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Twenty(something) Questions: Another year wiser?

Each birthday, part of me feels as though nothing has changed, and then another part feels like everything has. I may be another year older, but I’m not sure how much wiser. Sure, I may know more; but I really just know more about how much I don’t know. Which is frustrating. But also kind of exciting. Here’s a look back on the first article I wrote for NolaVie this time last year.

A Quarter Life Crisis: On turning 25

Joey Albanese

Joey Albanese

When I was 5, I wanted to be an ice cream man. You know, the dude who drives around suburbia playing the same songs over and over, charging way too much for a Choco-Taco? Maybe I wanted to make other people happy, just like he did. That or I just wanted the free ice cream. I like to think it wasn’t the latter, though.

I turned 25 last month, and sometimes I feel like I haven’t changed one bit; like everyday I still change my mind about what I want to be when I grow up. I tell myself that no one else actually knows either, even the guys in suits who try and make you think they do. I mean, I can barely even commit to dinner plans tomorrow out of worry that something better will come along. How the hell am I supposed to decide what I want to be doing for the rest of my life?

Maybe it’s my innate inability to be satisfied, my constant search of self in relation to the other, or my desire to find harmony and balance in this life. At least that’s what astrology tells me about the Libra. If only they would just tell me how to find that balance.

It all never made much sense to me, you know, the whole “career” thing. It’s funny, really, how we feel this burning need to define ourselves with a job title, as if we are somehow worthless without it. From the time we learn to speak, others start to ask us what we want to be when we grow up. And by answering this seemingly playful question, we are taught at an early age that we must learn to label ourselves in this way, a task that I am quickly learning to be quite impossible, or better, unnatural. I hated the kids who knew they wanted to be a teacher or a doctor. I considered everything, yet was constantly frustrated when the sound of a career just didn’t sound like “me.”

I eventually did the college thing, and while I’m more than gracious to have been raised by a family where college was not only an option, but more the option, I often wonder where I would be now if it weren’t. It seems as though once you finally get to college, there are barely any doors open because society has convinced you that you’re not talented enough to be an actor or that you would never make enough money being an artist. This definition of ourselves becomes blurred; it’s less of what we want to be, and more of what we think we could or should be.

Still clueless after four years of repeatedly changing majors, I decided that I wanted to make other people happy, so I became a social worker. I guess it was the ice cream man in me.

I was overworked and underpaid. I commuted an hour each way from Brooklyn to the Bronx, and often woke up on my bed the next morning with the lights still on, passed out in the previous day’s work clothes, just to get up, put on a new shirt, and do it all over again with a smile on my face.

Needless to say, I had not quite found that balance I was looking for.

So I picked up and left. I quit my job. I left the New York City lifestyle that I could barely afford. I moved out of my trendy artist loft apartment in Bushwick, where people constantly looked at me funny after finding out that my job description did not quite fit that of an “artist.” And I packed my life into one suitcase, because, hey, that’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? I set off on what I called a journey of self-discovery. Some called it a quarter-life crisis. My grandmother calls it a vacation. Either way, I moved to New Orleans.

Yet I eventually came to realize that the journey was not so much one of self-discovery, but rather one of self-awareness. I decided to think purely about what I wanted to be doing in that moment. So of course I ended up working at a bar. Go figure. It felt great though, to no longer have this “career” thing tying me down. And once I did that, it felt like all of those closed doors started opening again. Suddenly I felt like I could do anything, which is good because I want to do everything.

So that’s what I did. I threw myself into projects that would have seemed impossible in another city. There’s something different in the air down here, and I’m not talking about the humidity. There’s opportunity here that lacks competition. It’s humble and open-minded. And unpretentious. It’s OK to not have a plan, or to have a service job to pay your bills. Sure, things may not be completely balanced here either, but there’s a good thing going on.

Now I get to work from home a lot. I also have time to do things I wasn’t able to before. Some days I get to sleep until 9 (fine, sometimes it’s 9:30). But I actually have time to make my bed in the morning. And make myself coffee. And breakfast! I haven’t eaten breakfast during the week since, well, ever. And I get to read the news.

There are usually things to eat in my refrigerator. And they haven’t even expired yet. Because I can go grocery shopping when I feel like it. I even saved a coupon one time, and was actually able to use it (low point). Laundry isn’t such a hassle, and I don’t need to re-wear pants five times before I wash them anymore. And I do small loads like my mother always told me to do. And I separate them by color. That’s big. My clothes almost smell like hers do now (well, I haven’t gotten that far yet). But I can run errands, like going to the post office, or to the bank. I can pay my bills on time, which makes all of that a lot less stressful, I’ve realized.

I also have time for side projects now. Last week I cleaned out my backyard. The week before that I built a table for my room. I sketch. Go biking. I’m able to call my mom all the time, too. Sometimes just to say hi. And she actually supports me and my “unconventional” lifestyle.

I feel like I’m a better person. Or maybe I’m just the same person without a 9 to 5. I know that it sounds like I’ve been doing a lot of nothing, but I just think we need to all find a balance, and I think this “nothing” is a big part that’s usually missing.

I don’t think I’ve quite figured it out yet. But I’ve learned that there is a balance, and I know what it feels like for it to be off. I also know that there is no career that defines me, and I had to throw it away to really understand that.

People still ask me what I want to be doing 10 years from now. My answer? I want to be living like I am today. I’m only 25.

Besides, I’m still working on the laundry thing.


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