I am 23 years old. According to some policies, I am to be held under the minor age group protection and to others, I am a full-fledged adult who should know what she is doing. This time of my life feels like a bridge I’d been running towards my whole life but now that I am here, I’m afraid I’d better walk across with caution.
This thought sometimes leaves me scared and incapacitated. The sunny path of adulthood has a dark shadow.
With all the free time the duress of the country has allowed me, these thoughts and fears are more magnified. News feeds say that the future is uncertain and so I resort to looking at the past.
I remember a long conversation with a miserable friend of mine a few years ago. We had a different set of anxieties back then. We didn’t look to impending viral doom; our fears were of the existential type. He was having a difficult time attributing to bad grades and a breakup. He was feeling hopeless and inadequate because he wasn’t fitting into the life style he’d imagined for himself when he was a kid.
He said he worried about his mother a lot because she remained hopeful that he would become somebody someday. He would earn a lot of money, he would save lives, he would invent gadgets that won him awards, he would marry a gorgeous woman and have a clean family. In this dream, he was going to live a Tony Stark life but truth is Tony Stark’s biggest problem was a moral dilemma of right and wrong, not one of capability and incapability. He is also a fictional character.
At first, my friend stuck to the small circle that is his life but then his bitterness went on to be about everything wrong with the world. He was at a very sensitive time in his life. He felt like he’d been cheated by what he thought to be a path to success and he came to this realization at 26. He was held back two years in university yet still fighting for what he thought was rightfully his to show to his mom.
“I’m too old to be in school,” He said. “I should be living the fast life of girls and alcohol. I should be…. living life.”
I remember being very upset by this statement. I related to his hopelessness on some level and because I, too, thought I was entitled to be…living life.
I remember asking the question, “What do you like to do?”
On campus, this question was sometimes considered taboo because people said they weren’t there to do what they liked. These people had obligations to succeed. Regardless, I asked my friend, “What do you like do?”
I remember he shrugged. Well, I wasn’t in the business of telling him how to live his life but I went on to talk because talking is the easy part. I said, “Figure out whatever it is, and do it.”
I remember this conversation with this friend of mine today because like him, I feel cheated by the life that had promised so many things. And right now, everything happening around us makes it difficult to stay hopeful. And it’s hard in these times to remember that things—unfortunate events— have always been happening.
There is a whole generation of millennials that was raised being told they were born destined to touch the moon when the truth is that maybe one in a thousand have the slightest opportunity hidden somewhere. My friend at the time failed to see that his mother’s life was her own and he should have been given the chance to be a little selfish and think about his own life.
I think it’s good to encourage someone to aspire to great things but our parents have abused that power and the pressure to succeed has gotten some of us in existential ruts we are unable to climb out of. I think they should have been less biased about our potential.
What is done is done, however, and I don’t really know what we can do to unlearn those expectations, to stop assuming that success is measured on the Tony Stark scale.
I think there should be lots of ways one should consider success: feeding a family; holding your own against challenging cultural norms; being better than you were yesterday.
When I ask all the people who’d yelled encouragements at me growing up, to be someone who changes the world, they have not changed their minds and they hold the belief that I was capable of doing those things and perhaps with a little hard work, I still am.
They are completely unapologetic about their expectations of my future and it could ruin the image I have of the world when I fail to meet them. And my friend never got back up to try again.
I am 23 years old. I am on a path that is yet to determine what I will be remembered for or if I will be remembered. And I am grabbing at my entitlement to live life. But perhaps I am going to be a little selfish and define success for myself. Maybe I’ll be the best house mom in the world. Maybe I’ll be one of the great writers. But all I know is it’s a fight best given when it’s for me.
Written by: Kalkidan Fessehaye