathers momentum and you find yourself in a Talking Heads song.

And you may find yourself...drifting on a cheap green screen

A friend summed it up best–“It’s already worked out. I just don’t know how yet.”

#5-Consciousness-Many people in their twenties these days are trying to grow up in the most thoughtful way possible. I’ve met more vegan, non-car-driving, volunteering, relationship radical, fundamentalist pastafarians in my generation than in any other. This is not to say that there weren’t crazy-conscious folk in who went through this in their own roaring twenties, and it doesn’t mean that we have it all figured out (or…any of it…at all). It feels like an amalgamate conscientiousness drawing from everything, and an attempt to really figure things out before just calling ourselves “adults” and moving on. Maybe that’s why it’s taking longer for people to leave their parents’ houses and get married and buy houses. We don’t want to do those things just to say that we have.

#5 Excuses-Just in case the job hasn’t come in yet, the confusion about relationships or what to do in life rears it’s head…brush it off. Being in the twenties means that we can just let it roll off our backs, since there’s always next year to settle down and actually have an apartment or something. People keep telling me how cool they think my traveling is…which is a pretty good excuse to keep doing it.

#6 Pain…I mean growth-Being twenty-three brings some pretty incredible

opportunities and experiences. The whole of one’s twenties is filled with change and growth. And pain. Growth and change are empty without a bit of pain to breathe life into them. Maybe the painful things will still hurt in twenty more years, or maybe it will fade into the backdrop like an errant drop of paint on a Jackson Pollack painting.

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