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In a month, I’ll be 25. It doesn’t feel real. My mind refuses to believe that I’m about to march into my mid-20s.
I feel young because, in some ways, I don’t believe my life has started yet. I’m just pretending to be an adult. I do all the adult things. I cook dinners, clean the house, and file taxes. But it’s as if there’s a heavy wool curtain in front of me, behind it is the secret to being an adult, and try as I might, I can’t fumble my way past it.
A younger me would have thought that I’d be further along by now. That I’d have some structure for my career, relationship, and physical health. He’d be quite disappointed. These three areas all feel like zeros, I have no clue what I’m doing, and I’ve spent the past few years in a series of false starts. Now at 25, life’s starting to get serious and I’m not ready for it.
My adventures in the past few years haven’t really left me with a lot of tangible results. My main accomplishment has been getting a diploma that’s dotted with leaves of absence. I’m still surprised that they let me graduate. There’s not a lot more that I can point to and say, I did that. But I’m grateful for the life I’ve lived so far. It’s taught me to think and to try.
Whether I call them false starts or adventures, I think of the past few years as a series of failures. Each year, I set out with a vision for the future and find it crushed against reality. Part of my journey has been trying to find something that I truly enjoy, the other part has been a process of building something that I’m proud of. I’m not too sure if I’ve accomplished either.
But, my best decision to date has been to start seriously writing. When I was younger, I had the chance to choose between a STEM-focused high school and a humanities-focused one. I went with STEM because it was easier. There was a clear right or wrong answer in science and math. Less room for gray.
It turns out that the world is more shades of gray than I can count.
Most things that are worth doing don’t have a simple answer. The only constant is that building extraordinary things requires extraordinary effort. Writing is the same. There’s never the right words, in the right sequence, at the right time. There’s only the process of writing, rewriting, and continually improving. Good writing does not come from good ideas. Good writing comes from taking an idea and hammering it on the anvil. Ideas are edited, revised, and tested until they come out looking as if they’ve been crafted effortlessly.
I first got into writing because I love reading. A great writer reads a lot and writes a lot. I already had the first half down, so I thought the second half would come pretty easily. I was very wrong. People often say that writing is thinking. To me, writing is more than that. When I write, I have to defend every word that I put on paper. They stare back at me, asking and debating me. Writing is the process of understanding my own thoughts. Nothing is scarier than that.
So, being a good reader did not make me a good writer. The difference between them is personal. Reading is about looking at the world through the author’s eyes. Writing is about creating a lens for readers to see a new perspective on the world. It’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Reading great writing is a joy. Trying to achieve great writing is agony.
A year of focused writing later, I still can’t call myself a good writer. My first drafts seem to be written by a toddler, and my final drafts don’t look that much better. The only measure of progress I have is when I look back at my old writing and see all the glaring errors that I had once made. That also describes most things in life.
It certainly hasn’t become easier to write. I often spend the first couple of hours of each day puttering around. I watch YouTube, go on Reddit, play a game of Chess, and then back to YouTube. Everything to avoid putting words down on paper. Then, I look up and it’s 10 PM at night. My mind panics and I can finally write.
That also more or less describes my choices these past few years. I avoid uncomfortable things until they’re unavoidable. I’ve done startup after startup because they’re familiar territory. To me, the early stages of a company is a well-worn process of talking to customers, building product, and dealing with all of the headaches like incorporation and taxes. That’s easy.
What is hard is taking a risk. It’s flying to Europe on a whim or running a 10k. They’re scary because there’s a chance for failure. Staying in is like vanilla ice cream. I know what’s going to happen and there’s comfort in that. Doing something new has the risk of pain, of hurt, of things that are outside my control.
To give an example closer to home, when I decided to go full time on writing, I chose the easier path of writing for others rather than myself. No matter how many edits a client demands, it’s never as critical as my own eye.
More broadly, my decision to avoid hard things has been synonymous with not trying. I’ve spent a lot of raw hours on work and, well, given that startups are inherently hard and risky on their own, I said no to everything else that’s even the slightest bit difficult. I’d always fall back to my excuse of having too much work and not enough time. The reality is that I wasn’t willing to truly try.
Thankfully, that’s starting to change. In the past few weeks, I’ve started to try more. To leave the house, go to art museums, make travel plans, and enjoy coffee shops. It’s new, different, and unfamiliar territory. But that’s the point of trying, it’s the process of seeing the world.
I don’t have some deep insight on trying, especially since I’ve only begun to step outside of my comfort zone. In my writing, I now write for myself more than clients. It’s hard, especially when I’m on the seventh draft and still not happy with the results. That’s ok. Every once in a while, things fall down. Life moves on and with enough time and support, we find our way forward.
And maybe that’s what life is. To think and to try.
And to stand back up after falling.