Here is that saccharine piece of writing I promised myself I would never write. I feel much better having written it.
Many people I talk to these days, if I talk to them long enough, will say they are “figuring things out.” Last week a fellow 23-year-old told me she “is just figuring things out.” So it’s a function of age, right? Later that day her mother repeated the phrase verbatim.
This “trying to figure things out” is very important. It not only constitutes a set of actions, but also a purpose and a complete outlook on the world. You could be unemployed and still have things figured out. You could be working for a hedge fund and doing terrible things to the earth and humanity and have things figured out. You can have a family and a deeply rooted network of friends, or you can be completely alone and either way you can have things figured out.
But I choose not to see myself this way. It’s a powerful motivator this “not having things figured out.” It’s a way of interacting with other people. It is an identity. It is close to “not having your shit together” but not quite. That’s a different person—or maybe me at a different time and place—who doesn’t have their shit together.
Trying to figure things out means I will go to that protest, or that rally, or that meeting. It means I will take that assignment and pitch that article even though I don’t know what it will be yet. Especially because I don’t know what it will be yet. Trying to figure things out means new fears all the time and new ways to overcome them. It means new love all the time and new ways to open your heart to them. It means new metaphors and new connections between the old ones; new stories and new failures of language. It means you cry about things that never used to make you feel sad, or anything at all. It means your sense of humor now goes in new and interesting places, darker corners of the human heart get illuminated. Sometimes it means new ways of closing your eyes, sometimes it is new lies you tell yourself.
It is, in some ways, a willingness to go anywhere and do anything at any risk. But I refuse to believe it can’t also be maturity, a stronger sense of your convictions, the ideas becoming actions you want to share with others. Even your body starts feeling more like the solid earth beneath your feet.