About twelve years ago on a typical sweltering summer evening, I sat on the steps leading up to my apartment sipping on a lukewarm Coors Light (nectar of the gods at that time) longneck. Lukewarm because during July in Texas if you don’t down it in less than two minutes that’s what happens. I probably shotgunned the first one for that very reason but I was taking it easy on number two. There was no hurry. I had nowhere to be, nothing to do. I was almost always grateful for that condition back then. Not that I had a bustling social life. By then I had almost no social life. I’d phased it out over a number of years for reasons that were surely misunderstood by those who I ran with for so long before.
I needed to explore and expand. I needed to start figuring out who I was and who I would be. I needed plenty of solitude and free time; time to dabble in loneliness and introversion and unfamiliarity. In short, time and space for an inward journey that had begun years before but was constrained by old habits and roles.
It’s fascinating to feel yourself changing as it happens. To notice things that were once so deadly important to you become not that important at all. To watch your previous hopes and fears dissolve and be replaced by new hopes and fears; in my case, ones that were now mostly vague and undefined.
Back in those days – I call them my apartment days – there were some very large and looming questions, intimidating but exciting. Will I graduate with a high enough GPA? Where will I live? What will my job be? How will I get that job? There will be a girl. Who will she be? What will she be like? How will we meet? Have we already met?
These are fun questions. It’s only natural for there to be a little anxiety around questions like these, and for me there was, but more importantly there was just an underlying sense of knowing that it was all going to work out. I never knew how. I just knew it would work out. I never stressed myself over it too much. There was something beautiful about not knowing. That little bit of anxiety was really more like anticipation.
Many a summer evening was spent sitting out on those steps, drinking beer and letting my thoughts wander where they may. Reflecting on where I’d been, looking out into a vague outline of the future. I always felt like I was ‘on my way up’ during that period, which made sense because as a college student that is really the only direction to go. And that is a very free feeling. Those college days had their stressors. Make no mistake about it. There were exams to study for and cumbersome, time consuming projects with approaching deadlines - always last minute undertakings for me. But there was also a certain wide open, anything is possible feeling of freedom that you really don’t appreciate when you actually have it.
That’s one of the things they don’t tell you when you are young and on your way up. They don’t tell you that that nothing-to-lose feeling, though it may have a bit of an edge, is actually a very worthwhile state of being. It’s a bliss that will go away once you’ve established yourself, acquired the things you set out to acquire, and generally achieved what you set out to achieve.
Sitting on those apartment steps ruminating away the summer evenings I often felt like I was starting to figure things out. It is so cliché but so undeniably true that when you’re young, totally inexperienced in the world, and know next to nothing, you really do think that you know it all. And that’s probably so because life hasn’t had time yet to confront you with what you don’t know. It’s easy to be convinced of your own brilliance when it’s been all theory and no practice. Nonetheless – it’s still a sublime state, a necessary one, and one that anyone over the age of thirty will probably find themselves missing at some point in their lives.
Which I think leads me to the point of this meandering, out-of-practice, disjointed attempt at an internet age cave scrawling. When I was sitting there nursing that watered down beer twelve years ago, I really had figured out a lot. I knew change was coming. I knew I’d get to where I needed to be in life and that worrying too much about it was a waste of energy. I knew that if I completed the immediate steps that were there in front of me that the future would work itself out. The Universe would provide. It always had.
But there was at least one epic truth that I was completely blind to. Success and achievement come with a price – a heavy price if we are honest with ourselves. And that price is a freedom and light-heartedness that can only exist when you have nothing to lose; when you have your whole life in front of you, when things are more theoretical than practical, more whimsical than utilitarian.
I have a lot now, in every sense of the word. I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I feel both lucky and grateful for it. But I also have a lot to lose now. And I’m old enough to see how fragile life really is. How it can go so quickly, and how forces that are completely out of my control could take it from me.
Do I long to go back to being twenty five, sitting on a balcony drinking beer with scarcely a care in the world and not much to lose? Not for a second. This is a different phase of the journey, with different happiness and different anxieties. I didn’t see the flipside of adulthood and success when I was twenty five but I can look back on some of my concerns from that time and be comforted and reassured about what lies ahead. Those old questions have been replaced with new ones that are no less intimidating or significant. But I have the experience now to know that worrying about them is not worth my precious time. Now, just as then, the Universe will provide. And knowing that is one of the things that make me smile when I sit out on the back porch and have a beer these days.