A few months ago, I made what can only be characterized as a Big Life Decision. (See, it's serious because I capitalized it.)
I decided -- IN THIS ECONOMY -- to leave a stable job, to strike out on my own and shift my focus to writing full-time (along with taking on a part-time retail job because I'm not completely crazy).
As I began making plans to follow through on my decision -- to take a risk, go with my passion, and try something new -- I began feeling more empowered than nervous, and tapped into that spirit when the time came to tell people what my next career move was.
The vast majority of my friends and family were excited, but there was one response that was filled with a positive, yet, slightly Eeyore-ish tone: "Oh, you're so young..."
That comeback, more than any other, rang in my head long after I delivered what I thought was exciting news. What did it mean? I didn't take it as an insult, per se -- more like a backhanded compliment, as if youth were the Band-Aid that would protect me form myself. To me, "being young" means taking what you've learned so far (or want to learn) and being a bit fearless. Theoretically, you don't have much to lose, and whatever you do, good or bad (as measured by your own internal barometer) is a "learning experience." It's like spaghetti. Throw some at the wall and see if it sticks. And if it doesn't, put it back in the pot, throw some sauce on it, and call it "dinner."
So yes, I'm aware that by life standards, I'm young. But it was the delivery of that phrase that got me. As if to say "Oh, it's fine for you to try this out now, get discouraged and fail a little bit, because eventually you'll right yourself onto whatever stable path you choose to follow."
I know my loved ones mean well, and that stepping out on my own is, indeed, a risk. But I'm no stranger to risk, to creating a Plan B when all I was planning on using was Plan A.
Take 2009, for example. Picture me: a bright-eyed, 22-year-old, fresh-out-of-college young adult who was determined to move to Washington and land a job, in a matter of days, as a press secretary on The Hill. If not press secretary, then I'd settle for staff assistant, as long as I had enough salary accrued by the end of the summer to qualify for my own apartment located walking distance from the Capitol, of course.
Yeah, that definitely didn't happen.
I ended up doing a ten-month string of part-time jobs and internships before I even landed in the pool of promising job territory. I was a museum docent, a marketing intern assistant, and the most annoying DC profession of all: a political canvasser. Even I didn't have time to stop for a moment and consider gay/abortion/animal/environmental rights.
It would be two years before I was able to afford my own place. And, to my delight, it was Hill-adjacent.
Fast-forward to 2012. Picture me: a bleary-eyed, bored, 25-year-old who, though I loved what I had been able to do at my job, was dying for more responsibility and the chance to take my career to the next level. I had spent the past two years writing until my eyes crossed for multiple outlets and had started spending more of my free time volunteering as a radio producer at a tiny, advocacy-minded radio station.
After a year of coffees, "informational interviews," brain-picking sessions, and rants to whoever would listen, I landed the fellowship of a lifetime ... in the Midwest. That year afforded me so may opportunities to hone my craft that I just KNEW my current employer would want to promote me once I returned. I sustained myself during that year with more work, and daydreams of my new wardrobe, Whole Foods-stocked fridge, and weekend jaunts at a moment's notice.
Again, that all definitely didn't happen. But I knew it wasn't because I wasn't talented. I made that year all about my job, and it paid off, both professionally and personally. The door was open for me to go back down the same path I had walked up; I almost took it. Let's be real, a desk job might not be ideal, but health, dental, and retirement opportunities are worth their weight in every happy hour cocktail you suck down to numb the pain.
But things were different this time around. I just couldn't see myself flourishing anymore at 22 like I could now, at 26. I know a lot more, have seen a lot more, and I know what it takes to rally when all seems lost.
So instead of going with the safer option, I stepped out on my own. To me, this seems less like "taking a chance" and more like "going with the flow" than anything I've done before. I'm not planning to fail, but if the course changes? I can handle it. This is what I've set my mind to do, and come hell or high water, I'll have more to show for it than just being naive, optimistic, and glassy-eyed about the future. Or, as some might put it, "being young."