There was a spider in the sink. It had been there for two days now, and it worked its legs uselessly against the stainless steel, wandering in circles between the pots and plates. I watched it as I washed my dishes, careful not to splash it. I considered picking it up and moving it to the mint plant, which was undergoing a siege of aphids. “Do spiders even eat aphids?” I thought.
Without bothering to do any research, I decided that they didn’t, and left the spider to find its own way out of the situation it had gotten itself into.
After a childhood within the confines of a religious community, years of education at small town universities, a couple of degrees that don’t necessarily lead to a career, nearly five years in an unsatisfying relationship, and three years of living with my parents after school, I was feeling what many other people my age seem to be feeling: Lost.
“Millennials,” the older generations scoff. “They’re so entitled. They think that they deserve a good life without putting in the work.”
As the great philosopher Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock) said: “The first generation works their fingers to the bone making things, the next generation goes to college and innovates new ideas, the third generation... snowboards and takes improv classes.”
Regardless of how overused the term “millennial” is, I’m tempted to agree. We all know the stereotype: These people have liberal arts degrees, beautifully curated Instagram accounts, and expensive taste in coffee. You’re not entirely sure what they do for a living, but they somehow manage to look put together and obnoxiously hip, at least in their photos.
My first reflex is to think, “But what are you really going to do with your life?” and “How do you afford all this fancy artisanal coffee?” Once I’ve ridden that wave of superiority and derisiveness, I realize that I’m not much different.
I come from a family of relative privilege that is loving and supportive, and has always encouraged me to pursue what I love. As a child, I knew I was going to college, then graduate school, and I wouldn’t have to pay for all of it myself. I was offered positions through family and school connections after graduation. I had a clear path towards a career and a place to call home, if I chose. And yes, I love fancy artisanal coffee.
In other words, I had nothing to complain about. What did my “happiness” matter, in comparison to poverty, systemic racism, human trafficking, global warming, or the deep, dark abyss that is the fast-approaching inevitability of humanity’s shared mortality? But, I still felt stuck, and I also felt guilty for feeling stuck.
I was afraid I’d wake up and decide to go on a spiritual quest a la Elizabeth Gilbert, put up decorative posters to remind myself to live, laugh, and love, then get an inspirational quote tattoo – “Not all who wander are lost, man.” I also know how superfluous it is for me to write this because I know how many coming-of-age, self-discovery blogs already exist – they pop up on my Facebook newsfeed and I don’t read any of them.
My religious upbringing valued service, which gave me a mindset that made me cringe at the idea of pursuing my own happiness. I should be sacrificing what I wanted for the good of humanity, I thought. It would be better, maybe even noble, if I was unhappy.
But, as it turns out, when you’re not satisfied with the direction your life is going, you’re not very productive, you don’t have much fun, and you’re not that great to be around. After a year or two of building unease with the person I was letting myself be, what I was letting happen to me, I decided something needed to change.
After months of agonizing over what to do, and losing over ten pounds in the process, I ended my relationship and haven’t looked back. I moved to a new city, found a new job, and found new experiences. “The best thing about all this,” my mother said to me, proudly, “is that you did it all by yourself.” I was free, and I could do anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, with whomever I wanted.
At this point, a lot of my friends look at me, irritated, and say, “Yeah, but how did you do it?” or “You’re really obnoxious right now, you know that?” or “Go die in a fire.” Like me, they’re in their late 20’s to early 30’s. They’re starting careers that they’re grateful to have but are less than enthusiastic about, and feeling stuck. They feel like they have to stay where they are because of familial obligations, relationships, lack of experience, lack of money – the list goes on. These are all legitimate obstacles, and I know them well.
I know not everyone has access to the same opportunities, and I know I’ve been #blessed with a good deal of fortune. There’s a lot about our circumstances that we can’t change.
And so I can’t speak for my friends’ experiences. I can’t suggest that they do exactly what I did. And my distaste for Eat, Pray, Love is so strong that I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to drop everything to “find” themselves. I can only look back to when I was in that boat, considering only the options that drifted within arm’s reach. If I’ve learned anything from all these years of living with myself, it’s when I’m making excuses to stay in my comfort zone, it’s time to kick my own ass out of there.
The next day, as I was putting the dishes away, I looked in the sink. There was no sign of the spider, and I wondered how it had gotten out. Maybe it had used the stacks of cups and plates to climb its way out. Maybe it had gone down the drain. Or, maybe the cat ate it. Either way, it had escaped its stainless steel purgatory, and sometimes, that’s all we can ask for out of life.