Why being 23 is the worst

BuzzFeed was right – 23 IS the worst year of your 20s. We all know it because we hear it all the time – life after college is tough. It’s the great unknown, the first real step into making your own life. Yes, leaving home for college at the fresh young age of 18 is a major step, but in many ways, your activities for the next four to five years are largely determined by parents and degree programs. It’s after college, though, when stepping stones become nonexistent, and there isn’t any clear goal in sight.

Maybe if you chose nursing or some other pragmatic major, things make a little more sense for you, and finding a job just happens naturally. But for those of us who choose majors in the liberal arts, the path seems much more obscured.

Number one question people ask me when I tell them that I graduated in Art History (with a minor in French) is: “what are you going to do with that?” My typical response is to first shrug my shoulders and then utter, noncommittally, “something in the arts…?” Then, If I have the energy, I’ll explain that most museum curators, art dealers, and university professors have their PhD, and at the very least a Master’s degree. What use would they have for an undergrad who didn’t even bother with finding internships, fellowships, or volunteer work during her entire 5.5 years of college education? I was given fantastic tools in looking at, writing about, and understanding art, but almost zero knowledge of practical applications in the field (And this is less a fault of the school I went to and more the reality of the educational system and the art industry).

But looking at the big picture, I really have no interest in being a curator, dealer, or professor anyway; I would much rather be a contributor or artistic director to a small fashion or art magazine. The problem is: Where does one find these jobs? I have no idea. Better yet, I’d love to be a freelance writer/photographer/blogger/traveler, being my own boss and using cute cafes as my office… but how on earth does one achieve this dream? huge incredulous shrug!!

Aside from drawing blanks and drooling from confusion when you start thinking about the job hunt, life in your mid-twenties is also hard because your identity is changing, and you’re not sure where it’s going to end up. You can no longer describe yourself a “student,” or “child,” so what are you? You might be moving cities, which means you won’t know how to orient yourself in a neighborhood or community for another year or so; you might be moving back home, where you definitely feel awkwardly misplaced, like you don’t belong anymore; or you might be entering a new commitment or relationship, and you’re not sure how that will affect you.

{Living room sofa at my Gramma’s house, many fond memories here}

I’ve always been so protective, attentive, and careful about my identity. I have a fear of not having the agency to define myself, and as a result, commitment and intimacy can be difficult. I feel the constant need to make everything around me an accurate, yet somewhat fabricated, representation of who I choose to be. I believe that identity is self-contructed, and I have a very clear vision of who I want to be. The problem is, when situations in life threaten to throw this vision out of balance, I get scared.

Ever since leaving art school in SanFrancisco for a guy when I was 18, I decided that I would never settle in life, regardless of how difficult it would be or how hard I would have to work. Those quotes about taking risks, living life to the fullest, carpe diem-ing – those annoying typography images that inundate Pinteres – are actually true. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward.

PS: If you are the creator of any of the Pinterest images I used in this post, please let me know, so I can give you proper credit!

I'm a Californian in my mid-twenties who studied Art History and lived in France for 3 years. I blog honestly about my travels, share my thoughts on life, and get poetic about art and photography. I also sell prints of my photographs on Etsy.

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