23 and still at home: Should I bust out?

I've been more sheltered than most, and fear I'm going too slowly

Topics: Since You Asked, New York City, Careers, Graduate School, Reality Bites,

23 and still at home: Should I bust out? (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I recently earned my master’s from a prestigious university. My field of study was arguably less prestigious, but since I am helplessly right-brained and law schools are overflowing, it seemed a safe bet.

I turned 23 last month. I work on contract for a Fortune 500 company as a copywriter making $40K and I live at home with my mom and younger brother in NYC. The last person to hold my job stayed two years and left to go to grad school.

Do you think I should move out or keep looking for a permanent job with benefits? I feel stifled and stunted and all the things I’m not supposed to feel at 23. This is not how the kids in “Reality Bites” felt, and they were actually struggling. I don’t want to look back on this period of my life and hate myself for avoiding risk.

I grew up more sheltered than most of my peers. The fact that I’m still here is kind of my worst nightmare, except that, y’know, the living is easy. I had Lean Cuisine for dinner.

WWWD (What Would Winona Do)

Dear WWWD,

In deciding what to say to you, I wrote much about my own history. Rather than run all that, however, let me just distill it for you, and say that my words come from a serious examination of my own past. You don’t need to know all the details.

My feeling is this: Stay close. If you need adventure, take trips. You are lucky to be in a place you know, with people who know you. Keep digging where you are. You will uncover layers and layers that will make your time richer.

Your expertise in your own “little postage stamp of land” is an immense advantage.

Are you curious about the West, the wilds of California? Then come West. Visit us. Go to the craziest places here. See Esalen. See Big Sur. Taste the tiny incredible foods of Valencia Street and see the soul-quenching hills of West Marin. Come to my writing getaways out on Tomales Bay. But cherish what you have: a home in New York.

Though you long to be independent, you are probably getting a great deal of emotional sustenance from your connection to your family. Cherish it. Stay close.



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Your professional advancement will come. Let it come gradually. When you need to breathe the air of independence, get out of town. When you need solitude, go to the woods. When you need to be wild with your friends, get out of town with your friends. You do not need to wholly emancipate yourself. In reality, there is no such thing as wholesale emancipation. That is something many of us who went West for freedom discovered: Our freedom from the settled rituals of the East was no freedom at all, but simply a hollow absence.

We are interconnected beings. We wither in isolation. Stay where you are. When the urge hits you, go far into the wilderness, knowing you have someplace to return to.

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