Learning to Love the Transition By Maria-Martina Castro
It can’t be a coincidence that when we reach certain milestone transitions in our lives, life crises ensue. The transition into adulthood is one of these milestones. For some people it starts once they leave for college, and then it may not end until they get married and/or settle down. But for everyone, it’s pretty much understood that this particular transition shouldn’t drag on for too long. Before even graduating, I learned that to avoid being labeled a failure, you get your act together real fast after getting out of school…or at least look like you are.
So, many of my fellow twenty-somethings set up their adult lives to start the day after graduation, securing well-paid, full-time jobs while they were still in school. And I’d bet for some of them it really worked. They probably started their jobs, moved into their furnished apartments with their two best friends from college, bought a new car, and started depositing money into their IRA’s without a second thought. And before they knew it, I’d bet it was official, and they found themselves righteous members of the adult world.
But unless you opted for the only socially acceptable way to postpone adulthood (Graduate School), I don’t think it has been that instantaneous for all of us. There is definitely a “neither here nor there” phenomenon that I’ve observed taking place for those of us in our early twenties; I’ve even heard people refer to it as the “quarter-life crisis.” In my opinion, the crisis has more to do with the fear of acknowledging that the transition even exists. For many of us, it may last longer than what’s considered socially acceptable, because honestly, entering adulthood isn’t as easy it is to leave as childhood is easy to graduate from.
I entered my transition mode when I moved back home to DC after graduating from college. I decided that this would be my time to build up reserves of energy and money to move into my "real life," whenever that happened. So, I didn’t make it a point to meet new people, avoided establishing any ties or roots, and mainly hung out with my family. Any time I met someone and had to give them my 60 second bio, I always worked in that I was really "just about to leave."
My work situation brought out my non-committal approach to life. I went from being a paid intern to being a temporary production assistant, not knowing when I would have work or for how long. I managed to have steady contracts with a couple months of downtime in between to do whatever I wished. Sweet deal right? "As long as you eventually get a real job one day," my mom would tell me. I told her that I was sure this transition would only last a couple of months. It hasn’t.
I think the last time I had that thought, I was already 6 months into living in Washington, and that was definitely when I started to get a bit frantic. At the one-year mark, I was ready already, and if my real world adult life wasn’t going to just start for me, I was going to have to force it to get going.
Then all of a sudden, I got a chance to finally take it to the next phase. A potential end to this horrid transition was in sight, and a voice was calling me all the way from Los Angeles. It took a couple of months of preparation, a good degree of risk, and a nine-day drive across the country with my Dad, but when I got there it seemed like it was finally happening. I was finally going to become the adult I had been longing to be…or was I?
When it came to making a concrete decision toward moving into this next phase, I hesitated. Transition mode wasn’t feeling so bad all of a sudden, and I felt a certain reluctance to let it go. What was going on?
I suppose that after all that time living in transition mode, I had become quite addicted to not having to make any choices. Tension had built between the past and the future, the old and the unknown, which resulted in a sort of paralysis that I hadn’t even noticed I was experiencing. And now faced with the adult life I have been longing for, I realize I still feel attached to certain parts of my youth that I wish I didn’t have to give up, even though I am more than ready for some of the status and respect of being a grown-up.
I realize now that I have not only let this tension keep me from making any choices, but that I have been operating with a poor understanding of what becoming an adult really means. Those friends that thought they were going to jumpstart their adult lives by setting up what looked like one on the outside, weren’t necessarily dealing with what really makes you a grown-up.
First of all, it has nothing to do with leaving transition mode, because the transition is never really over. I went to Los Angeles to start my real life, to find a place to settle, but this isn't the end for me either. It is all really one big series of transitions, and all of it is still a part of REAL LIFE. I was doing myself a disservice by not recognizing what I was living in DC as the real thing, because I may have missed out on some people and lessons that could have truly enhanced my life.
But most importantly, what makes us grown up is our ability to make choices. The choices are what drive us from transition to transition in our lives, and enable us to get closer and closer to the life we want to be living. I didn’t need to be running away from the transition by making a long-term commitment to some adult-looking life. I just had to start making choices and compromises that would be moving me forward in my transitioning, rather than sitting in one place and watching it all go by.
So I definitely know now that I need to learn to love the transition like it loves me. It’s in this process, this middle ground where our learning and growing will take place. It’s where we get to know ourselves, what we will compromise on, what we won’t, what we need and what we can do without. Wherever it is I that I am going I know I'll be learning a lot about myself, having some serious laughs and good conversations in the process. Things are coming into focus for me, and, right now, that is all I can hope for.
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Columnist Martina Castro is back in her hometown of Washington, DC, after spending some time working for the NPR program "Day to Day" in Los Angeles. She’s applying for jobs and waiting. In the meantime, she’s still living in "The Transition Zone."