kill the twentysomething

My twenties are gone. Forever.

I’ve often been accused of being too dramatic, both on this blog and in “real life.” I’m too emotional. Too heavy and melancholy and not enough amounts of light-hearted and sunny.

So, in an effort to balance out my being, I’m going to reminisce on my greatest hits as a twentysomething.

And then, of course, I’m going to get dramatic as the twentysomething perishes.

What I Loved About My Twenties

I learned a lot in my twenties: a lot of scholastic education and a lot about life. Greatest of all, I learned one thing.

I learned to travel.

I took my first road trip sans my parents at 20, a journey from Georgia to Pennsylvania with my two siblings via the Outer Banks (they loved that little detour). The next summer, I flew across the ocean to study abroad at Oxford University. Two summers later, I started a new life in southern California, followed by summers spent at various camps and cities around the country.

All leading up to the ultimate road trip in 2014-2015.

With every venture, my thirst for travel both quenched and grew. I was living life fully, and yet I wasn’t quite living enough.

I wrote a book.

I never thought the memoir realm would be where I’d first get my feet wet, but it’s where I landed in 2013. And I’m glad I did. My life has changed in unforeseen ways because of a decision to put my life in writing for all to see.

I learned that vulnerability begets vulnerability and that others would open up pages of their lives after turning through some of mine. I’m disappointed I didn’t turn Struggle Central into a second (or third or fourth…) work by the end of my twenties, but I am proud of that book and all it represents — both for my life and countless others.

Moving beyond my twenties, I want to keep writing stories that beckon others to be bolder with theirs.

I made friends.

I climbed out of a mostly lonely teenage existence and started making friends from coast to coast. I owe much of my relational progress to the Internet, and it helps when you can physically visit said humans in their natural habitats. Or have other humans come visit you. Another reason I love traveling.

That’s the most vital thing I’ve learned about traveling: it’s become less about the places visited and more about the people. Without the people, what is travel?

What I Hated About My Twenties

Despite the triumphs and countless lessons learned, my twenties also left me longing. Made me wonder if I’d even made any progress at all.

I didn’t stay in one place for too long.

Always on the move — whether it was the Georgia college years, the southern California “exodus years,” the separate summer camps, the continental road trip, my year in Charlotte, or even the last year in Asheville — I didn’t ever let my feet get too wet in any one place.

The concept of “roots” both beckons and terrifies me. I feel as though I should have some after three decades; instead, I feel like my heart has been ripped apart and chucked from sea to grimacing sea.

I didn’t go on a date or kiss someone in the rain.

And I had my opportunities for both. Maybe it’s my fiercely independent nature. Or my other stuff. Whatever it is, my twenties often left me feeling left out.

Much like my teen years the decade before, I felt everyone else was out experiencing life — the dating, the marrying, the children-bearing — while I’m stuck inside myself and my struggles. Silly excuses or valid reasons or some combination of both.

I lost friends.

I knowingly walked away from some friends, others left me, and by decade’s end, I accumulated a lengthy list of friends-no-more. The memories and heartbreak of lost friendship can be enough to make me want to slam the door on friendship moving forward.

Why risk the loss?

I spent most of my days leading up to 30 in angsty anticipation. Like a doomsday clock about to detonate. I spent a few precious days with family, and we did some fun things together. But inside I felt the impending deaths of my youth and hope.

30? I’m not ready for 30.

By 30, I should have life all figured out. A job I’d do the rest of my life, a city that’s undeniably home, and a less relentlessly restless spirit.

By 30, I should be somebody. Someone well-known but mainly known well.

By 30, I should be less inward obsessed and more outward oriented. Someone who gives more than he gets — or at least expends less energy on what he gets.

But the more I ruminated on my decade-ending night yesterday, the more I realized that my twenties only just got my story started. Yes, I experienced some special memories and adventures in my twenties. But a lot went left unresolved, too. I suppose I can either view my thirties ahead as a referendum on the failings of my twenties or an opportunity to further those efforts.

If my twenties were for “finding myself,” perhaps my thirties will be for building myself.

So far, my first day as a thirtysomething feels okay. I don’t feel ecstatic, but I don’t feel dead, either. I have friends in their thirties who seem well-adjusted and wise yet still youthful and adventurous. Perhaps the thirties are for the best of both worlds — an adult but a kid all the same.

At least I won’t have to deal with turning 40 for ten more years.

Good gosh, can you imagine?

  • naturgesetz

    Lots of good insight there, Tom.

    I’d love to see you again sometime, but more than that, I hope you’ll continue to tell those of us who care about you what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Above all, I hope you’ll always have the joy of being God’s beloved child (no matter how sad or happy you may be at any moment).

  • Rebecka

    Happy birthday, Tom!
    I’m not sure this will make you feel better or worse, but I’ve been in my thirties for four years now and I still haven’t done any of those things you think you “should” have done by 30. However, as stressed out as I am about getting older, I really do enjoy becoming what I can only describe as more and more myself.