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The Column

Something About Being Twenty-Something
4/6/03

I am in my early 20s. I am not the irresponsible clod that MTV thinks I am. I am passionate about my career, work hard at everything I do, and spend most of my waking life trying to make a mark on the world that does not involve a spray can. But it is not yet my turn to be successful.

I cannot buy anything without forgoing something else. I cannot go food shopping without a handful of coupons. It will be years before I can purchase anything at a furniture store not named IKEA. It is simply not yet my turn.

I can't rent a car without paying a mint in insurance, and I can't own one without paying even more. While I've been able to shoot a gun for our country for the last few years, it will be a few more before I can buy one for use domestically. Not that I'd want to. But my views on such an issue don't matter much because I don't have classmates to rally or contributions to funnel.

I am in between periods of irresponsibility; I no longer have my parents to bail me out and I do not yet have my savings to do the same. And my post-college debt does not help the situation. There's a reason why they call it a loan. Because when you're 23 years old and staring down the barrel of $50,000, you've never felt so alone in your life.

I'm learning to do my taxes, but I'd rather hire a CPA. I can survive soup being a main course, but I'd rather it just be an appetizer. I am okay living in a small place with poorly insulated windows, but I'd rather the ability to stretch out by a fire. But it is not yet my turn for any of this. Which is okay, since I can't afford enough furniture to fill a bigger place anyway.

I look at some of my friends who are several years older than me. Some of them have wonderful jobs in wonderful places with wonderful CPAs, and that encourages me. Some of them have the same problems I do, which terrifies me. If I knew that in five or 10 or 15 years, I would no longer have to worry about any of this, I'd be fine now. But the possibility that it will never be my turn is what keeps me up at night. That, and all the sound coming from my poorly insulated windows.

The real reason why the drinking age in America is 21 has nothing to do with whether or not we'd be mature enough to handle it. A lot of us are immature straight through our 20s, 30s, 40s, or whatever other decade we make it through before our immaturity kills us in a tragic beer-related accident. ("Look at the keggerator I made out of legos and a jet pack!") The real reason why the drinking age in America is 21 is that the first five years after college is best remembered when not remembered.

I attended a wonderful school with many people much more affluent than myself, which helped my hone my false sense of entitlement. And if there's one thing a false sense of entitlement does not get along with, it's a lousy economy (See America, United States of).

Employers have long made a habit of rewarding experience over ability, which leads the newly graduated to face the biggest Catch-22 there is - how to get experience without experience. And millions of soon-to-be-former students are about to descend on the job market. It will be an absolute dogfight, but I feel more prepared now. I've toughened myself up by eating soup on the floor under poorly insulated windows.

It took me until February after graduation to feel like I had a shot in this world, and I still have yet to hit the bullseye. And even if I get passed the career Catch-22, there is still the struggle of a wife, a house, kids, and my future wife and I sitting in our future house and teaching our future kids to be ready to struggle for most of their lives. Because we'd be silly to think we're the only ones who have to struggle.

I set out to write this column as a rally cry for twenty-somethings and as a warning for people about to be twenty-somethings. But as I wrote it, I realized that my biggest struggle is not with my career or my social life or my soup. My biggest struggle is simply accepting that it is not yet my turn to be successful. It is my turn to work hard and save up and sacrifice while I am still young and energetic enough to do so. And these 800 words have made me realize that I am not "paying my dues." Rather, I am proving myself to the world, so that I'll be around and ready to advance to the counter when my turn comes and they call my number.

"Next!"

I think I'll have the soup.

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