I’m an Adult and I Don’t Know If I Like It

My friend asked me recently about my move to NYC, adulthood, and happiness. She’s still in school (doing her own very cool thing in Belgium) so she hasn’t been hit yet with the existential year post-undergrad.

The move to NYC played out almost exactly as I expected — which was that I was really excited ahead of it, thought that I would become a lot happier in NYC and would always be hanging out with friends; but knew that I would certainly be at least a little bit disappointed. I think the disappointment came when I realized that life was still life whether in Boston or NYC. I would still need to find motivation to stay productive during the day, would still need to find motivation to go for runs, and would still need to find motivation to reach out to people to try to make plans. But, of course, many of the things I was excited about have held true, too. There are so many places to explore here: I love going to Manhattan and exploring a new neighborhood or returning to a favorite park in Brooklyn. I love the food and drink scene here, which is infinitely more vegan friendly and which put me on my path to being a bartender. Going to restaurants and bars are the main social activity (of urban adulthood, it seems) and a night out in NYC is just plainly more enticing than in Boston. I have been meeting people too, mostly friends of friends, but I have also been reconnecting with old friends and meeting strangers (like my neighbor in my apartment building). The energy here is definitely real, better than Boston, and makes me happy day to day.

Last week, on my bike trip from Northampton to NYC, I stayed with a school friend that graduated with me but has been working in New Haven since then. We talked about life, adulthood, and the grind of an office job, and I found him to be expressing the exact feelings I was having earlier this year in Boston; it feels too easy to get stuck in this monotonous daily routine of waking up early, going to an office, getting home late in the evening, making dinner, and then being too exhausted to do anything but sit on the couch and watch some TV. This routine, combined with not having many friends around, can be demoralizing. In my opinion, the easiest way to get out of this rut is to surround yourself with friends as a motivator to do things on weeknights, which is why I felt so strongly about getting out of Boston.

Up until this point, life was all about school and school provided a community, a clear path ahead, and some sort of predictable ending to look forward to. I didn’t realize or appreciate all of this structure at the time (actually, I often resented the structure), and I definitely did not realize the comfort of being part of a community, regardless of how integrated (or not integrated) I felt within it. When the structure of school is all you’ve ever known, it’s difficult to have the foresight to realize that life after school lacks rules, boundaries, and automatic goals. Coming to terms with this in the past year has been somewhat intimidating and stressful. In the ‘sandbox’ portion of life, I feel anxious about finding daily purpose, finding long-term purpose, and just staying active; I am confronting the paradox of choice head on. I feel uncertain about what I want to be doing in five years, and when thinking about a possible five-year goal I feel uncertain about whether I’ll enjoy the path to get there. How does one reconcile long term goals with preferences, enjoyments, and ambition which can change on a much shorter timeline? 

Tied up with all of this, I also realized that friends — and relationships with people in general — were the most meaningful part of life. My dad told me essentially this on my 18th birthday and I don’t think I completely understood it then. I have always been fairly content spending time alone, traveling alone, exploring a new place alone. While I could still be content doing these things solo, the experiences and memories are more vibrant when shared with others. So, centering my life around this notion seems pretty logical to me now, and was certainly a large part of my decision to move here.

A couple of the people I’ve met here are older (late twenties and thirties) and it has been strange talking to them and realizing that I’m really no different from them. I think we’re all in this long stage of life that spans from graduating college to having kids, which could mean that you’re in this stage forever. In a sense, that perspective on it makes life feel like a playground — I have all the time in the world and can just pick and choose the experiences I want to enjoy. On the other hand, it’s pretty daunting when I’m having a mediocre day, thinking “is this it?”