Thoughts about being a newly-minted adult (Part 1)
It’s been about six months since I’ve stepped off my college campus for the last time. Having just started my first job, moved to a new city, and rented my first apartment, I can’t help but feel butterflies as I tumble through this disorienting transition. Before all this novelty settles into routine and habit, I want to document my latest thoughts and learnings about life here.
1. Making it through 16 years of school is like swimming a frenzied race in an Olympic swimming pool. Making it through the rest of your life as an adult is like swimming a race, too, but in the Pacific ocean.
My life up until now has been molded from inside a giant pressure cooker. I was shuttled back and forth between piano lessons and tutoring camps my whole childhood, and through high school, I had few priorities beyond achieving academic success and getting into an elite college. My peers were all doing the same. Despite my complete lack of agency through it all, I didn’t have to think about any of the what’s or the why’s. I just needed to do.
So, in a way, being a student is like swimming in a neck-to-neck race down an Olympic swimming pool. It’s strenuous, but at a basic level you were given the direction to swim and never had to question it: swim straight-ahead, as fast as you could.
Then I graduated from university. All of the sudden, the swim lanes and the pool floor markings have vanished. For the first few weeks of release from my tight academic schedule, I watched as everything around me became shapeless. My overstuffed hour-marked calendars, which I clung to fiercely for survival during school started melting in my grasp like sticks of butter. No more deadlines and GPA-threatening exams? No more structure.
I used to think that life after college would just be a continuation of the swim race towards the final lap. As soon as I’d get my footing with my new job, I could move on to the next few items on the checklist: climb up the career ladder, grow my wealth, get married, and so on. But this plan really isn’t the only way to be an adult, and still leaves gaping holes for concrete questions like ‘what do I actually do with all my time every day’ and ‘how do I want to develop myself and my relationships?’
So, I’ve found that the ocean is a more fitting arena than a pool for this life-is-a-swimming-race analogy. It’s not so much that it’s vaster and more treacherous (it sure is), but that our lifestyles aren’t strictly predefined for us anymore and that anything goes. At my stage in life, there are still several rows in my list of checkboxes to keep me busy for a while, but I’ve realized that I can’t lean on them to define my lifestyle and satisfy my hunger for purpose and well being. It won’t be enough. If I’m not checking in with myself regularly I’m asking for a quarter-life crisis in ten years.
So this brings me to my life stage now. I’m fresh out of college, and everybody’s recalibrating their personal compasses to prep for their next leaps forward in life. My friends and peers today are still splashing around the same area as me at the moment, though I know it won’t last long. As I pursue my own goals and they chase theirs, we will start to peel apart. In this big vast ocean, we’ll all be gliding towards different shores in far off directions. I am slowly learning to be okay with that.
2. You have a bigger impact on the people around you than you think
You might have a memory of words that someone has said to you once in passing that have become deeply seared into your memory. You can remember the conversation in all of its detail — the context surrounding the encounter, the expression they had when they said the words, and the inflection of their voice. You carry this moment around with you for ages, relivable at a moment's notice.
One day you decide to bring it up with that person, maybe years later, mentioning that conversation you had that one time on that one day: “Remember when you said …?” Then they give you this mildly amused look. “Oh. I did?”
They didn’t remember it at all.
Something like this has happened to me recently, and it really knocked me backward. Some sound-byte that has affected me so deeply has passed them by in that moment like a fart in the wind.
How many of the words that have rolled out of my mouth in my lifetime have profoundly affected the people around me? It’s hard to measure the intangible impact I’ve had on all the people in my life, but I have a feeling I’m more likely to underestimate than overestimate that figure. I consider this extra motivation for me to try to be a better, kinder person — my progress in this really counts, even if I don’t realize or remember it.
3. Let’s talk Politics: Liberal and Conservative narratives are inconsistent
Should we embrace or deny our differences as people? Well, obviously, according to my liberal value system, I’m all about celebrating and making accommodations for all of our differences: Clothing brands should promote inclusivity by offering options that suit all different body types, and public buildings should install accessibility options catered to people of all levels of ability. Separate curriculums should be designed for students with special needs. The arguments for this are simple. Modern cosmopolitan society has evolved since the days when it was designed just for privileged, white, heterosexual, able-bodied individuals.
Oddly though, for someone living in a society that is so enthusiastic about people’s bodily differences, it’s highly difficult (and politically charged) to pass an idea that different populations might have different IQ scores on average, or that there are inherent differences between genders. The liberals-celebrate-diversity concept comes attached with a few asterisks at the end.
Needless to say, I’ve grown up with a pretty simplified idea of what differentiates the belief systems of America’s political left and right. The way I’ve always understood it was that liberals are the forward-thinking, equality-minded, and embrace-our-differences types of people. In contrast, conservatives are pro-establishment, traditional, and wary of social progress. Recently, I’ve started to make note of a few weird ideological crossovers that don’t neatly fit these descriptions.
Political Left: Nothing is genetic, except sexual orientation
Political Right: Everything is genetic, except sexual orientation
Political Left: Change! Subvert the status quo! Except for the environment: we need to protect and preserve that at all costs
Political Right: Don’t change! Keep the status quo! Except for the environment: let forests go bye-bye so our economies can keep growing
American politics, it seems, is driven less by ideological commitments than by partisan identities. Rooting for my political party during the election season feels not too different from rooting for my favorite football team.
This isn’t exactly a new or surprising revelation. But it does show me that it takes more than well-formed rational arguments to truly change people’s minds about political issues. Calling out my relatives on the other side of the aisle for being hypocrites while implying I’m not one is… hypocritical. It ignores the messy reality of American politics today.