Him: Honey, all you have to be at the age of 23, is yourself.
Her: I don't know who that is anymore.
Him: Sure you do. And we all love her. I love her.

---Reality Bites

I can't help but love that movie, even now, when it doesn't seem like it applies anymore. I remember watching it for the first time in that house we rented while we were still pounding out our degrees, when we still had unreasonable hopes that our majors would take care of us, and that we would be free. Didn't happen did it? You're out there, somewhere, maybe even down the road like you were when I last saw you, years ago. You have a wife and a kid, a girl who may have been blessed with your mother's curly hair, with your hair. I'm sure you're making more with your psycho-biology degree than I am with my English degree. I'm using it to write about you, to write about my life, as therapy and little more.

Myself. Who is that? Is this how I find out? Will I ever know? Shit, no. But still I try. I can't help it. I'm a writer. What are you?

I am only 20. But I was always going to die before the age of 30 because I didn't think I would trust myself after that. Nor did I feel I had the equipment to handle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The dishes. The phone bills. The trips to the pharmacy. Nights alone, sleepless. Nights alone, drunk. Television. Success. Jealousy. Failure. Inadequacy. Grief. Regret.

Better to die young, when you still have potential.

Bullshit. Bullshit leaking from my ears, nipping at my heels like a small obnoxious dog. Bullshit dragging me from excuse to excuse. Escape escapes escaping.

I knew nothing when this frame of mind solidified. I know even less now. I feel smaller, no longer choking on my self-importance. I am not Arthur Rimbaud. And I like the small bits of living. I plan to continue it for as long as possible.

I remember when I was a wee little one, I had dreams of becoming a fireman, or a policeman. Then as I got wiser, I realized neither of these paid enough to justify the significant risk of personal injury or death due to someone else's stupidity or anger management dysfunction. Now, at the ripe old age of 23, I sometimes wonder if there's something missing in my life. Sometimes I think maybe that's missing is that 'love of my life' to spend time cuddling with. Other times of course I think my life could use some more money. Then at other times I just look in the mirror, start thinking of that childhood dream, and how I wanted so much to help others, which of course causes me to get nasty with myself, and ask "What do you want, a cookie?"

When I was 23, I was struggling with the end of college. Trying to finish. Hoping I could finish. Wishing I hadn’t screwed up so much 3 years earlier.

I did it.

When I was 23, I had hopes and dreams of being a famous DJ. Syndicated radio was what I wanted to be in. I wanted my name to be known everywhere. "The female Howard Stern" was what my mom would joke about. She wanted me to be a success.

I didn’t do it.

When I was 23, I had a major mental breakdown. My life was upside down and turned around. It seemed like my college degree meant nothing. Nothing. I couldn’t find a job I liked and I was living at home with my mother.

I got through it.

When I was 23, things were not that great. I’m 27 now. I live alone in my own apartment. I have a decent life. I got through the worst of it and I am a stronger person as a result.

I was somebody when I was 23. I am somebody right now at 27. I may not be famous, but I am somebody.

I am me.

I don't think I know anyone my age who doesn't want to be somebody. It's almost implied these days. We are told time and time again that if we only want something bad enough, we will get it, and all we have to do is chase our dreams in order to catch up with them. Now I'm not so sure. I can't help thinking that maybe, just maybe, my generation has expectations beyond it's capabilities. Don't get me wrong - I'm still way too young to be disillusioned, but perhaps we are looking for the wrong things.

I was always told that if I didn't like something, I shouldn't be doing it at all. I should quit and do what I like.

"So ya like writing, eh? Then why are you sitting behind a fucking desk? Get out! Go write something! Get famous!"

I think of this every day at work, while I'm staring at a wall, wanting to quit. But I can't quit. I can't run away like the whiny idealist I've been raised to be. This is the job I took to pay for University because I had to, not because I wanted to. The job I never plan to end up in. No, no, I am destined for better things, or so I have been told.

This sense of fate, of better things, has been hanging over our heads since birth. No one questions it anymore. We are all, every last one of us, doctors, lawyers, writers of bestsellers, passionate well-paid artists, "somebody" by the age of 23, and if we don't turn out that way, well, we just didn't want it enough, did we?

I think it is time for us to realize that if we really want to get as far as we plan to, we are all going to have to get dirty. If we think that we can walk fresh out of school and dazzle the world with our talent in the blink of an eye, we have all been sadly misinformed. Personally, I see a future of waitressing, of cleaning toilets, of "would you like fries with that" before I get to the good stuff. And the good stuff may be small potatoes compared to what I expected when I was younger. I am prepared for this. I will do what I have to and I will not pretend to like it, because I have come to believe that if you love something with all of your heart, if you dream about it with a fire that will never go out, this is no guarantee that you will ever be "somebody." But, if you really do love it, it is a guarantee that when the small things come your way, even if they won't change the fact that you're broke or tired or eating leftover Kraft Dinner for breakfast every day, they will be enough to make you truly happy. There. I said it. Please don't hit me, this is a good thing.

I just turned 23 an hour ago. This is my first write-up. I found Everything last week, and have been doing nothing else but eat, sleep and surf the links for hours on end for the past few days...

