I’m 37 years old, which is the equivalent of 199 in internet years. Last Friday, I left my good government job to start a new career. Instead of pursuing writing as a side gig, I’ve decided to focus on it for a while. To give myself a chance at my dreams instead of deferring them forever. Admittedly, I was raised on the idea that pursuing your dreams comes second to having a stable income. I’m married with two kids, and an increasing number of responsibilities that would probably make rational people suggesting that I stay in my position and not take any risks. For a long time, I would have given myself that same advice. Since I’m in grad school, I had this idea that I would wait until after graduation to pursue something I could actually enjoy. But after a hashtag in August became a movement in September became a host of new opportunities in October, I decided to make a go of it. A trip to a neuro-opthmalogist revealing that the job I hated was also the one literally making me ill sealed the deal. Quality of life trumps security.
I see all of these articles aimed at Millennials (which read a lot like the ones that were once aimed at Gen X) warning about the risks of not settling down. Articles that tell you to hurry up, find a good job (however nonexistent), and frantically demand that you buy into an economy and a lifestyle that may or may not be what you want for your future. Frankly, even if it is what you want, the suggested timeline for getting it probably isn’t going to work out in this economy. There’s an assumption that if you do the right things in the right order then you’re guaranteed access and success. I have a terrible habit of doing things in the order that makes sense to me, and here I am at 37 mostly settled down. Mostly. I have the kids, the husband, but the career? Well I had one. And frankly, I hated it. So, it’s time for something new.
In fact, let’s talk about what settling down means. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband, I love being a mom, and that’s the part of my life I wouldn’t change for any reason. I’m glad I had my kids in my 20’s because now as my friends struggle with sleep deprivation, full time work, and all the hassles that are part of parenting toddlers and/or brand new babies? My kids are 14 and 7, largely self sufficient, and I am not touching any more diapers. For me, that part worked out great. But I didn’t get here in a way that any article would recommend. I put off college in favor of military service, because that made my degree cheaper and rescued me from a less than stellar home life. I didn’t start college until after I had a child, and honestly without the military and my son I’m not sure I would have ever gone to college at all. I can make about $5 an hour more with my degree than I did without it. Maybe. Not what I’d call a great trade off for those mountains of student loan debt I know some of the people reading this are facing.
Here’s what all the “do the right thing and succeed” articles don’t tell you. Sometimes that “good” job is soul destroying. Petty, capricious bullies exist in high school and the workplace. Following your dreams can be a terrible idea or the only way you’ll ever be happy. Growing up, getting married (or not), having kids (or not) are all personal choices that no one else can guarantee will work out. The best things in my life don’t come from doing the right thing. Doing the right thing damaged my health and had me waste years of my life on jobs that no one will ever remember me doing.
In fact, every time I do something that sounds like a terrible risky idea? That’s when something amazing happens. Sure, my first marriage ended in divorce. But I met the love of my life after we split up. My very first college class is where I met my current husband. If I’d gone to school when I was supposed to? We never would have met. My life has been a hectic strange place at many points, and it hasn’t always been easy. But my broad range of experiences has given me a unique perspective that has made my writing more appealing to mainstream media. Taking a risk, rearranging your timeline to suit your interests can be the best thing for you. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything, because I’ve done the things I want to do even if I didn’t do them in anyone else’s recommended order. If it’s your life? Only you can decide what success looks like, and how you want to get it. There’s nothing wrong with trying to do the right thing for you. Just don’t let anyone else’s definition become yours; I promise you, you will live to regret it.