Reality

I haven’t been able to look into the future until recently. Now I can look around the corner. The news is not all bad. In fact it’s not bad at all. But it is still sobering to think about the next stages of life, how much there still is to do — in other words, to load up my plate all over again. There will be new goals, grinding difficulty and uncertainty, and new consequences of failure.

I am coming to the completion of the plans I laid after graduating from college. It took me a few years of reflection and working in the real world before I could decide on a course forward. Basically, it took the same length of time as I was in college. I had a sense of what would come after my plans were complete, too — that’s what the real goal was — but I knew that it was far enough into the future that I would be unable to plan very carefully, and that much would depend on what happened in the intervening seven years.

I’ve been reading about personal finance, as I think about what I am going to do with my first paycheck in over 7 years. I’ve been trying to plan my expenses, calculate how much I have to give over to loans, etc. So far so good. But then I came across a part in a book about having to budget for a wedding. It was based on average costs, and average age at marriage.

I realized I hadn’t budgeted for a wedding, so I would have to think about that now. It was more expensive that I expected, which means I might have to slow down my repayment on my loans. I might have to defer the down payment on a property even further.

But the deeper trouble was just thinking about what my wedding-related “plans” amount to. I am still single. I’m already 32. I hadn’t really “planned” for it to be this way. This is one of the things that didn’t turn out as I hoped when I graduated from college. I’ve already spent plenty of time being depressed about it, so much so that I’m sure additional time will not be helpful. When am I going to find someone, and when am I going to get married? What time will we have to form memories together and grow bonds together? What time will we have to have fun, before getting on with the sobering business of having kids? I’ve spent all of my mid-to late twenties, and now into my early thirties, alone. This is a big waste of time, and I’m never going to get it back.

There’s no question in my mind I would have been more productive and efficient in these times with a girl. But now, as someone writing a dissertation, I’m constantly struggling to find things to do aside from work. All of that time is simply being wasted on YouTube. Unfortunately, it will never be this easy again.

My “plan,” right now, is to find someone while I am a first-year associate at a law firm. In truth, it’s not a very good plan. But it’s the best I can come up with. I’ve had law school, I’ve had this year . . . I thought these would be times when I might get somewhere, but it didn’t work out that way. The timetable is being compressed as well. I’m being forced to be more and more unreasonably optimistic. I’m going to find someone, it’s going to go well, we’ll be married within a year. Even if that happens, I’ll be 33 when I get married. That’s a best case scenario. With a longer timeline, we’re talking 34. That feels really late to me. It’s enough to make me sweat. Although, to be fair, I think if I was with someone and things were going well I wouldn’t feel as worried or upset. I think the real loss of time is the time you’re spending with that person, actually being able to develop the relationship you’re going to be relying on for the rest of your life.

I suppose what I’m coming to terms with is that I don’t really have time to waste. Here, at the end of my grandly laid plans as a young postgraduate, I’ve had the freedom to sit back a little and enjoy what I’ve done, how far I’ve come. I know that objectively I haven’t accumulated much, and most of all it hasn’t even successfully concluded yet, but this was still a huge project with a lot of difficulty and coming to the end of that road gives me some satisfaction. It feels good to be at the end of something rather than the beginning. It feels good to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But now I am beginning to see more of what lies beyond the tunnel, and to prepare for life out there. I can finally begin to see around the corner. It’s hard to sit back and stare into the eternal present, as much satisfaction as that gives me. I’m now coming to terms with the costs of the decisions I’ve made, because those costs are now coming due. How little I’ve saved, how little I’ve invested, the fact that I’m still alone after all these years — these are largely owing to choices that I made, things that could have been otherwise. (I believe that a huge reason I am single is that my lifestyle is stressful and I don’t have a paying job.)

It’s going to be a struggle to find someone and have a good life with them. It’s going to be painful to pay off student loans. It’s going to take years to put together a down payment while also paying for a wedding. It’s going to be painful working as a corporate lawyer and wondering whether, and how, to transition to academia, and how that will affect all of this. And these are the milestones that will define success in the next 5 or so years. In the 5 years after that goals will probably center on career and financial goals, while trying to raise kids.

I don’t have any time or energy to waste. What can I do now? I absolutely cannot afford not to finish my dissertation on time. This would ruin all of the sense of accomplishment that I have at this point. It would also complicate the idea of transitioning to academia. I don’t want to be in corporate law without that lifeline. The faster I work on my dissertation, the more work product I can have when I’m on the market. The higher quality my dissertation, the better my chances of actually landing a job and impressing people in the field. The better of a job I do on writing my dissertation, the more I have practice and experience and confidence writing academic work at a high level. It’s hard to value these things appropriately when I’m preparing for an imminent shift into law, but this is what I have been striving for.

The better I do as a dissertation writer, the more time and planning I can devote to the second big thing. I can’t afford to go into this next year looking ordinary. I have to be as good looking as possible. This is basically my last trip down the block. This is it. This is my body. This is the army I go to war with. I have adequate time and opportunity to get it into excellent shape, if only I plan correctly and take advantage of what I have.

Writing is hard and somewhat unpredictable. But I think I could be doing much better than I am doing right now. At least, I could have much more confidence in my process than I do right now. Writing time has to be fixed and unassailable. And I need to keep my head in the game for the rest of the day as well. Steady progress is the only thing that feels good.

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