“Am I doing this right?” – When I was 3, feebly forming my letters for the first time.
“Am I doing this right?” – When I was 15, on my 3,000th attempt to parallel park my car without running over a cone.
“Am I doing this right?” – When I was 21, graduating with a college degree that left me feeling simultaneously accomplished and unprepared.
When I’ve failed,when I’ve gotten lost, when I’ve fallen in love, when I’ve moved away, when I’ve felt so lonely, when I’ve learned new things, when I’ve tried to make my family proud, when I’ve let down or let go of those I care about… I’ve been asking this question my entire life.
These days I wonder, "Am I adulting right?"
Always looking to my parents, my peers, my professors and my friends for reassurance. Always thinking that somehow, someone else could confirm, with authority, that yes, Gina, yes… you’re doing it right.
Eventually, I learned that there's only one person who could answer that question: me.
Now, I’m 25. I live thousands of miles from home, chasing a dream that I still don’t fully understand. Sometimes feeling lonely and doubtful, but more frequently loved and supported. I look at friends and family completing graduate degrees, getting married, raising puppies and traveling the world.
They are toiling away at jobs that they like, love and despise.
They are posting photos of their newly adorned left hands, and acceptance letters and smooshy black and white blobs that will turn out to be people one day (ultrasound photo clarity has a lot of room for future improvement).
They share moments of joy and of love and of life accomplishment boxes that are checked off.
They are content and they are searching and they are sharing their feelings because, maybe, just maybe, enough digital pats on the back will tell them hey, you too are doing it right.
The Video Game of Life
But I often want that answer too. Conversations with many members of my family and friends have often reaffirmed that indeed there is no one right way to grow up… No one right way to “be an adult.”
Yet, everyone still wants to know not only what you are doing now, but what you are doing next. Maybe it’s lack of conversational creativity or maybe it’s human nature. But it’s enough to put a fledgling adult like yours truly on edge.
Recently, I went back to the States for a few weeks at Christmas. Along with the typically odd and somewhat awkward interactions (lookin’ at you, Grandma), many conversations had this creepily familiar tone. Most of them had to do with what I’ve deemed the Video Game of Life phenomenon.
In this view, life is a series of levels one must pass through… just like in Mario Bros. or Spyro. You have your somewhat typical rites of passage, from walking to running to first kisses and graduations. And then, your oft-frequented advanced levels. The college degrees and the steady jobs and the marriages and babies and 401ks.
Not everyone goes through these levels in the same order or at the same pace (although Game Over is always at the end). Some people don’t hit any of them, and some are riding those high scores all the way to oldpersonhood. When you have conversations with people in your life, they’re generally trying to figure out what level you’re on, how your efforts to conquer it have been panning out, and what one you’re trying to get to next.
Everyone assumes that you’re playing the same game because if not, what else would you be doing?
Tony Hawk and I Take on the World
To be honest, I didn’t get to have many video games as a kid. They (and much to my chagrin, Pokémon cards) were banned at Mom’s house, so that left my Dad’s and friends’ houses for my PlayStation fixes. But one of the few games I got to circle-square-X-triangle on was Tony Hawk: Pro Skater. (As someone who has never went more than a few feet on a skateboard, I still find it amusing that I took to that game so passionately. But I digress.)
Instead of actually trying to play Tony Hawk, I spent many hours attempting to escape from the game. Tony and I rode to the very limits of the city, doing our best to ollie into oblivion. It never worked, and the invisible fence of pixels reminded me time and time again that I could not leave the game, as much as I might want to. (Hotel California, anyone?)
So, when I talk to people about my zig-zaggy, evolving, winding and nontraditional aspirations, I feel a sensation that I can now so poignantly identify: I have reached the edge of the game, and other humans are the gatekeepers.
Be it upon sharing my grandiose dreams to travel the world with a backpack or start my own company or simply not have answers to the “career-marriage-babies” trifecta of questions, the reactions stay the same:
“Oh, Gina, that’s so great. Best to have these adventures now while you’re young and have no commitments.”
“You’ll be glad you did this when you’re older and saddled with a family and house payment!”
“Enjoy this time away from the real world now, because it doesn’t last forever!”
Their smirky smiles and their words of wizened encouragement have an undertone that perhaps I haven’t always understood. But now I see that they were essentially saying,
“No harm in trying to circumvent the edges of the game, Tony Hawk. But eventually, you have to come back and play it. We all do.”
Beating the Game at its Own... Game
Maybe this is starting to sound a little Matrix-y or Truman Show-esque, but that is exactly the point.
However, I am not saying that those of you playing the game by what you perceive to be the rules are zombies, blindly following a predetermined path. I am not judging or disparaging you.
Especially since some have life circumstances and environments and histories and illnesses and financial limits that make playing the game ten (if not 100) times harder than for others in our Tinder radius (is this an appropriate Millenial reference?).
No, because in some way, we are all playing the game. Myself included. Simply by being alive and on this planet, we are submitting in some degree to the limits set by physical reality. (Astronauts, you killin’ it on this front.)
But for the rest of us earthlings, we’re just doing our best to figure out how to play in a way that makes us happy, satisfied, fulfilled, complete, passionate, [add your utopian adjective here].
“Am I doing this right?”
Now, I try to take a different approach to this persistent question. Instead of turning to the real grown-ups in my life all the time, I take my quandaries to the mirror. I ask myself if I’m doing everything I can to not only live and survive, but to challenge myself and those around me to become better people.
To seek discovery and innovation.
To foster connection.
To be kind to myself and to others.
To acknowledge the future but be present in the present.
To appreciate and not only like, but love what and who I have.
To go to sleep at night with a mix of contentedness and hunger.
To accept the process as much as the result.
If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” then I don’t even need that other one. Because I know I’m doing it right.
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This post originally appeared on Gina's personal site.
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Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.