I know what the person who wrote it feels like my life is out of sync means. I've felt like that for the past year and a half or so, ever since, even during, a study year abroad exchange thing to Glasgow. I met a lot of new people, maybe too many, with the result that now I don't really feel like expending the energy in making new friends. I know I can do it, and everytime I *do* go out I get along pretty damn well with everybody, but I don't want to do it anymore. At least not with people I don't find interesting, not just going along to get along.

Finding everything is a relief... it's a lot closer to exactly what I've always envisioned the internet to be like, people who enjoy exchanging ideas for ideas' sake. It's a relief to find some of the same tortured thoughts that have been echoing around my head for months expressed so completely and intelligently. I am scared, too, but not as much as I was last week...

Happy 23rd Birthday to me...!

Everything was just supposed to fall neatly into place. We never worried about the hows or whys of happiness and success. They were just supposed to happen. Ask any fifteen year old who isn't obsessed with depression, what their life will be like when they are twenty three. Each one of them will give you a different answer, but it never involves struggling to make ends meet, living in a crappy apartment, all the while being habitually single. That is just not the way it works.

So you're nineteen, and you decided to take a year off before beginning college. Big deal. Everything is going to work out just fine. You are still young, things will always turn out better in the end.

So you're twenty, and you move out of your parents house into a little crappy apartment. You can't afford to go to college this year, maybe later. At least it is better than living with your parents. Everything will be just fine in a couple of years.

So what, you turn twenty one and still don't have a decent job. Not everyone can make the big bucks at this age. At least you have a job, right? Things will be just fine in a few years.

Big deal, you turn twenty two. Many of your friends from high school have begun to graduate college by now. Maybe you can afford to go to community college in a few years. But not right now, not while you are working two jobs to pay off all those credit cards you maxed out a few years ago. Everything will turn out just fine in the end. It always does.

Twenty three doesn't seem too much different at first. Until you start to look around and see what other people have done with their lives. It isn't until this point that you realize all those little places where you went wrong. All those tiny decisions that are coming back to haunt you. You start to think that everything won't be all right, that maybe this time it won't work out in the end. You begin to realize that you are barely earning a dime more than you did at nineteen. It finally hits you that you don't really even date anymore. You already exhausted any romantic possibilities with anyone from your slowly shrinking circle of friends, and you simply don't have that readily available mass of human flesh that college students do. You begin to lose hope.

Don't

Age is only a number. There is nothing stopping you from still achieving all those dreams you had back when you were fifteen. They are out there, just waiting for you. You will just have to work at it a little bit. This may require some sacrifice on your part. Perhaps you will have to move back in with your parents for a while to get out of debt, or maybe you will have to be a college freshman at age 28, instead of age eighteen.

I have spent the time since my 23rd birthday wallowing in the supposed helplessness of my situation (it has been a while now, since I am going on 25). "There is no hope anymore", I would think to myself. My crappy resume of service industry jobs just gets laughed at in job interviews. I forgot how to talk to girls sometime around the age of twenty. But that is OK, because I am too old to be talking to girls, I should be talking to women, and what the hell do I have to offer a woman?

Then one day I realized that the whole age thing is just a number. There is nothing stopping me from pretending like I just got out of high school, and doing everything the right way this time. So that is exactly what I am going to do. I have a feeling it is going to work out a little bit better this time (because I am going to make it work out better).

First, let me say that I feel for you. Really, I do.

I remember what it was like being twenty-three. You feel like you're sixteen, but everyone expects you to act like an adult. You look at all the people around you and think that their parents/teachers/scoutmasters/pastors told them the secret of life and how to get by, and yours just forgot to mention it. The infinite horizon to your late twenties has suddenly shrunk to two years. You have been out of high school for five years and you think you should have made a mark in the world at this point in your life. It is a very lonely place and frustrating place to be.

Now, I am going to give you some good news and some bad news.

First the bad news: it doesn't get any better.

The good news: you learn not to care.

Let me explain. I am speaking to you from the great beyond: the late thirties. I am about two years away from my fortieth birthday. My concerns anymore don't revolve around making an impact of the universe and a name that everyone in the world will recognize. I couldn't care less what kind of car I drive, just as long as it gets me where I am going. I don't worry about whether I am a mover and shaker in my chosen field. I am more concerned if I just did my best for the day that I completed. I'm not concerned about whether I impress the people around me with my possessions, as long as what I have meets my family's needs.

The trap we fall into is in the phrase "be somebody." What does being somebody mean to you? If it means having nice things and being the envy of those jerks in high school who made fun of you, then you are in for a long empty life. If it means pursuing some nebulous dream of success, then you are likely to find it a brass ring that you can never quite reach. But if being somebody means investing in the lives of your friends and family then you will find the rest of this stuff just doesn't matter.

Last Saturday night, I had three high school girls knock on door of my townhouse while my wife and I sat on the couch watching TV. They are students I teach in my church's youth group. Why did they come by? For no other reason than to sprawl across our living room floor, play with our cats, and talk until 11:40 when they had to get home. We have invested in their lives for the last couple of years and are seeing the return.

Am I the rich? No. Am I powerful? No. Am I popular? No. Am I somebody?

Oh, yeah.

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