A long time ago, I barely used clocks or calendars. Context clues worked well enough. When I completed a grade, summer was beginning. If my mom took me shopping for school supplies, it was ending. In school, the times of day were marked by recess, lunch, and the intercom announcing bus numbers. When I wasn’t in school, I could rely on TV schedules.
Everything was so different before I cared about time. I was someone else entirely. If I got to play with mud or climb a tree, I was having a good day. I wasn’t ambitious unless I was playing a game. My goals were hoops, nets, and dart boards. My dreams ended every morning, and my hope was in Santa Claus. I knew that I’d grow up eventually, but the future seemed so distant.
Fast forward to the present, and I’m 28. I care about time now. I have a calendar and a daily to-do list. If I had a good day, it probably means that I got my work done. I try to have fun when I can, and I should probably have more. Unfortunately, I’ve come to associate it with wasting time. The future seems so close that it scares me. I’m having what is known as a quarter-life crisis, and it’s the opposite of fun.
There’s a Michel Foucault quote that’s ironic in the context of this blog post. “I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am,” says Foucault. “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.” This is the attitude of the typical child, who lives in the present and ponders the future with naive wonder. Why does it sound profound coming from an adult? Why is it so hard for me to internalize?
A lot of what we call wisdom is actually recovered from childhood. Sometimes, well-meaning adults lead us astray. We’re born open-minded, and they teach us biases. We’re born different, and they teach us shame. Other times, we are warped by suffering. We become maladaptive. Social norms, too, can corrupt even the noblest souls. It’s harder to know that something’s bad when it’s normal, and it’s scary to be the odd one out.
I used to live by Foucault’s quote without knowing it. I didn’t take myself very seriously. My life weaved back and forth through fantasy and reality. One moment, I was a child. The next moment, I was whatever I felt like being — a dinosaur, a ghost, an alien, you name it. To introduce myself meant to say my name, show my age with my fingers, and perhaps share a random fact about myself. My favorite color was blue. I liked to draw. This simplicity was fine by me because status wasn’t a thing in my life.
Though my approaching adulthood seemed far ahead, that made it all the more interesting. I knew that I’d eventually be someone very different, but who? Would I be a famous artist? Would I live in a mansion? Would I go to the moon? On a smaller time scale, I wondered every summer or winter break how I’d change during the next semester. Every time I had a fresh start, I wanted to do things a bit differently. Being a child, my goals were small and sometimes silly. But nevertheless, I knew that I’d change in ways I couldn’t predict, and that was a source of wonder for me.
It strikes me as funny that childhood is so brief and adulthood so long, and yet, each age group acts like the opposite is true. I’m having this quarter life crisis even though the average lifespan is about 75 years. I have about half a century left to live, and maybe more. When I was 10, I had only 8 years left before I’d be 18, but 8 years seemed like a long time. Now, I feel like 50 years is such a short time. What happened to me?
I’m having a hard time with certain milestones, and I have to admit that it makes me feel pretty bad. I’m a so-called millennial, a generation known for its economic struggles. The Great Recession locked me out of the job market just as I entered adulthood. The economy has been weird ever since, which is why I’m trying to be self-employed. I shouldn’t feel ashamed of myself, but I can’t help it. I’m not where I expected to be at 28, and I’m not where other people expect me to be.
I feel like I won’t really fit into society until I’m making a living. When people expect me to introduce myself, I can’t just tell them my name, age, and favorite color. I technically could, but they always ask me what I do for a living. In America, you’re a career first and anything else second. I don’t have a real career yet. I’m trying so hard to create it, but what if I fail? What if I take too long? How long will it be until I can introduce myself without shame?
When I think about it, though, it’s kind of awful to equate people with their careers. For one, a career doesn’t necessarily represent someone. It could just be a source of income, and I think that’s true for most people. It also seems so limiting in more ways than one. It prioritizes a person’s career over other aspects of their being for no apparent reason. Why should a construction worker not primarily consider himself a gardener, if gardening is what he really likes? Do I have to make money with philosophy to be a real philosopher? And what about all the time I have left? Why can’t people appreciate the mysteriousness of an adult’s future?
If I have to conclusively say that I’m anything, then I’m a story that’s still being written. For all I know, I could still become a famous artist, live in a mansion, or go to the moon. If childhood lasts about 12 years, and the average person lives about 75 years, the average life is about 6 childhoods long. Assuming that I’ll die at 75, I have about 4 childhoods of time left. I’ll never be a child again, but who knows what I’ll be or do in the coming years? Milestones shmilestones. I’m somebody right now, and I’ll be somebody else later. That somebody will probably wish I had enjoyed what is now the present, so I guess I should get started on that.