Thirty used to seem so old. When we were in our early 20s, my friends and I used to fantasize about owning our own homes, having kids, being at the top of our chosen professions… we thought we’d have conquered life by 30.
But reality doesn’t work that way.
I’m now 32, and I feel like I have absolutely nothing figured out yet. I don’t own my own home. I’m not married. I don’t have kids—cats are enough for me, for the record. I’m not even close to where I want to be career-wise. And that’s OK. But it hasn’t been easy to internalize that.
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I was 12 or 13 when the term “millennial” began to be tossed around in the media, and with it, a set of expectations, academic demands, and the promise of a much brighter future than the Baby Boomers’. We’d inherited the earth, they told us. They just forgot to mention that it had gotten kind of… barren.
I lost my job in early July of last year. August came and went, and I had to answer some big questions. After “Where is my next rent check going to come from?” the most important was “What do I even want in life?”
I tried to figure it out, but of course, that’s a big, loaded question—and unsurprisingly, I didn’t get struck by a revelation about my life’s purpose all at once. Instead, one night I realized that I needed a clean break—from the city, my roommates, maybe even myself. That’s when I made the choice to move back home.
My future was hazy, and I knew moving home could be the opportunity I needed to replenish myself, give myself time to breathe, and pick up the pieces. I’m from a small, almost-secluded West Virginia town, nestled away in the Appalachian ridge—but there’s so much culture embedded in this area’s history. From the professional theater to countless art galleries, a Carnegie Hall, a dance troupe, a classically styled movie theater, and a local arts paper, the world was my oyster. This fresh chapter could open up new things for me… if I let it.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get struck by a revalation about my life’s purpose all at once.
My mother absolutely loved that I was moving back. We’ve always had a pretty strained relationship, and it had taken her a number of years to come to understand my career choices and that I had moved away. When I was younger, I didn’t want to be tied down, suffocated—as I imagined it—by a small-town way of living. When I visited, my mom would just shake her head, give me a hug, and send me on my way.
But in retrospect, I was seeing my hometown and our relationship through the perspective I had at 18, and I’ve lived a whole life since then. I didn’t have to perceive it the same way. Thirty-two-year-old me said, “Jason, just breathe. It’ll be alright. Let this turmoil inspire you.”
Of course, easier said than done, right? Of course, I risked falling back into old patterns, old relationships, and old ways of thinking. When I moved back home with my mom, I was bombarded with the usual string of questions from well-meaning family friends and extended family members: Why aren’t you married yet? When are you going to settle down? Why don’t you get a real job? Are you really moving again?
This line of questioning can be crushing, especially when it feels like your life is already in shambles. At times, I began to think that maybe I should pack it in, feel bad about myself, abandon ambition. I usually give snide answers to mask the stress these questions cause me.
But there have been so many upsides to moving back home. I’ve learned that wherever you may be in life and whatever dreams you might possess, bottoming out can give you some much-needed perspective. I finally came to realize moving home at 32 isn’t failure. I have since regrouped, found more work in my field (phew!), moved into a new apartment, adopted two adorable kittens (number of cats in my life: three), and felt more alive than I have in some time.
Moving home isn’t the end. Instead, it can be an opportunity to do all of the following:
1. Catch your breath financially.
Rent can be downright outrageous. It’s hit a high that we haven’t seen since the 1980s. Prices have risen 18 percent over the past five years, with the median rental rate reaching $864 by early 2017.
By not having to pay rent, a tremendous weight has lifted off my shoulders—I’ve actually been able to stash away a bit of cash. When I do get back on my feet again, I’ll have a safety net, something I didn’t have before. In an age when student debt is mounting and millennials are being blamed for the downfall of the economy, taking a breather at home could mean you can save up a bit—while you rediscover your passions.
2. Reclaim your emotional and physical health.
Moving home can be a way to reset yourself and clean out the cobwebs. You can learn to see this moment as an opportunity for a new beginning. Personally, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life, along with the other 16.2 million Americans who had at least one depressive episode in 2016.
Once I acknowledged the need to tend to my mental health, things became clearer. I actually now have time to work out, pray, meditate. I have the time to do things that make me happy. You’d be surprised how much exercising—whether that be going for a run, walk, or simply doing a bit of yoga (this Greatist piece is a perfect place to start, FYI)—can revitalize your sense of self.
In college, while studying acting at West Virginia University, my voice and movement teachers instilled in me the importance of understanding our bodies, including how we breathe, where we carry our stress, and the tools necessary to reconnect to ourselves.
The world can be an incredibly stressful place, so taking extra time to show yourself love is imperative. What I like to do is pull up a favorite album on Spotify, lie completely flat on the floor, and explore my breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let the things beyond your control go. Imagine the toxicity leaving your body as a color, maybe a dark blue or purple. It’s a symbolic act and can be liberating. Clean your mind of all the junk. I do this at least once a day, and by assigning the bad energy to something tangible, almost real, my mental slate is wiped clean.
3. Rediscover who you are, what you really want—and discover your next steps.
I spent so much time last year worrying that I forgot who I really am. Being home, I’ve been able to take some time to refocus. If you’ve become the latest victim in a long string of layoffs, see if you can use the downtime as an opportunity to take a step back, reassess your goals, re-establish who you are—and who you want to be.
Over the past six or seven months, I’ve laid out some goals for myself. I looked at my work history and stripped it down to the basic skills I’ve developed and realized that I have far more to offer than I let myself believe. In terms of my next career steps, I’ve been looking far beyond my usual line of work, expanding into other interests, and giving myself the freedom to play. I definitely recommend seeking outside perspectives—someone else’s experience often helps you make sense of your own.
I have also spent ample time looking ahead to the next five, 10, 15 years. It can be daunting, but you can try to break what you want into parts (like starting a family, owning a home, relocating to another city) and set goals for yourself that will help you get closer to these—actionable steps you can take on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.
If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed in this process, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Oh, and breathe, get some fresh air, take a walk, do something new—you’re great as you are, and there’s no point in stressing about being stressed.
Jason Scott is a writer based in West Virginia. Itching for creative freedom, he founded his own music-discovery site called B-Sides & Badlands, which specializes in long-form writing and cultural criticism. If you enjoy kitty pics and being woke, follow him on Twitter.