I’m learning to love the line in that old John Mayer song about ‘quarter-life crisis.’
I used to laugh at it, chalking the musing up to the entitlement of a generation gone wild on our parents’ belief that we could do anything and everything if only we studied hard and worked harder.
The problem with that is that it is, in fact, fundamentally untrue. We certainly can’t have everything – and ‘anything’ seems like a stretch most of the time.
So what do I do with this? It rings truer every day – and my identity seems to be snapping and stretching like a worn out rubber band that’s being pulled in a dozen directions.
I am, for the first time in more than 20 years, shedding the “I’m from Nashville” part of my story and trying on something new. I’m not convinced “I’m from St. Louis” will ever slip out in conversations as easily, nor will I wear it as easily as I have my Nashville badge. This city is stamped on my soul – its interstates and weather patterns and hipster glasses are second nature. This city has rhythm and I know how to sing along.
But as I grow out of it, in the best possible way, I believe, the things that have seemed to make me ‘me’ are bubbling up to the surface. I’m driving home on the streets where I wrecked my first car, passing the neighborhoods where my crushes lived, where I spent long nights walking and talking with my best friends. I drive by the church that made and molded me, the hospital where my sister almost died.
And tied up in all these emotional road trips are the Melanies that I used to know. So when I drive by good ole C-C-CHS, I remember the dreams and ambition that drove my very existence there: Dreams of a career, a family, a husband, a house, a life of travel and law and politics. And now I see that these things stand so incredibly opposite, the realization is suffocating at best, debilitating at worse. No one told me back then ‘you can’t actually have it all.’
Is that a uniquely feminine problem? I’m not sure. I’ll I know is that it’s freaking hard to be 25 and a woman and swallowing those kinds of hard truths.
And so this weekend we packed our bags and headed North to spend a sunny Saturday on my grandparents’ farm. As we drove, I cried – a mix of empty and angry and confused about what I’m doing and what I want to be when I grow up.
Or who, I guess.
Because somewhere in this mess of a season where career is winning and I love it and the desire for a family exists but in a quiet, faraway part of my heart, and I feel like I’ll never quite be enough to do both (or do both well), I’ve lost focus of who I want to be. It’s not about what I want to be when I grow up – it’s who I want to be that matters.
We drove up the mile of gravel hill that leads to the little farmhouse my grandparents call home. A baby calf had just been born. They were surfing the Internet half asleep with my little cousins’ toys strewn all around the floor like the bales of hay on the hills outside.
I am the great grand-daughter of a coal miner, the son of English immigrants, who carved up the hills and valleys of West Virginia to give his children a better life.
I am the granddaughter of a foreman and a farmer, who built more roads in North Carolina than I will ever drive on, and who came home to till the land and raise the cattle to give his children a better life.
I am the daughter of a college professor and a special ed teacher, who chose good and necessary work where they were underpaid to spend more time at home in one summer than most working parents do in several years. And they did it in the name of giving their kids a better life.
And this is the blood line I bear – a beautiful, hardworking, God-fearing family of people who have lived and breathed so that my children will have a better life even than I have.
So here we go, the two of us and our little cat Puff – off to stretch our identities out like rubber bands. We’ll try on new hats of grad student and single income and St. Louis-Ian.
Being 25 and female and a hot mess of career and family ambition is hard. It doesn’t get wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end of this post. I’m still struggling, empty and open handed to what is coming next. I just have to stop getting the “what” all mixed up with the “who.”