“We’re happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way. / It’s miserable and magical.”
— Taylor Swift, “22”
My birthday is tomorrow, and to melodramatically paraphrase Charlotte Lucas in the 2007 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”: “I am (nearly) 22 years old. I’ve no money and no prospects. I’m already a burden to my parents. And I’m frightened.”
Again, this is a melodramatic take — and Charlotte was 27 when she expressed these sentiments — but it still feels fitting. Whenever someone asks me what I’m doing after graduation and I have no exact answer, this is the phrase which echoes in my brain. Notre Dame will soon send me off into the world, and it's not the transition that scares me. It's the uncertainty of what that next phase holds.
I recently read Meg Jay’s “The Defining Decade” expecting reassurance, but I found it only intensified my anxieties about the future — perhaps not for the reasons one might expect.
One of Jay’s biggest critiques of people in their 20s is that we mistakenly assume there is always our 30s. We think, “I don’t need to worry about kids now, that can happen when I’m a little more mature” or “I want to go to grad school eventually, but that can happen after I’ve done [insert frivolous young person activity].” Jay believes that major life decisions are things we need to think about now, before time slowly but surely narrows our options.
As I read “The Defining Decade” and moved past the initial anxieties about needing a plan for the future, I realized that I was actually on the opposite end of the spectrum. My problem is not that I lack any precision about how I want the future to unfold, it’s that I make my plans and cling to them like oxygen.
The book reminded me that the future is so close, yet still so unknown. I currently have a 10-year plan, and about two to three back-up plans depending on different career tracks. However, I have also become deeply familiar with the fact that when woman plans, God laughs. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is that a plan enables you to act with intention, but it does not guarantee anything about the future.
Sure, I can intend to have my law degree, be married and work in Washington, D.C., by the time I turn 28, but life is dynamic and I will change. This is a truth that I often wish I could bundle up and bury deep in my subconscious, never to be thought of again. While growth is one of my fundamental values, I’ve always appreciated it more as a form of reflection. It is far more daunting when it stands as a potential cause for Future Joy to deviate from my meticulously laid plans.
Reading “The Defining Decade” made me acutely aware of the swift passage of time while simultaneously reminding me of how removed I am from the fruits of my labor. Future Joy is a mystery to me, and while I have no knowledge of her struggles or priorities, I find myself entrusting her with everything. Seems a tad unfair, but such is life. I’m learning to be okay with the uncertainty.
Approaching 22 and my final months of college, I feel myself preparing to hand the baton off to my future self. I have plans for the next year and the rest of this defining decade, yet all I can do is set the stage for success and trust my future, older, wiser self to make the best decisions she can.
Here’s to embracing the miserable and magical paradox of being happy, free, confused and lonely — in the best way.
P.S. To my dearest friends and wonderful acquaintances, as I know you all feverishly read each of my articles, there is absolutely no excuse to forget my birthday. I eagerly await the loving bombardment of birthday gifts and well-wishes. :)
P.P.S. To my future self, wherever you are, I think you’re pretty amazing.
Joy Agwu is a senior at Pasquerilla West, originally from Bowie, Maryland. She is pursuing a degree in philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. In her free time, she finds great pleasure in consuming media and reflecting on the deeper meanings behind the content she encounters. Whether you have recommendations for TV shows, movies, podcasts or any other form of media, or if would like to further discuss an idea presented in a column, feel free to reach out to her on Instagram @JoyfulJoyousss.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.