What Are You Most Happy To Have Left Behind From Your Life As A 20-Something?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My friend Geoff Hunt asked a great question: What are you most happy to have left behind from your life as a 20-something?  And my answer was immediate:
That wandering feeling of uncertainty.
Which is to say that my teenaged years were about trying on masks really rapidly – one week I was seriously into prog rock, then I was a punk because I liked Billy Idol, and then I was soooo into reading 17 Magazine and pop for a while before I figured out that it was for girls.  I had no idea who I was, so I kept experimenting – which was totally healthy, of course, because how are you going to know what you really like doing unless you try them all on?
And that’s why a lot of us don’t hang out with our teenaged buddies.  It’s not that they’re not nice people.  But there’s often these distinct and unpleasant reminders, usually in the form of embarrassing anecdotes, that they knew you before you were fully formed, and they keep highlighting these failed trial runs of Who You Might Be.
I thought I’d left that behind in my twenties, but the truth was that I’d left behind the wild experimentation but kept the idea that there was some role I had to play.  I was a Rebel Punk.  I was a Rowdy Drinker.  I was a Guy Who Slept Around A Lot.  I was a Bookseller.  I was an Intellectual. I was a Jokester Who Told Funny Stories.
I spent a lot of time feeling like I was doing those roles pretty terribly.  Mainly because I was an Intellectual but I hadn’t read all the right books – and more importantly, I didn’t want to, but I kept throwing myself at musty classics I didn’t enjoy because hey, that’s what Intellectuals did.  I actually hated going out and getting drunk every night, but everyone else did it after work and it was what Rowdy Drinkers did, and so I did that.  Plus, I had to Tell Funny Stories, so the drinking helped with that, even if sometimes I felt like I was exposing way too much of my life with these stories at inappropriate times, but that’s what my heroes did and so did I.
Oh, and I was a Rebel Punk!  So I couldn’t enjoy a fine glass of Scotch and a nice meal, I had to be Rebellious and drink crappy beer at clubs that were sometimes fun dives but other times were just fucking uncomfortable pits I couldn’t wait to get out of.
And by the time I got to the end of my twenties, I was coming to realize that roles were like training wheels on a bike.  They might be helpful when you’re starting out to give you an idea of how things go, but soon enough they start constraining your journey and they look totally dorky.
So I cast that off.
And I also cast this idea off, in my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon of all time:
Because I had the idea that I had to be A Grown-Up, and A Grown-Up knew How To Do Things, and when my car got broken into then someone would hand me the Big Book Of Insurance Information and I would be magically gifted with all the knowledge.  And I spent an inordinate amount of time chastising myself for not knowing how to buy a house, or not understanding how the stock market worked, or having no idea how my furnace worked in my apartment.
The truth was, I eventually realized, that yes, it’s all ad-libbed, and the best skill you can have as a grown-up is Investigation.  I don’t know how much about to make a claim on insurance!  But I know that there’s a number, and I can call someone there, and have them explain it to me, and then read whatever forms they send me.  Today, there’s an Internet I can look at, which is also fantastically helpful.
Which is freeing.  I still don’t know much about buying a house.  That’s because Gini had bought seven houses in her lifetime, and I let her be good at what she does, and in the unlikely chance I ever have to buy a house solo, I can do research.  I don’t have to know it all, and in fact the world is too damned big to carry all of this information I don’t need right now with me, so what if I don’t know how to start a fire in the woods or change my own oil?  It’s not relevant.  And if I want to learn it, great – certainly I’ve acquired all this silly info on beekeeping, despite the terrible job of it I’ve done this particular summer – but the point is that I’ve shifted away from the idea of Being A Grown-Up, and so I don’t have to memorize this arbitrary list of Things I Feel A Grown-Up Should Know.
And basically, my thirties and forties have become a journey in leaving roles aside and being me.  I still sleep around a lot, but I do it because I enjoy it, not because I feel it’s some sort of identity I must project.  I know a little more about the stock market, but my investments are mostly simple 401ks and a couple of IRAs, and I am comfortable knowing that my money isn’t completely optimized.  And I’ve discovered I’m not an Intellectual at all, I don’t enjoy many of the great classics, and while I can occasionally be smart in public I’m in no way diminished if I haven’t read War and Peace or if someone knows more about the Scottish independence movement than I do.
Basically, in my twenties, I felt this constant, vague shame that I wasn’t living up to something.  Now that I’m forty, I’m okay with being ignorant, and not fitting into anyone’s conception of me.
That’s a gift.  It’s a wonderful freedom.
I can’t wait to find out what an idiot I’ll think forty-year-old me was, once I get to be sixty.  I think that’ll be awesome.

1 Comment

  1. amanda
    Sep 17, 2014

    I’ve been reading your essays on Fet for a couple of years, but happened to find this one on my 30th birthday. Many thanks for all that you do!

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