Everything has changed, everything’s the same

“Every seven years you become a new person,” my co-worker once said to me.

“Think of you had been. Where you were, what you were doing, what your beliefs and priorities were. Think of who you are now. You are not the same.”

I often think back to my mid-20s and compare it to how I am now. I’m immediately struck and often relieved by the difference. But when I dig a little deeper, I also find a lot of similarities.

This used to be a travel blog that I started when I was 23. I’ve made all the posts private, but I still read them from time to time. I am now 33 years old, a decade older, and it’s a strange feeling to still recognize myself in so many of those posts. I am different, but not to the extent that I had expected. 

There are some moments when I still feel 23.

When I was 23, I asked myself every day, “Who am I? What do I want out of life?” There were three basic truths that always emerged. One is that I want to write. This is something that had always been true; from the time I was finally able to string letters into words, I was filling notebooks with stories. A notebook would travel with me everywhere I went, like a security blanket. Even if I didn’t write, I needed to have the comfort of a notebook in my lap. I would hold it and think about writing. I still need to sleep with a notebook on my nightstand.

There was another truth that showed itself once I became a young adult: I want to teach. This is one I had struggled with at 23 and still struggle with now: where do I want to teach? How do I want to teach? Do I really want to teach if it makes me feel this way? This is a love that can be shelved for long periods of time before I miss it again.

One final truth was this: I want to see the world.

Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro

This truth, along with writing, were the two that set my soul on fire. They were also two loves that seemed to reciprocate each other: traveling made me want to write, writing made me want to travel. I wrote in a frenzy when I was backpacking, filling page after page of often illegible words that felt like they NEEDED to be written right NOW.

When I was 23, I imagined my 30s as a death sentence. I felt like if I didn’t travel now, it would be too late. I hoped I would get it all out of my system so I could spend my 30s building a life and never wanting to leave.

I’ve learned that so many of my perceptions of my 30s were (thankfully) untrue. When you grow older, you don’t magically become some Adult who has it All Figured Out. You take yourself with you, all your needs, desires, and aspirations. They may change over time, but some–especially the parts that make up the core of who you are–grow with you. I still find myself trying to balance the three truths that make up who I am and what I want. 

Last year, I was in my third year of teaching at an elementary school and I was unhappy with my life. I don’t think that word sufficiently covers it–I would cry on my drive to work, I would cry at my desk between classes, I would cross off the days on the calendar and wait for the weekend so I could have one day to feel like myself again before the dread of Sunday began. I no longer recognized myself. We had lovely students and worked in a community of supportive parents, but my job had consumed my life. I didn’t want it anymore.

That year, I felt 23 every day. I constantly asked myself, “What do I want out of life?” This time, I had a new question I would ask myself: “How can I escape the life I have built for myself?” 

I didn’t just want to switch careers. I was 32 and still wanted to see the world. Realizing that made my heart sink. It was NOT the time. I need to spend my 30s building my finances and my career. I needed to meet someone, settle down, have babies. I can want so many things from life, but a biological clock would not wait.

But I still made the choice to go. Once again, I found myself thinking, “I have to do this now before it’s too late.”

I didn’t renew my job contract, and it felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I made the decision to finish out through June and take the next year off to travel. I made a budget and I had a plan.

I waited a few months before telling friends my decision. I wanted to hold onto the feeling of joy before experiencing everyone’s reactions. I expected to be told that I was immature, that I couldn’t indulge in these dreams anymore. But the first friend I told locked eyes with me and said, “That sounds perfect.” My next friend said, “You need to go.” 

My aunt reads tarot cards and read this trip again and again in the cards before I finally told her. She said, “It all makes sense.” And it did–finally, everything felt right in my soul.

This was January 2020. 

Two months later, the coronavirus pandemic was hitting the country in full force. “Take your laptops and all your teaching materials and bring them home,” my principal said on the last Friday we were in the building. “We don’t know if we’ll be here on Monday.”

I stayed after school and renewed my contract for the next year.

With so much uncertainty, I just felt lucky to just have a job. A year later, pandemic still rages on and so many businesses have closed and other workers have suffered from the unpredictability of opening and closing restrictions. I am still thankful to have employment.

It was in the fall of the next school year that I unpacked my guidebooks and uncovered my budget and itinerary. And occasionally I wonder where I’d be, who I would have met, what I would have seen and learned.

Cartagena, Colombia

Then I turn and look at the life I’ve been building for myself here–an apartment of my own in a city I love, a new position at work–and wonder if I can leave that at 34 or 35 to fulfill the same trip. If I’d even want to.

And those hesitations make me feel 33.

The mixed feelings remind me of Sandra Cisneros’s short story, “Eleven.” The character turns eleven years old, but she is still feels all of her previous ages as well: ten, nine, eight…That’s because all of your former selves are still a part of who you have become.

I think that’s why even if this isn’t a travel blog anymore, I still connect with Adultescence. I chose the name at 23 when I didn’t feel like the adult I should have been. And a decade later, I still find myself feeling the same–sometimes.

8 comments

  1. I used to read your blog a decade ago and have many of the same thoughts, and I still feel I’m very much in the same place now at 34. I too hate what I’ve been doing, and am trying plan a move back abroad, pandemic-willing. Don’t lose heart! Have you by chance read Wanderlust?

    • Hey! It’s honestly great to talk with someone who feels similarly. Tell me about Wanderlust–is it a book, a blog? I feel like I’m sort of at a crossroads–I can keep growing roots here, or I can try to make this trip happen post-pandemic. Wishing you the best of luck with your escape!!

  2. I’m in my late 20s and often question myself about what I really want to do in life.
    Even I keep thinking about traveling as much as I can before I turn 30.
    But, I guess, life doesn’t have to stop after that as well!

    This was a wonderful read. :)

    • Thank you! It’s hard to not feel that scary sense of urgency, but you’re exactly right–life doesn’t stop at 30. It can be really wonderful to travel when you feel a bit more wise from your experiences as well. Wishing you lots of future travels! Thank you for commenting.

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