Time Passes

Time passes, and usually we change and grow as it does, but sometimes we don’t.

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook served me up a memory in the form of a post I’d made on that day in 2013.

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Here’s what I thought: My 2013 self sounds like an asshole.

Here’s what I also thought: It’s been just five years, but it felt like a lifetime had passed.

Here’s what I remember about my time working at an elementary school: every day I felt like I wasn’t using the skills I was supposed to be using—I wasn’t using any of the skills or tools I’d learned during the two-year graduate program I’d entered directly after college. Every day I felt acutely that I had never been trained for the work that I was doing—and that no one was going to hire me for the skills I’d acquired in school. Some days I resented the fact that I’d had to cobble together several part-time jobs to make ends meet. Most days I loved that I was being paid to have second graders holler “Teacher Hillary!” across the playground to get my attention so I could capture for Facebook or the school website whatever cool project they were doing. The days when I cleaned a cut or calmed a kid down, some part of me was aware that I was accessing the part of my personality that is drawn to caring for others. And the days when I managed to write a few words after work, to piece together a paragraph even, I marveled at the possibilities my future might hold.

So there were these disparate parts of me that knew I was learning an enormous amount, that knew the benefit of getting any kind of humanities degree—and, in fact, the thing that sets humanities degrees apart from the hard sciences, or more technical fields—was that those skills were transferrable. I was trained to read and research, to ask good questions, to empathize and to interrogate my assumptions, to understand how nonprofits work, and to value the past, whatever form it took (like meeting minutes!) so that it could inform future work.

But a significant part of me was mad. Mad that I’d graduated from an excellent school but had done so at time when the job market was basically nonexistent. Mad that I’d gotten a degree and then moved to a city where everyone applying for my job were basically equally qualified. Mad that I had innumerable but apparently useless skills. Mad that I couldn’t figure my way out. And mad that I had the audacity to be mad. I mean, I didn’t have the job I thought I wanted, but I had A job, with supportive bosses, and I had been in worse pickles.

Fast forward five years: I have spent nearly three years in a job in my field—in fact, both my fields—and now I’ve embarked again on a different kind of career path, away from my training but, in a different way, in the service of it. This new job will, I hope, make a difference in this newly charged political climate, will do some real good—though the recent school shootings have made me acutely aware, again, of just how important a school administration job is. And while this new job is not in the museum field, it’s not lost on me that my responsibilities include teaching small organizations how to use social media—which is exactly what my very first paid museum gig comprised.

So when Facebook offered me this memory from five years ago, I cringed: I like to think that I’ve changed in that short shift in time, that I’ve grown more humble, less angry, more generous with the time and talents I do have and less sensitive to what I don’t have. But in other ways I know I haven’t changed: I still love days that involve great variety, I still want to help people, and I still use my museum studies skills every single day.

On Adulting

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a manual for adulting? You know, a book with guidelines for all the tasks and responsibilities that real grown ups have mastered. Where’s the book that explains what an emergency fund is or how far in advance you should send party invitations or what one wears to a job interview or when to plant seedlings in the spring?

It turns out there is such a book (probably one of several options–thanks, Amazon) and a couple coworkers and I are reading it.

The bad news (good news?) is that we’ve already found several errors in this manual. We were surprised to discover that there were things in this book that we knew were patently wrong. Nothing big enough to shake our overall confidence in the text, but just big enough to suggest that we might just have some inkling about how to behave like an adult–at least some of the time.

My friends and coworkers and I are all (or most of us, anyway) guilty of a certain level of imposter syndrome. I catch myself marveling at the fact that I can go to the grocery store and buy whatever I want, or that I have the organizational skills to pay my bills on time, or that I have somehow managed to lead committees of other adults toward the completion of a project. I’m almost always on the lookout for the adultier adults–you know, the ones who have bought houses, had babies, paid off student loans, received promotions.

Recently my partner and I trekked up to New York City. We economized by buying bus tickets instead of pricey train tickets, scoped out possible restaurants, strategized transit routes on an MTA map, made a short list of landmarks to explore, and snagged a hotel deal on Hotwire. We planned ahead, packed light, remembered our phone chargers, wore layers, and checked the weather.

The weekend’s main event was a matinee of one of our favorite shows. Afterward, we caught the subway (read the map and loaded a metro pass all by ourselves!) bound for our hotel. A couple of young adults crammed next to us in the crowded train started chatting with a seasoned New Yorker, who asked where these visitors were from and what their plans for the weekend were. The young Louisianans said they were headed up to the American Museum of Natural History and then to Central Park.

My partner and I exchanged a look. It was close to 4:30 pm on one of the coldest days of the season. The New Yorker, calm and kind man that he was, gently explained that they ought to find out when the museum closed, since most museums close at five or six. Then he counseled them to stay away from the Park.

“Why?” the young guy asked.

“There won’t be anyone around to hear you scream,” the New Yorker said.

As we stepped off the subway and headed on our merry, well-planned, adulting way, my partner and I both released a sigh of relief for the perspective those two young travelers had provided. We weren’t silly enough to travel halfway across the country just to arrive at our destination just before closing time, and we had enough sense to steer clear of Central Park at night.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the café next door to our hotel. We’d dashed through the blinding cold between the hotel lobby and dining room, and a few sips into our first cups of coffee the hostess sat two other hotel guests at the table next to ours. These guys were in t-shirts and they looked like the previous night had done a number on their nervous systems. We couldn’t help overhearing their conversation as they recounted the night’s alcohol fueled and drug induced escapades, and we couldn’t help noticing that one of the guys kept glancing down at the very new and very obvious tattoo on his bare arm as if he expected half the restaurant to herald his excellent taste in what was either some kind of elven musical instrument or the logo of a death metal band.

So, sure, people are at different stages in their adulting careers. Success in adulting might have nothing to do with age and everything to do with practice and perspective. If that’s the case, our weekend in New York provided the opportunity for both. Adulting is about progress and grace and learning to think for yourself—without thinking you’re the center of the universe. You master what you can and make friends with other kinds of adults—the kind that won’t let you wander into a strange deserted park in the middle of winter.

The best part of learning how to be an adult? Knowing I don’t have to do it alone.

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