I may owe an apology to some people I met when I was 23
I was 23 when I moved to Taiwan. I had just graduated college, after five years instead of four. I was going to teach English in Taiwan for a year, make a little money, learn a little Chinese, see some new places, whatever…and then go home and get a real job and settle down.
My roommates that first year were in their late 20s-early 30s. I understood why I wanted to teach English at 23, fresh out of college, all perky and full of potential, but I knew there was no way I’d be in Taiwan looking for work if I were any closer to the big 3-0. By the time I was pushing 30, I was going to have a job, and I’d be on a career path, I’d probably be writing, I’d definitely be happy, and of course I’d be married and ready to start a family.
But then, after five years instead of one, I was still in Taiwan. I was in a dead-end relationship, I had no savings, no retirement fund, and I had just spent five years teaching before figuring out there wasn’t any opportunity for advancement. I decided I wanted to be a writer, so I left Taiwan to go to Shanghai to be an intern for someone who had outshone me when we were classmates in high school.
The next year, I turned 29 whilst chugging fluorescent margaritas on the patio of a tequila bar in Shanghai. Three months later, I was single and unemployed, sleeping in my mom’s spare bedroom in Pittsburgh. One month later, I was sleeping on my friend’s futon in Philadelphia, still running my mouth about wanting to be a writer. I spent most of my time sleeping, cooking, and walking.
It was becoming clear that my imaginary timelines and deadlines for my amorphous goals weren’t worth shit. That in fact, it was incredibly easy to turn 30 without a job, a life partner, or even a place to live. Whether you put up a fight, whether you have a game plan, whether you have goals or intentions or dreams you can’t even speak to yourself, time keeps moving.
When I finally got my corporate job, I had to borrow money from my younger brother to pay the security deposit on a studio apartment. I turned 30 four months later and my mom drove from Pittsburgh to Harrisonburg to celebrate with me. I shared a bottle of sparkling wine with a stranger and tried to dance on top of the bar, the way we used to in Taiwan. She told me to get down and herded me home.
I hated that job weeks after I started it. I spent 15 months writing a dictionary, and then they moved my whole team to the windowless second floor and sat us in cubicles to encourage collaboration. During an impressive temper tantrum, our manager told us we couldn’t even ask to move to the empty desks on the floor with the windows. Our projects were scrapped, one by one, then we were.
I’ll be 32 tomorrow. That’s the same age my former roommate was when he left his job as the mid-level manager of an insurance firm to teach English in Taiwan. It’s same age as my ex was when we met, when I was 25 and still not sure how someone could be 32, single, and in-between jobs. It’s the same age as my friends who are married, my friends who are single, my friends who have kids, my friends who have cancer, my friends who have five-year plans, my friends who have weekend plans, my friends who have skateboards, my friends who have doctorates, my friends who are miserable and my friends who are happy. It’s older than a couple of my buddies ever were or will be.
I’m married now, but unemployed, and after all my promises that I would never return to teaching, we’re considering moving to Taiwan (again) because life there was good and cheap and far from corporate. I’ll get a scooter (again). Maybe I’ll finally take those surfing lessons.
My priorities haven’t changed, they’re just grounded in reality and the life experience I lacked a decade ago. I know that compromising money for freedom or fear for love won’t make me happy, but only because I’ve tried those paths and no, they aren’t shortcuts. I want to be free and independent, but now I’m sure that I can’t have the kind of freedom I want on the wrong end of a paycheck.
I don’t have all the answers, but I don’t need them. Hell, the questions aren’t even the same anymore.
So here’s an apology to the ones who will never read this because we lost touch, possibly because I was such an arrogant little priss and I couldn’t relate to them until I broke my own heart a couple of times.
Here’s to everybody who thinks they have a clue, or knows they don’t, or doesn’t even want one.
Here’s to 32 more years that I hope I spend living and working alongside J. I’m already a better person for the two years he’s been in my life. If you have your doubts about that, just trust that I am incredibly lucky.
Here’s to rising to challenges as they come, and not racing toward imaginary finish lines.
Here’s to doing whatever you want to do, and not feeling guilty about things that aren’t important to you.
And here’s another picture with a quote on it: