that time I thought about quitting.

 

mhn
poem & art by morgan harper nichols

Once upon a 2011, there was a girl who had a plan.

Her days and weeks were color coded in her Google Calendar AND neatly written in her planner. She had a well-versed answer for what she wanted to be at the very adult and fully grown age of twenty-five. There was a general trajectory for how she envisioned her place in the world and she knew all the right words to say if she suddenly found her careful plan totally unraveling. Her definition of success was doing anything to avoid the long walk back home to where she started and never admitting total defeat that she doesn’t, in fact, have her shit together.

And then she grew up and took a liking for red wine which lead her to be more honest with herself and frankly, way cooler. Not that drinking wine makes you cool. I’m just saying that maybe, just maybe, I needed help to chill out and realize that having no plan is totally, one-hundred percent fine. I have maintained the appearance of millennial success but have had no plan, no intentions, no actual career goals and no next step other than the faint idea that maybe one day I would move home to Portland for the last four years.

This spring  l will have completed four years of post-college, real world education and check off the one thing on my to-do list since graduating college: move to Portland. This fact serves no purpose other than to remind myself that four years is actually a really short amount of time because I have no plan beyond that. Here I am again on the internet writing notes-to-self for the things I wish I knew in each of these years to make myself feel like I actually accomplished something notable. You can say I earned my Masters in Adulting. (Except please don’t, that’s a terrible line and also I made yet another grilled cheese for dinner yesterday… so make your own assumptions there.)

I went on a major nostalgia bender sorting through old photos, notes and journals while packing for my big move down south.  Then for good measure I read some of my old blog posts. My If-You-Can-Dream-It-You-Can-Do-It-22-year-old self was more annoying than I thought. She sounded like a mug you’d find at TJ Maxx. 

So I told my friend Katherine I was going to decommission this blog after I moved. It had clearly served its purpose for my first foray into adulthood and now that I’m older, wiser, and — thank God — a little more emotionally stable I can probably stop word-vomiting my know-it-all truths onto my corner of the internet in an effort to convince myself that I am more accomplished than I feel.

To which Katherine immediately responded, “You can’t! I read your blog and I NEVER read anyone’s online blog (no offense to all of you other twenty-something self publishers). Your words are helpful and you have a different perspective. Don’t quit now.”

End of the conversation. In a matter of seconds, I felt really proud of my semi-devotion to this semi-consistent hobby over the last four years and also I did not, in fact, delete this thing out of my own insecurities. Get yourself a Katherine. 

That very blonde & maybe a little too enthusiastic college grad who made a WordPress account on a whim was trying her best and she deserves a little grace. Everything she blindly walked through actually brought me to where I am today, so for that I am grateful for her bold naivety. I am also grateful that she learned how to be alone, how to not care so damn much about what people think and also that she learned how to be wrong.

Here are the cliff notes of what I wish I knew in each of the last four years. I hope in another four years I reread this list and cringe some more. I hope I’m so wrong about the things I’ve learned and am declaring as truth to the internet today that I actually LOSE readers. (Ha! Take that former Emily! I did this to you!) I hope that as I grow older my heart gets more malleable and open and stretched and maybe even has a few tears in it for character. I hope that you read these and you feel okay about maybe being wrong once, too.

Year I

The minute you graduate everyone is going to make you think that you have to have a five-year plan complete with how you’re going to afford health insurance in a couple of short years, even though you are still a CHILD who doesn’t know that you actually have to print out your car insurance card every year if you don’t want to pay a two hundred dollar ticket. Not that I know this from experience. I’ve just heard that this scenario happens sometimes.

Don’t feel an ounce of guilt for celebrating instead of freaking out about how to pay your student loans in your barely more than minimum wage job. Take a year to be in a city you love with people you love. You’re not falling behind. You’re not missing out. You are taking a minute to breathe, rest, and enjoy what God has already done. You’ll need these memories. In the ever wise words of our Supreme Leader, Ben Gibbard: “Stay young, go dancing.”

Year II

There’s a lot I could write for this one. But what I really needed was for me-now to sit me-then down and straight up tell her to stop doing so much. And that no one is waiting for you to fail. And that you’re doing so great. And that being drunk every weekend isn’t cute. You’re signing up for a season of feeling like a flaming garbage bin all because you’re too scared to admit that you feel like you don’t belong. It’s braver to go it alone.

Year III

After befriending your lonely self, you’re going to learn that you need people who know you. Not the you that you have carefully curated for the public on a Saturday night, but the you whose anxiety likes to be a bitch and keep you bedridden for a day. You’re going to need your people who can bring you food and sit next to you in hard seasons and you’re going to need to do that for them, too.

Finding your people is not easy. Community is hard fought for. Keep showing up even though you want to run away. Every time you get that pang of lonely, say no to the temptation to fill your time with social media or dating apps or even another trip to visit a friend. Half of the work is just showing up in the same place over and over and over again until one day it’s all just different and good.

Year IV

I used to treat every opportunity like it was once in a lifetime. If I didn’t say YES to something, then it would never come back to me. I would miss my chance. I would never fulfill the dream attached to that choice.

And it took four years to realize life is not a poker game. You don’t have to cautiously hold back and ration your chips for fear of not knowing the outcome, or risk losing it all after going all in on one hand. There are always more chips. There is always another chance, another opportunity, another date, another job, another choice. Stop living like you have wasted your chips.

There is more coming, I just know it.

Also for your viewing pleasure, here are some of my most cringeworthy early posts:

everyone told me life was gonna be this way.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Two years ago I was taking pictures in front of the fountain next to the friends who became family. We had just sat in rows of identical square hats, shook hands, and received an empty folder with a gold embossed logo on it. We hugged our people and thanked our professors. Later that evening we would all go to a concert in the park that our friends’ band was singing at. We danced and ate chips & salsa and no one mentioned the fact that everything was going to be different because in that moment, everything was good.

People kept warning me that the post-grad season is really hard as I prepared for my leap into the elusive “real world” two years ago. I hated that they were ruining my bright-eyed view of endless possibilities without a syllabus weighing me down. Post-grad might have been hard for them, but not for me. I belonged to community. I was a leader that people looked to for direction. I could do anything and the world was my oyster!

“During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists.”Rising Strong, my gal Brené (Brené Brown, that is. We’re not on a first name basis but I would like to think maybe someday we will be. We both were swimmers and have a tendency to cuss when we get riled up.) wrote this down and it has never hit closer to home than in these last two years.

During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. – Brené Brown

It took me one year post-grad to realize that things were different after being homesick for the way things were, and just like everyone said – it was really hard. It took me two years later to realize that life is still good. It will probably take me a lifetime to figure out how to keep standing when the tide comes back in or the winds change.

I’m trying not to use the word “season” because it feels too temporary. And honestly, I’m trying my best to not refer to my life stage now as “post-grad” because it keeps my eyes fixed on the rearview mirror rather than on the road ahead. But one of the hardest things about this post-grad season is the undoing of what was sure. I went from being someone who saw myself as an example to look to – who was decisive and knew exactly what she was doing and why – to being relatively anonymous, having little to no direction at any given point in time and having to rebuild who I am from the ground up.

This might say more about me and my self-absorbed tendencies to view myself as way cooler than I actually am than it does about life after graduation. But if someone knows when the label “post-grad” has an expiration date, let me know, because two years later I’m still feeling like I’m in my freshman year of life.

I wanted to be able to follow a formula for success: get a credible job, move to an actual city, move in with friends to the same apartment and live across the hall from one another, meet in a coffee house every day at lunch, yell “WE WERE ON A BREAK” when you mess up and your heart gets broken, watch Monica & Chandler get married… you know, the typical 20-something lifestyle.

My formula for moving on was a gap year lived in my college town and then plans to move home with my parents to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a barista in Portland. I kid you not, this was my big life plan for after college. Four years of tears and student loans and I am still so grateful that God dreams way bigger than I do. Today, my life looks completely different than how I would ever have imagined.

It’s like someone pulled all of the yarn out of my favorite sweater and handed it over for me to recreate without a pattern or directions. Granted, I’ve never knit anything in my life (sorry Grammie, I know you tried so hard to teach me but let’s be honest, I was never a crafting prodigy) and I don’t know why I’m starting with a sweater, but it’s a ton of guesswork. Maybe this long piece here will turn into a sleeve and the part up top kind of looks like a turtleneck and those are hip now so that’s good… but I’ve got a whole load of tangled yarn yet and I don’t know how to make it fit. It’s still good material, I just might end up with a scarf instead.

There isn’t a pattern for how to move on to what’s next after the undoing. The undoing isn’t a sequential step-by-step process but instead it’s more like poetry or jazz, having some kind of form but is punctuated with unexpected twists and new melodies that you have to learn to adapt to. You can’t mix and measure your way to a perfect transition, that would take all of the living out of it because transitions have to start with an end.

Grads, your life as you know it is ruined – which sounds extreme but is actually the most wonderful place to start. There’s this quote in the Bible of when Isaiah sees God for the first time. He falls down and yells “I am ruined!” because he has seen something so beautiful and OTHER THAN that he can never live life the same way as before he witnessed it.

That’s what the undoing is like: a holy destruction of life as you know it, then making something beautiful out of all of it’s parts and pieces.

I hope you grieve the end because of how sweet those late nights and long weekends were. I hope you remember the magic of making your own community for the first time. I hope you bring with you the lessons learned and that you don’t forget how special of an opportunity it was to participate in higher education. And I hope that you always laugh at movies like Nacho Libre and never grow tired of finding a new taco truck on a street corner.

I also hope that you don’t try to shove these unique experiences into wherever you are next. The last 4-5 years were one of a kind. Any attempt at replicating them is just a cheap knock-off of the real thing that will leave you frustrated that you can’t recreate the original. Except for the Nacho Libre part because that movie is hilarious no matter what.

So be patient with yourself. Let yourself feel all of the emotions – the relief of being done with something you worked so hard for, the excitement of new possibility, the worry of not having a next step, the sadness of watching your people move to new places, the anger that happens when things don’t go your way, the loneliness that comes during the process of building new community, and the hope that comes from knowing that tomorrow will be better.

Welcome to the world, I can’t wait to see what you make.