Is This Real Life?

Ok. So, David’s life seems to be unraveling in front of him by the second as he takes a ride on an emotional rollercoaster. Beginning with bewilderment and shock that this is in fact real life. Then to distraction. Next he’s trying to pull out his stitches. Back to bewilderment. A great eruption of rage and emotion. Denial. Seeks guidance. Tries to pull out his stitches, again. Finally, ending the video in utter exhaustion at the reality of the situation (that he’s tripping his face off in the back of his parent’s minivan and there’s nothing he can really do about it). After watching this video for about the hundredth time, it struck me that David’s dental journey was not unlike my post-grad journey – a trip of many highs, lows, confusion, and great eruptions of emotion (not to be melodramatic or anything).

Waiting Room: For those recently out of college, or even not so recently, I’m sure you recall the last few weeks before graduation – at least a hazy idea of what it meant to you to be at the end of your college career. You spent finals ripping your hair out – drinking enough caffeine and eating enough university provided snacks to kill a horse – while attending as many social functions possible, and somewhere in there you packed up the hoard of crap that defined your life for X amount of years, and remembered to tell your parents that you had not yet died of exhaustion or alcohol poisoning. My senior year I was convinced I wasn’t going to graduate, by some fluke, or failure, and spent finals in quiet agony, just waiting to get out. This terror that is finals, is what I imagine it was like for David to sit in the waiting room at the dentist, insurmountable dentist-y treachery looming in his future.

Bewilderment: Graduation itself was a hazy blur that took forever and yet was over with so quickly you barely remember it. The days before, spent with your closest friends trying to trace over the years together, as if they would disappear once you left the security of your immaculate campus – and yet they don’t, not really. Continuing your food and alcohol binge to “celebrate”, but something in the pit of your stomach warns you of the doom just on the horizon– or maybe it’s heartburn. More parties. University sponsored concerts. Family dinners. Bar. Sleepovers. Maybe some cake. And then its over. It has arrived – real life – you’re thrown out into the world dazed and hung over.

Distraction: I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do right after graduation, I’m sure some people already had jobs or internships lined up… but the months following, I was living in northern Michigan in a town where I had no friends (except my mom…), lounged by the lake, worked at a restaurant. Trying to find myself. I suppose if you’re trying to “find” yourself though, there’s no better place to do it than where you don’t know anybody – you are essentially only with yourself (and your mom). I hate these phrases though, “finding myself” and “real life”, because they infer that something was lost, or that the life you are presently living is somehow less valid than the one you will live in the future. I thought these were the things we were supposed to sort out in college, not after.

Stitches: As fall closed in I could no longer stand the restlessness that had been building all summer; I was over my job, done with Michigan, planning trips around the world that were in no way viable at the time, and playing the with the remote idea of moving to some random city. Naturally, I started flinging my resume at any job that looked interesting, or that would get me out of Michigan as soon as possible; even though I knew better, even though I knew that I was really only wasting my time with this method, but it seemed the only thing I could do.

Bewilderment: I was utterly dumbfounded by the fact I wasn’t getting these amazing jobs, or even interviews for the mediocre ones. I had gone to a good school, done well, worked hard (partied hard)– where was my real life?

Great Eruption: I felt as if I was never going to get out of Michigan, and would remain indefinitely in post-collegiate limbo and fell into deep despair; I thought that by 22 I would have made more of myself – have something to show for the 22 years of living, and least a book, and yet…

And so on and so forth. I won’t bore you with every time I found myself going through the “David Cycle” of bewilderment and metaphysically pulling out my stitches, but I decided Chicago. Found a place to live and figured it out from there. And here’s the key difference between me and David (a 7 year-old pumped full of mind-altering drugs), I have the ability to control my future and my feelings about what I can’t control.

Granted, just because you’ve graduated college or reached a certain age doesn’t mean life all of a sudden falls into place. You’re going to make mistakes, sometimes you won’t like your job, relationships won’t always go the way you want them to, and sometimes you’ll wish your parents would pay your rent and cook for you every night. But at the same time you, we, have the ability to change something if we don’t like it, and if we can’t change it, we can at least change how we feel about it. This is also the most exciting time of your life! We have no real obligations, direction, or agenda. These are the years we truly define ourselves, and build the foundation for our lives. You could wait for your real life to happen or make it happen.  If you’re not convinced, and think what I’m spewing about is just a bunch of hippie-dippy, liberal crap, I suggest reading The How of Happiness by Sonjya Lyumbomirsky, which discusses the psychology behind happiness. So in close I leave you a quote from it:

“If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and circumstances in which we find themselves.”

Live free, die happy.

Arty the Alien