06/05/2020

Growing Up: A Delusion of Grandeur

My first post in a while; I should probably start doing this more often but only recently have I begun dedicating more time to writing and reading, apologies because of my busy schedule of being both a student and part-time worker again (and just overall a little bit lazy). So, as I start my mid-twenties, I wanted to create a catalog of “adulthood” and talk a little about growth and mythmaking of the self.

The Wish Fulfillment of University

The great deception of university life is its perpetuated myth of adulthood. Perhaps these four years are most accurately described as an adulthood fantasy. When I first moved to Tennessee, I was under the guise that this was to be the next step of becoming independent. I was living in essentially a children’s playground, suddenly released to be my own boss, so to speak, to exist separately from the rule of Parents House as a somewhat newly formed young-adult. Contractually obliged to attend lectures and maintain a B-average GPA to keep my scholarship were the only measures I had to agree to. The rest was up to me. Still a child, I did what all children in a new environment do – I experimented in a horribly captivating environment where the only real consequences for my actions were either a hangover the next morning or judgement from peers. It was great, for a short time of course. To live in La La Land is only fun until you’re sitting at another party on a Saturday night, talking to someone in a pink fishing shirt about the most inane subjects that you start to wonder what else there is out there that could be at least more than equally fulfilling. 

Confronting an Empty Bank Account

My grandparents had been sending me a small allowance every month, but at a certain point, I felt that not only did I need to do something to earn extra, but I needed to fill my afternoon hours with anything to keep me busy. After a year of jumping from one activity to the next with a little precaution, I had started to figure out how to manage my classwork much more effectively, meaning I had around 4-5 hours a day that was waiting to be filled. I found a job working as a nanny for a family of three boys. Despite how difficult it was at first to acquaint myself with both a new schedule and into the lives of these children whose past few nannies had booked it, it ultimately became one of the best decisions of my university experience. I felt re-acquainted with the comfort of a family, and discovered something that cemented my decision to later move abroad. 

Home is not something that you leave, but a place you make. Already living apart from my family back in Texas, I was quietly coming to the understanding about what I wanted from my own life outside and apart from my parents. I was earning enough at this point to pay for gas, restaurants on the weekend, movie tickets, and later, rent for a small house in a nearby neighborhood. As the years went by, I had this crushing feeling that my guilt of being apart from my family did not come from missing them, but from the knowledge that I enjoyed being alone (and outside the familiar of a home-base), and would ultimately leave them to do so.

The Calm Before the Storm 

Senior year came quickly and with little regard for crushing the idealism most of my peers held for their post-grad life. Though I was stressed and desperately trying to salvage my GPA I had obliterated during my freshman year, this was one of the happiest times in my life. I was still working part-time but living off-campus with some friends which gave me a break from the now harrowing memories of toxic dorm life and on-campus existence. I had stopped going to parties held by the fraternities, and either spent my weekends drinking wine at home with my friends, going to the movies, or running in the neighborhood with my roommate’s dog. I was fulfilled for the most part and had begun to learn more about the things that kept me both centered, creative, and ultimately fulfilled. I discovered a few bakeries on a small shopping street some ten minutes away, really delved into creative writing, and spent a lot of time with myself. Come December, the post-grad woe swept over campus for the rest of the seniors, and suddenly, everyone was desperately trying to secure a job for the fall. At this point, I had become interested in working abroad, as I had yet to have a chance to study abroad like most of my friends. I was terrified of the idea of moving abroad, but my curiosity was stronger still and I felt this was something I needed to do for myself. Finding a teaching job in European countries, like France, Germany, or Austria, is extremely difficult due to demand; But for countries like Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea, it is a bit easier. I researched, watched too many movies, took courses in Asian literature and history, and come the summer after my graduation, I was, bags packed, off to South Korea. 

The Crutch of Adulthood & Mimicking The Masters

Post-graduation blues fermented in my psyche as something that only I was susceptible to experiencing. Across the world on my own, I felt a child in adult shoes that neither fit and were much too high for my frame. I watched others around me and desperately tried to keep up the facade that I knew what was going on. While it was definitely beneficial to have spent a good month and a half traveling with my friend so I was already used to the food, transportation, and knew the basics about getting around the country, I felt a fraud. Becoming an “adult” in the world of “adultier” adults made me look at myself as more of a child than before. I was one of the youngest amongst my co-workers, and perpetually looking nineteen didn’t help my case either in gaining any kind of respect. Struck with the realization that I was now working and no longer under the crutch of university, I regressed quickly. I hated the idea that I was suddenly supposed to be responsible and tried to undo that image for myself. But as harmful behavior breeds, I once again grew tired and tried to accept responsibility for myself.

Mythmaking of the Unrealized Self

I turned 25 this week, and while still young, I feel that I am edging towards no longer being in the bubble of uninhibited self-exploration (though I suppose one could argue we are always there). A few months ago, when I was somewhere on the brink of a mental breakdown due to preparing for an interview in Korean, and unfortunately having less than ideal scores at work, putting my contract into flux, something happened: the whole world shut down. 

Before it shut down in the west, it shut down here. And like with any shutdown requiring most of the economic force to stay indoors, life shifted, and it shifted just enough for conversations surrounding productivity to become a central theme in our daily lives. While I was still required to go to work, my school closed and moved to online classes, leading me to withdraw for the semester, and inevitably left me with a huge chunk of time waiting to be filled. The more time I spent alone, the more apparent it became that I had been living in a kind of fractured consciousness – constantly distracted by social media, by work, by studying, by everything else that was not for myself. So, I started doing pilates workouts in my tiny apartment, focused on writing poetry, and sometimes, if time and concentration allowed, I read. Then, when things became dire, I thought about how I was spending my time and where I was doing so. All the way, out in boonies, all the way still, in Seoul.

