Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s social media editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
All things considered, I’m not a ‘fuck-up’ in some conventional senses. I've had some good relationships, I'm financially responsible and independent, in good health, etc. I even completed a psychology Ph.D a few years ago.
But for most of my life, I've also been very depressed. And in the past few years, it's finally caught up to me and kind of sabotaged everything. Close to the end of my grad program, it got so bad that I just knew I needed to devote myself to feeling better, which I didn't really feel capable of doing if I had a professional job, like being a professor or therapist. So I finished, but I also stepped away from the field too.
This past year, I've been working temp jobs, reading a lot of trauma and self-help books, going to some 12-Step programs, and just really trying to improve myself. And, as a result, I'm finally internalizing that I have power in my life, and that I can truly change for the better.
But I'm also realizing how far behind I am, too. I'm turning 32 in a few months, and I haven't dated in years (or haven't been successful at it, anyway); I don't have a career plan at all; I feel pretty isolated. And I know I have some challenges others haven't had: my dad was a pretty violent alcoholic, I'm transgender (I transitioned eight years ago), and I have pretty bad social anxiety. But I see all these folks on Facebook with marriages and kids and careers and I'm just... not there. Or, honestly, close. Not in a way I can handle, anyway.
So my question is, how do I find the strength to keep going? On the one hand, I haven't regretted for a moment prioritizing myself, and I am learning so much about how I can grow as a person and improve my connections and experiences of life. But I also so desperately wish so many segments of my life were different than they are, and I really have no idea if or how they ever will be. And it gets so incredibly discouraging that even as I am changing, I so often worry it's just too late and I'm too far gone and I don't know if I'll ever really get there.
Dear Slow Change,
The name for this column (and indeed the column itself) started out a joke. All things considered, I’m not actually that much of a fuck-up these days, although the various corporations to which I owe money might disagree. Still, I mostly wake up in my own bed, with my shoes off, and my face washed.
However, in one respect I do feel like I have earned this moniker: my abiding sense that I am terribly late to my own life. It’s only very recently that I decided to try writing things for the internet, after leaving a marriage, which was the thing I tried after dropping out of grad school, which was where I went after I finally tired of bartending for a decade. So trust me when I say that I very much relate to certain aspects of your letter.
But, while I was finding various places to run away to from my problems, it sounds like you’ve spent a great deal of time confronting yourself. Trust me when I say that this is an extremely worthy way to spend your early adulthood — and 32 is early! You're younger than you can possibly imagine right now! At 32 I was once again waiting tables in a breakfast diner in Minneapolis.
You have in no way missed the window on finding a satisfying career or a stable relationship, if those are things that you want. And that’s a question you should spend some time with. Do you actually want a life like the ones the people you follow on social media are pretending to have (because absolutely everyone is pretending in one way or another)? Is it simply the stability that comes with conforming to a life plan the world tells you makes sense? Will you still feel like you’re missing out when they begin posting about divorces or being underwater on a mortgage?
I understand feeling like you’ve missed out on the things people are supposed to do, but by and large when someone tells you about all the incredible adventures of their twenties you can simply substitute that for “my parents have money.” We are often awfully confused about what constitutes a personality these days — the interesting ones are never based on what one consumes — and I’d much rather spend time with someone who has thought through basic questions about who they are than someone who simply figured out fairly early what they should do and now posts on Facebook a lot.
So try not to stress about imaginary timelines for being a person. From my perspective you sound like someone who has a much better handle on how to spend our limited time here than most. The alternative — realizing at 24 that you want to work in advertising but not until 47 that your parents may have negatively affected your behavior — is so much more tedious.
Have a question for A Fuck-up? Email DearFuckup@theoutline.com