Free at last! You’ve moved beyond childhood, beyond adolescence. And now you’re an adult.
It may not feel that way. After all, you’ve spent your life viewing adults as other people — your parents, your teachers, store owners, bus drivers, carpenters, coaches, cops, TV personalities, firefighters, doctors, politicians and all the rest of the “big people” around you.
You’ve lived in their world.
Well, now it’s your world. You’re one of them. Simply by virtue of your age, you have a place as an adult. Your job, from here forward, will be to determine what that place is.
That’s the exciting part. Your life is in your hands. You will choose which roads you will take. Which friends you will make. What work you will do.
True, this is something you have to do. No one else is going to take responsibility for you. Even more, though, it’s something you get to do. You will shape yourself — your self.
Rich in options
Your bank account may be empty. But you are rich in options.
For instance, some people spend their lives traveling. You could become a truck driver and find yourself constantly on the go from neighborhood to neighborhood, or from city to city. Or how about spending your time in the air as an airline pilot or flight attendant?
Foreign correspondents for the news media hop from continent to continent to cover wars, fashions shows, famines and soccer matches.
Yet, other people choose a sedentary life. Those reporters have to file their stories to editors in the home office who commute each day and work regular shifts at their desks. No airline can operate without its mechanics and other ground crew. Truckers need dispatchers.
A lot of travel or no travel, it’s up to you.
City or suburb or small town? An apartment in a looming residential tower or a single-family home with a back yard? A quiet cul-de-sac or a bustling commercial strip? You decide.
And, when it comes to your Catholic faith, it’s all up to you.
You’ll see how the people around you live out their religious beliefs whether they’re Jewish, Mormon, Baptist, Muslim, Methodist, Catholic or whatever. You’ll hear what the Pope has to say about how you live your life, and other priests, and other believers. You’ll listen to debates about theological, moral and ethical issues and take in the many ways of approaching these knotty questions.
And then you’ll decide what it means for you. How does your conscience respond to all these voices and ideas? Only you can say.
Obviously, circumstances play a big role as well. You’re not likely, as a young adult, to be able to run out and buy a house, even if you’d like to.
But, depending on how you — you — want your life to develop, you can begin working toward some of your goals. You can start saving money so that someday you can afford a down payment on a home. You can get a license as a truck driver or certification as an airline pilot. Even if you’re stuck in a desk job, you can walk the Appalachian Trail or backpack through Europe on your vacation.
Maybe you want to live in a small town, but the best job for someone with your skills is in a big city. OK, you’re going to have to compromise, and that’s part of life, too.
You decide what’s most important to you. Then, you build the rest of your life around that. If that big-city job is what you really, really want, you’ll put on hold the idea of living in a small town. If you love the idea of living in a downtown high-rise but have a job in the far suburbs, you’ll choose to put up with the long daily commute. Or you won’t — you’ll find a place to live near your work.
A long commute will eat up a lot of your time, and that brings up something else you get to decide: What are you going to do with your free time?
You want to be a couch potato watching endless TV shows while downing gallons of ice cream? That’s your decision.
You can spend hours on your computer or smartphone. You can jog. You can do volunteer work. You can go to church on Sundays. You can host a party. Read. Lift weights. Shop. Dance. Have a picnic. Tinker with your car. Sky-dive. Write poetry. Sing in a choir, act in a play. Tend a garden. Swim. Cook. Dine out.
There is this huge menu of life, and you sit there, study it — and then start ordering.
Friends and lovers
It’s the same with friends and lovers.
You’ll have some friends from the old neighborhood or from your school days with whom you will keep in contact. In addition, you’ll find a set of people at wherever you work, and you may become friendly with some of them.
But, really, the world’s open to you when it comes to finding new friends.
Of course, you’ll meet people at parties and at bars, but a great way is to join groups — a lot of them. The more groups you join, the more you get to exercise and express different aspects of yourself. You get to know more about yourself. Also, you get to find people who share your views and interests and enjoyments and passions.
Say you do tutoring at a local school one night a week. There will be other men and women, young and old, who will be doing the same thing. You’ll have that desire to volunteer and help others in common. And that’s a good basis for developing friendships.
Or a romance.
The idea of loving someone can be scary. You have to be vulnerable. You have to commit, either in the short term or long term.
But, of course, even more, it’s exciting.
Your parents are supposed to love you, and you’re supposed to love your parents. The same is true with siblings and other relatives.
Romance, though, is a different story. You get to look for and find someone whose spirit, values and enthusiasms fit yours. Not perfectly — that’s impossible. But closely enough and in the right ways.
Love is a journey of discovery. You’re learning more, understanding more, about the one you love, and, in the process, loving the person even more, despite whatever gnarly parts are there.
And, in that same process, you learn more about yourself. And, in a reflection of the other’s love, you come to see yourself better and understand yourself better. And love yourself better.
Yes, even despite the gnarly parts.
Question: What are your gnarly parts?
Patrick T. Reardon