Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
I feel very stupid for this letter, but I can’t seem to shake my feelings. I have been working since I was old enough to get a work permit (the summer of my 14th birthday) and now, at 25, I feel as if I’ve missed out on a lot of things.
My parents (really, my mother) have always pushed hard for work to be the most important aspect of my life. Before work it was school. And then school and work combined were my top priorities. Everything else came second. I have missed birthdays and social events for my job. Over and over I hear stories from friends and my fiancé about all the fun things they’ve done — traveling, seeing shows, meeting new people — and I am expected to be happy for them. Please don’t get me wrong I am very happy for them. But at the same time, there is this underlying current of resentment sitting deep in my chest that I feel gets stronger with every story I have to listen to, every smile I have to plaster on.
I am grateful for my strong work ethic that my parents instilled in me. I’ve never been in trouble with the law and have never been fired from a job. I have always been a top-performing employee with glowing reviews from my superiors. But all these things combined still leave me feeling unsatisfied with my life. I worry about paying bills and getting my laundry done and whether the dishes have been washed. I feel much older and much more mundane than a 25-year-old should feel. I have so many things I want to do, but time keeps slipping away with every day that I am diligently trudging to work. At the same time, I am angry with myself for wanting more. I should be happy with the things I have; and I am, for the most part. It would be nice, though, to have a good story to share when my friends are reminiscing about theirs. I just want to learn to be satisfied with my life, even if that means my life is boring.
Too Old to Feel Like This
Dear Too Old to Feel Like This,
Are you tired already? I’m tired too. I get tired by Thursday. I work maybe 12 hours Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and by Thursday, I’m getting a little tired. So I said to my wife this morning, I’m going to look for an easy question to answer.
And then your letter showed up. I love you! This is the best possible question because it is easy.
You’ve never been fired and you’ve never been in trouble with the law. You’ve always been a top-performing employee. Well, no wonder you’re in such a mess. It’s about time you screwed up at your job, got fired, went out to drink it off and got arrested for taking the wrong person’s car home. You’re way behind your peers. It’s time to catch up.
Leave the fucking laundry. Leave the dishes. Who says you should be happy with the things you have? Is that your mother who says that? On what basis does she say that? Is she a world-renowned philosopher? There is no reason on earth why you should be happy with what you have. If you’re not happy with it, you’re not happy with it.
Don’t do your laundry for a month. Let it pile up. See what happens. I guarantee the world won’t fall apart. If you are interested in the activities that your friends have had, then it is certainly not beyond your administrative capabilities to buy a ticket to a punk show. (Do they still have punk shows?)
So you’re expected to be happy for these people who go out and have fun and travel and then sit around bragging about what a wonderful time they had? Who says you’re supposed to enjoy that? I wouldn’t enjoy it. I’d be bored out of my mind, and resentful for all the time they’re wasting telling me about their stupid wonderful time. Why can’t you be angry and jealous of them? I would be. Who is imposing these standards on you? Is it the voice of your mother again? Your mother is starting to piss me off. Your mother is starting to annoy me. It’s possible that your mother was completely wrong. It’s possible that at 25 the most important thing you can do is let go of your mother.
You don’t have to listen to these stories and you don’t have to plaster on a smile. You get to feel the way you feel and express it. That will bring conflict, but it will be good conflict. It will put some blood in your face.
What you are feeling makes sense and is normal. Even your feeling stupid makes sense.
You feel stupid for writing this letter and you can’t shake your feelings. I completely understand that. It’s completely normal that you feel stupid for writing this letter, because, frankly, this letter is stupid. You’re not stupid. But this letter is stupid. And I love you for writing it because it’s easy for me to answer. Plus it gets me all worked up and angry at your mother, which feels strangely pleasant. You aren’t stupid. But this is a stupid situation. It is. And you’ve let yourself be taken in. You’ve let yourself believe all the crap people tell you. You’re too smart to believe all that stuff. So don’t believe it.
Somewhere deep inside you there is a little voice that’s telling you this is all bullshit.
Listen to that voice. It may tell you to let the laundry pile up. Listen to it. Your friends my go to India to meditate to reach a higher plain of consciousness. You can do the same thing by just letting your laundry pile up. Soon it will look like Mt. Kilamanjaro. Then you can climb it and meditate.
The way you feel is completely normal. You’re not stupid. But you feel stupid because you’ve been taken in by a sucker’s system.
I also sometimes feel like I’ve totally screwed up my whole life and I want to bury myself in a pile of leaves. I figure, This is it, I’m going to spend the rest of my life wanting to bury myself in a pile of leaves. I’ll see a neighbor raking and I’ll think, yep, tonight, that’s where I’m going. Straight into that pile of leaves.
You think your feelings will never change but that’s just because you’re 25. It’s OK to write stupid letters and it’s OK not to be able to shake your feelings. And I’m glad we get to have this little chat, this back-and-forth, because out of it may not come satisfaction or peace of mind, but out of it will come the ability to just look at the situation and say, Yeah, this is the situation, OK. What’s next?
That’s what you say at 25. You don’t say, Oh, poor me, my life has passed me by and I’ve missed out on everything and for some reason I don’t feel satisfied. No. Don’t even say that. Not at 25. At 25, this is all you say. You say:
OK, what’s next?
Remember: The only question you have to answer is:
OK, what’s next?
And don’t listen to your mother about anything.
What? You want more advice?
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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