Choosing to run away, so to speak, was not due to my inability to confront my past, but as an opportunity to grow beyond any preconceptions that others held against me, and I ultimately held against myself. I felt, at some base level, that I would continue down a path after graduation that would leave me feeling under-stimulated mentally, physically, and spiritually – I feared that if I did not challenge myself free of the comforts of “home” I would end up trapped by my own anxiety to live. For so long, I was terrified of waking up one day and realizing that I didn’t do anything notable with my life, as if being petrified of giving up control would mean that I would be giving up that sense of living. I realize now this thinking is a symptom of existing in a world that triumphs novelty and growth as a linear path instead of a cyclical and regenerative one. I wish that I could erase the myth of linear growth completely. I wish that the value we see in ourselves wasn’t connected to things like “10 ways to be more productive in the morning,” “How to make money fast!” “How to find your ultimate career path!” This obsession we all seem to have with “what’s next” breeds regret viciously, and makes it difficult to foreground relationships that present themselves as an opportunity for us to confront our own values and beliefs. At some level too, I feel that constantly looking forward involves putting aside so much of ourselves in pursuit of a believed happiness that stems from power and wealth rather than connection.

While professional growth seems to be what most strive towards to feel a sense of accomplishment, I’ve found that my early 20’s have been incredibly invaluable for understanding and spending time with myself. While I have not yet perfected the art of keeping a home clean for more than three consecutive days, nor have I figured out the proper way to cook a sweet potato on an electric stovetop without burning it, I’m more or less content with the way I live. Most days I wander into the same coffee shops, if I’m feeling up for it, I pick out a pastry to have while I read; I spend time cooking for myself rather than going out to eat, I let myself be embarrassed and try new things, I look to work not as a burden to pay for what I want to do, but as a place to learn new skills to bring with me into other aspects of my life – and at the heart of everything, I try. Even though I live paycheck to paycheck, still struggle with an eating disorder, and say the wrong things at the wrong time, I try, I try really hard to be okay.

Self Delusion and the Muse

I don’t believe that we are fixed individuals, at any moment in our lives. I think we are a complexity of people, and based on our connections with others, we change and operate in a slightly different way to be with that other person. I am a daughter, a friend, a girlfriend, a teacher, a student, a painfully shy stranger when confronted with baristas who can’t understand my order- I am all of these things when my environment calls for it. Living abroad has not only forced me to reason with what kind of person I want to be (and what is important for me to feel heard), but it has challenged me to find stability in an inherently unstable place. I had to become capable, and when in doubt, I had to accept when I didn’t know and couldn’t figure out the answer. I had to learn how to ask for help, how to accept responsibility, how to go to the bank by myself. Because, at the end of the day, I not only had to find this sense of security and balance, but I also had to ultimately be the one that provided it for myself.

I left America in 2017 as an argumentative and overall stubborn person who prided herself in her intellect and harshly judged others despite knowing absolutely nothing about them. To simplify: I left America angry. So, in a fit of complete impulsiveness, I went as far as I could in an attempt to get away from myself. And while all those Eat, Pray, Love fanatics will claim otherwise, moving abroad did not make me realize something innate about my psyche, nor did it cause me to reach inwardly to find some kind of spiritual truth. I’m just as confused now as I was then, but I feel more willing to admit that now and not see it as a weakness. Moving forced me to confront the ugliest aspects of myself, to shed away the pieces built on immaturity and selfishness. I don’t think Korea made me do any of this; that is to say, no country is the answer to a reason of longing or purpose. I think coming here just put me in situations that allowed me to change in a way that I needed, and it brought me to find people who were kind to me in a way that I needed at that point in my life.  

Destroying the Myth of Growing Up

I spent my 25th birthday with a close friend. And while the day was nothing special outside of what we normally do when hanging out, as we sat by the Han River discussing previous relationships and next steps, I felt strangely centered in my situation. I spent a lot of my last year adjusting to new situations: a new city, a new job, a new relationship, new responsibilities, new friendships – most of the time, it felt as if the entire world was going to collapse on me like my body was rotting from the inside out, and everyone could see this discomfort. When I was young, I felt it easy to create new relationships. This becomes harder as we get older, and the comfort of simply asking someone to play together on the playground falls away. It’s hard to find people with similar values as I get older, but I find that putting just enough of yourself out there to be open to new experiences opens up possibilities for connections.

At some point during my teenage years, I covered this part of myself in a harsh and cynical blanket. I accepted the belief that the world was horrible, and people were horrible; later poisoned my curiosity and ignored instinct. I felt that curiosity was a trait born in childhood, later to be shed as I matured into the so-very grownup world my parents were a part of. To wear vulnerability not as a weakness but as sensitivity to others, to hold emotion as simply as possible, to accept the honesty from others as a way to expand the perspective of the self – I do all of this now because this is who I am. The myth of childhood told me that when I got older, I would innately gain some kind of understanding about the world that would allow me to move forward both productively and confidently. But age does not bring understanding or perspective. Experience does. Often, these things correlate, but sometimes, the opposite is true, because to reject the world means for the world to reject you, and I do not wish to grow old, sad, and cut off from experiencing life. I’ve met people in their sixties who are just as closed off to the world as a teenager who just discovered MCR. So, I will continue to be curious without the pretense of growing up, because, had I not been curious, I wouldn’t be here.

Are there days when I feel lonely? Yes. Are there days where I am saddened by relationships shattered due to distance? Yes. Are there days where I wonder what I’m doing and whether it’s the right thing? Always. 

But, despite everything. I’m here. I want to witness this life. And most days, that’s enough. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *