I need to get a life
August 9, 2005 8:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm 22 and I've done nothing with my life. This is going to be quite long...

I've failed or quit every time I've attempted to do anything (including school and college). I did well enough at both, and certainly wouldn't have been considered a "typical" drop-out, but I just lost interest in everything they had to offer, which sounds incredibily stupid now. I have few skills or qualifications; I've had a couple of jobs and my bosses always had good things to say about my work, but I get bored and lose motivation easily.

I've had a lot of family problems to deal with throughout my teens and I've been depressed and on medication for a long time, but it doesn't help. I don't have any friends that I can talk to about this stuff, because they are all off doing their own thing. I feel jealous and resentful of them because they have already achieved so much and I'm left behind feeling like I'll never catch up. I pretty much avoid the few friends I had because I'm sick of trying to cover up my loser-ness (I hate lying to them, and I don't really have an answer to the usual "so, what've you been doing?" question because I haven't been doing anything except sitting around feeling sorry for myself). It's getting to the point where I'm finding myself ridiculously jealous of anyone younger than me because I'm so mad at myself for ruining my teens and furious that I can see myself ruining my 20s as well.

I just don't know what to do with myself anymore. The thing is, I'm not stupid. I do believe I have the potential to be good at something, and I'm a decent person and I don't want to be this way forever. I just don't know where to start to get myself out of this rut; I'm afraid of life and so I'm not living at all...

So, after this ridiculously long post, I guess I should have a question. I'm asking for advice, experiences, reassurances that I haven't completely messed up my life (I do try to tell myself that I can't possibly have failed at everything in the world at 22, but that's not making me feel much better at the moment). I am sure though that I'm not the only person here who has gone, or is going, through this sort of thing. I know ultimately I have to get myself out of this situation, but a little help on how to do it would be much appreciated.

(Like another anon poster recently, I have set up an email account for anyone who wants to reply anonymously. It's at askmeanon@gmail.com. Thanks in advance to anyone that responds and I hope this is not an inappropriate use of AskMe. If is is, please just have the thread deleted quietly, I don't want the attention of a call-out on MeTa.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like your psyching yourself out or creating excuses so you don't have to try. That goes nowhere, so here's what you should do.

Pick a goal, any goal. Break that down into smaller, measurable accomplishments. Do the first, smallest, easiest accomplishment. Repeat. Don't think about the larger picture.
posted by willnot at 8:51 PM on August 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

you know, i'm almost 48 and feel that way some times

the best thing to do is live in the moment, unless the moment sucks
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 PM on August 9, 2005

DUDE. You're 22. Every man needs to waste a little time.

Then again, if your worry is that this trend will continue -- indefinitely -- then there are some plans you can put into motion.

There is the: put myself in a new scenario that I can't escape from (the join-the-army concept, equally applicable to other long-term commitments) where they supply the motivation and you just friggin try to survive. That can actually be good. (ethical problem? ok, what about tree planting?)

There is the: set sail for an expansive adventure with no clear goals. If you haven't $$$, then it may involve getting money along the way. Intern/volunteer overseas; work study program -- whatever you can get. With the emphasis on it being an eye-opener only. Expose you to the wider world.

There are lots of other paths you can start down, but most of them take a good deal of self-discipline, so I'm trying to suggest courses that keep you on the path rather than you needing to do so.

Just remember: there is a HUGE world out there. Any time it gets so bad you don't think you can continue where you are, you can always hit the road (so long as you don't tie yourself down). A change of locale really can make a difference. And hey, you get to reinvent yourself when you do. Pretend to be the person you'd like to be. After a while it sticks. Be the hero in your own story.
posted by dreamsign at 8:54 PM on August 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Go camping for a week. Just pack up, go somewhere nice, and spend a week not thinking about the world. Then come back, and try to look at everything in ways you haven't before. Spending that week away from civilization will really, really make a difference.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:55 PM on August 9, 2005

On post (oops) I fully agree with everything dreamsign said.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:56 PM on August 9, 2005

I was a decent student in HS. And failed out of College in the first year. No interest. My parents were/are insane (my mom was hospitalized with Anorexia for almost a year.)

First, you sound like someone that just needs a mentor/friend. Non judgmental. Your therapist ought to be that person. If you're just getting meds from a physician, you need to see a therapist. Your real friends are this way They want you to suceed and be happy. Hell, I want you to suceed and be happy.

I was married, divored, all before 25. Now, here's where it gets interesting. I went back to school at age 27.

Every life has positive and negative moments...I often see this all as, the negative stuff makes it possible for me to change, to get things done. I see it as the fire that forges the steel of who I am as a person. I don't worry about my peers. Imagine how someone who is homeless or has cancer goes? Quit beating yourself up. Start everyday with something positive. And find someone who believes in you. Your friends do, your therapist should.
posted by filmgeek at 8:56 PM on August 9, 2005

Assuming you're a US citizen, join the Peace Corps.
posted by Rothko at 9:04 PM on August 9, 2005

You're only 22. You can give collage another go, unless you failed all your classes or something.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 PM on August 9, 2005

You're probably absolutely fine. Really. Look, not everyone is an ambitious internship-obsessed dynamo ready to cure cancer right out of the gate, and not everyone has to be.

First things first. Work. Preferably in a situation with eventual room for advancement. (Raises and promotions do wonders for pride. Not getting them does wonders for indignant outrage. Either way, you care.) Exposes you to lots of different people, some happier than you, some sadder, some smarter, and some stupider. Providing yourself with some basis for comparison (that are not friends/family/old baggage) would likely be helpful.
posted by desuetude at 9:09 PM on August 9, 2005

wait until you are 25 and you've lost love and hope...then post again...
posted by schyler523 at 9:09 PM on August 9, 2005

Well, you are here, reading, writing; and literate. Congratulations, you are above ?60?% of the folks out there.
Perhaps you are waiting for life to 'self-motivate' you... spouse, children, or perhaps a loss.
Myself, I typically feel far from 100%. I do make it a point to eat well, exercise, and keep personal hygiene up to par. My mind may snap into focus at any time; if I have let the rest of me lose focus, ooops; too late.
The 'join the army' concept was mentioned. I joined following a personal loss... It gave me a new goal in life, and in a sense honored my loss. As before, you seem pretty literate; and the military would place you according to your mental gifts (I was a linguist), not to your lack of present successes.

As for age, 22 is mighty young. Enjoy the free time before life, spouse, car payment, mortgage, and children cheer daddy forward every day.
posted by buzzman at 9:10 PM on August 9, 2005

No matter how old (or young) you are, there is always someone younger who has accomplished more. Mozart wrote his first piano sonata around the age of 6 (and it's a good one). So, if you keep comparing yourself to others, it'll be hard for you to ever be happy. There's no rule that says you have to accomplish X by the age of Y, all that matters is that you enjoy your life. As an example on the other end, Kant wrote all his important works in his 50s. So, it's never too late to decide to devote your life to something and succeed. As for where to find the motivation to do so, I can't really help you there.
posted by epimorph at 9:18 PM on August 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Seriously. You've got plenty of time left. The real worry here is that you will continue indefinitely on a path of not remaining interested in anything for long. What you have to ask yourself is, is that okay with you?

Seriously. You could probably live a perfectly happy life going from one activity to the next, and be the envy of many for doing so, if not for your own insecurities about doing that. Sure, you might not make a ton of money or get really good at one thing, but lots of people end up in one or both of that situations having worked a single job their whole lives - and god forbid that job should disappear, or they'd be out to dry.
posted by lorrer at 9:21 PM on August 9, 2005

yarrrrgghhh it is late and I am not writing well...seriously twice as a single-word sentance starting the paragraph? The time for sleeping is now.
posted by lorrer at 9:22 PM on August 9, 2005

I think you might want to consider not about what you think you "should" do, but simply what you've enjoyed doing (or think you might enjoy). Bicycling, writing, building stuff, volunteering with kids, whatever -- there's an infinite number of things just to do. Don't think about how you might make a living at them, or attain some level of amateur or professional success. Just think about what you like doing. What gives you pleasure? What gives you out-and-out joy? I think that's where you will start to encounter the way in which to create a full, meaningful life. You can set goals based on a personal, internal compass based on what you genuinely want to do, instead of what you think you ought to do. You may discover that you enjoy something you can indeed make a living at or want to go back to school to learn more about; you may just discover a wonderful hobby or personal pursuit that will give your life texture and interest while you pursue some other way of earning the rent.

Also, it helps to start thinking of yourself in positive terms -- I can't stress enough that you've got to stop thinking of yourself as a loser! Do whatever it takes -- remind yourself of your wonderful qualities (are you funny? considerate? creative? a good friend?). Think of the things you have accomplished, even if they seem small or seemingly insignificant. Follow willnot's advice of setting goals and breaking them down into human-sized chunks (not "i'm going to write my first novel by the end of the year" but "I'm going to write for 30 minutes today" or "I'm going to enroll in a fun creative writing class at the local college"). Oh, and as much as you can, stop fretting about your potential and whether you're "living up to it" or not. That crippled me for much of my own 20s and early 30s. It's only now in my mid-30s that I threw the very question of my "potential" out the window and learned to find out what i simply enjoy that I've started to feel like I'm living a meaningful, satisfying life (professionally, creatively, and personally).
posted by scody at 9:23 PM on August 9, 2005

You are only 22, relax. I know that sounds patronizing, and in a way it is. But you aren't the first young man to see his friends get ahead of him, and you won't be the last.

It took me three years to get through community college (I already had one year's worth of credit when I enrolled.)
I then got kicked out of my first university with an F average. In fact, it took me 10 years to get my B.A.

During that time, I lied to everyone I knew about what was going on. (I'd always been the kid with great potential and I didn't want to let them down.)

Now (at 32) I'm only two years away from my Ph.D. and I have a great life.

The first step for me was to come clean with my friends and family. Once I stopped lying I immediately felt better (it is really hard on a person to lie to the people he cares about.)

Then I basically did what willknot advised. (First I enrolled in one class, the next semester I took two. In a few years I had my BA (at a different school than the one that kicked me out.)

If you want to try something somewhat radical and really noble join the Peace Corps (I often wish I had). You'll get back to your regular life in plenty of time to do everything/anything you want. Meanwhile you'll be doing something good and worth being proud of. The lessons and self-estemm you'll gain will be invaluable to you.
posted by oddman at 9:24 PM on August 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

wow. yeah - 22... who has their shit together at 22? if they seem like they do - something is wrong.

learn chinese, learn to surf, take a painting class, learn meditation, above all - explore your creative side...
posted by specialk420 at 9:33 PM on August 9, 2005

your friends probably don't have it quite as together as they seem to, or if they do, at 22, they'll have crises at 28, or 35, or 43. everyone has their stuff. you are where you are, and you have the opportunity to make tomorrow incrementally better than today. it's too big to worry about making your entire life different than it is. just make tomorrow a little bit different. go for a walk down a different street or something.

you're going to be ok. you don't have to fix everything that you think is broken about you all at once. at some point you'll find that feeling better is more about realizing you're not really broken than it is about fixing stuff.

you mentioned you're depressed and on meds - are you also doing therapy? this is really the sort of thing that therapy is designed to treat, and has good success with. good luck.
posted by judith at 9:33 PM on August 9, 2005

I'm 23. I graduated college in 2004, took a year off. This has now turned into two years, and I set an all-time record of actually sticking with a job for 5 months. I'm starting a new round of apps, with no idea if I'll actually get into a grad school anywhere. Oh, and my best friend is starting Harvard next month. (I love him and I'm proud of him but sometimes you get tired of feeling like the mildly retarded one.)

For a good six months after I graduated, I was unemployed, and felt rather like you do now - everyone else knew what they were doing and what was going to happen, and I was just floating.

So...you're not weird, promise :) No, really, I promise - everyone has some time when they're at loose ends and figuring out who they are and whatnot.

Look at it this way - you know, for sure, what you *don't* like. Using myself as an example, I recently learned that working as an AA is a soul-eating experience and I want to never, ever do it again. You know there are jobs that bore you senseless, maybe your major in college didn't fit? You know you can get through tough family times, and battle depression; you've got to have some kind of inner strength to do that.

You've got that, to begin with. Everyone else here is giving way, way better advice than I can (having, I suspect, been through it already...). I really like the idea of just a change of scenery, something to shake you from your mental rut. Try it, and good luck :)
posted by kalimac at 9:45 PM on August 9, 2005

Good advice above. I wanted to add one thing in case you are, or are willing to be, a reader. There is a book called Your Own Worst Enemy : Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement that is one of the most incredible and truly useful books in the self-help field. It is chock full of practical advice.

Your description of your troubles now fit most everybody at one time or another in their life. It is a rarity to not have a time of deep trouble and lack of confidence. Use this time. You might find that by the time you are 30 you have done a lot of work on yourself that will serve you well. (About the time that the friends you envy now are questioning why they did what they did.)

I also agree with the post or two that mentioned relocating. Sometimes it takes a "change of scenery," and a whole new outlook on things with all new things to see and do.

Whatever you do, realize that at 22 you have a lot of room to make mistakes. You do at any age really, but at 22 - live and experience and learn. With life it's not about "getting there," it's about the journey, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, year after year. Go ahead - live life. Don't think about where you "should be," think about who you are, where you are, embrace it and let life unfold.

Good luck.

posted by Independent Scholarship at 10:19 PM on August 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

Heheh!!! I was in your same position when I was 22. I enlisted in the US Marines because it was totally alien to anything I had ever done to that time. To heighten the absurdity, I went in 'open contract', meaning I did not choose a specialization; I let them place me. That experience totally changed my life around.

Given Iran, the Marines may be a bit extreme right now, but the Navy or the Air Force are worth considering, especially if you want to get some high-tech experience. (Just don't do open contract unless, of course, you have a death wish.)
posted by mischief at 11:26 PM on August 9, 2005

I think you made a good decision to ask for advice and where you ask for it is beside the point. Often what derails smart people is fear. Fear of making a bad decision, of failure (naturally), of not being as smart as you think you are, of not meeting your own expectations about what you coulda, shoulda woulda.
Arrogance is the loner's game but you're reaching out...pretty smart on your part. It's a baby step and a good one. Now, make another (Peace Corps, solitary travel to South America, dental technician school, move to New Orleans, whatever) and see what that's like. The thing that no one tells you is this: you can spend the next 10 years drifting or you can learn, experience, achieve and one way or the other, ten years from now, you'll be 32. And you'll still be young. I wish you the ability to create a happy life for yourself. It's absolutely, definitely, not too late.
posted by lois1950 at 11:29 PM on August 9, 2005

You and me both. No suggestions, just sympathy. We all could use it ;)
posted by hoborg at 12:53 AM on August 10, 2005

I don't know if this is the case...but is part of the problem that you're not absurdly good at something? You maybe breezed through school and are now faced with the fact that, while bright, possibly very bright, you're not a genius of some description whose path would be obvious? Welcome to Unfamousville. Population, the rest of us. If you don't know what you want to do, that just means you haven't done enough yet. And by the gods, at 22, if you don't make one huge life-changing decision that ends up being totally the wrong thing at least once in the future you're missing out on the best life has to offer.
posted by Sparx at 1:40 AM on August 10, 2005

There's some extremely good advice above but I have just one thing to add: say 'yes' more. The next time an opportunity to do something presents itself, even if you really don't feel like it or think it's beyond your capabilities, say 'yes'. It may well lead on to something new and unexpected.
posted by Nick Jordan at 3:40 AM on August 10, 2005

See also Quarter-life crisis.
posted by Plutor at 4:49 AM on August 10, 2005

I'm currently a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria, serving as a high school English teacher in a tiny, tiny backwater town. I can tell you there are basically two types of people in PC: those who want to change the world, and those who want to spend some time figuring out who they are, what they're capable of, and hopefully acquiring some new skills in the process. I'm one of the latter.

After spending about five years doing web design and development jobs, I found I was getting really burned out. On top of that, most of my good friends had gotten married, moved away, and started having kids... and I'm not the sort of person who makes friends easily. Life was getting a little boring, and I wanted to stir things up.

I've only been in country about four months, and my teaching assignment doesn't start until September, but I'm definately feeling more interested in what life is offering these days, and every night I go to bed feeling mentally exhausted from another day of trying to get my basic needs met while slaughtering the local language. I figure, hey, assuming I make it through two more years of this, at least I'll come away with a lot of amazing memories, new friends, the knowledge that I can stand in front of a room of high school kids and maintain my sanity... and I'll be fluent in Bulgarian (which is very similar to Russian, turns out).

All that said, you might have a difficult time getting through the application process sans a college degree, but then, I really don't believe the organization is as selective as I've been told.
posted by cratchit at 5:02 AM on August 10, 2005

I feel jealous and resentful of them because they have already achieved so much and I'm left behind feeling like I'll never catch up.

Forget that. This is not a competition -- there's no Great Scorecard in the Sky.

I'm 41, and still have no idea what to do with myself. I went straight through college and grad school (I never could think of a major so just did English out of inertia) and then did . . . . not much since. I've had jobs, I've supported myself, I've been married a couple of times, but nothing to brag about. The thing is, none of this bothers me. I make enough to live on, I live in a nice place, I know some interesting people, and that's plenty for me. I think you're being too hard on yourself, and too caught up in the idea that there's some kind of World Obligation to be a big honkin' success. There ain't.
posted by JanetLand at 5:28 AM on August 10, 2005

You're so young.

I'm 28 and have wasted the best part of the last 6 years working in a call centre....I know how you feel.

Dont feel pressured to get a career/high paid job/get married/have kids. Your life will be over before you know it

If the medication doesnt work then maybe try coming off it.
posted by walkerbelm at 5:33 AM on August 10, 2005

I was in a similar situation at 22. I dropped out of college, had zero idea who I was, and had even less of an idea as to what I wanted to do. Not that it mattered because I had no motivation whatsoever.

So I moved out of my college town and found a crappy job. Eventually, from working several crappy jobs I was able to figure out some things that I liked about the industries I was in and started moving up in those companies. I got married, finished college, worked my way to senior management, and got divorced.

And guess what? At 32, I have no idea what I want to do. I'm totally starting over.

From my experience of being aimless at 22, I learned that I can just sort of pick something and run with it. It probably won't last forever, it won't make me a better person, and chances are, I won't change the world. But it will be interesting, I'll learn a lot, then I'll move on. I'm ok with that now.
posted by superkim at 5:55 AM on August 10, 2005

Just thought I'd add to the "positive dog pile"...

Don't feel bad - you're only 22! [I was going to give you my own brief history, to give you some inspiration/perspective, but after writing it, looks very boring. Suffice to say, you're not alone.]

A little advice from someone twice your age:
- Finish college. You're bright enough. Just tough it out. It will be worth it.
- Find something you really like. If you can do it for a living, great! If not, have it be a hobby.
- Whatever job you get, do it well. That's also worth it.
- Don't think that you can't talk to your friends. Just because they're off "doing their own things", doesn't mean they don't care. Stay in touch. Let them help, if needed. Don't be too pround to ask.

Good luck! Hang in there!!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:07 AM on August 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Read or listen to Steve Jobs' recent commencement speech at Stanford. Steve Jobs was a drop out, he walked miles to get meals at the Hare Krishna temple, and wander around from thing to thing for ages. He made it.

The trick is to find what you love and keep doing it. The hard bit is making sure you have a roof over your head while doing it. The other trick is to remember that you're going to die one day, and to keep plugging away to get everything you can out of life.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
posted by wackybrit at 6:15 AM on August 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

22 is still relatively young - you've got your whole life ahead of you. It sounds to be like you either have not been challenged enough in the past, or you just don't know what to do.

I have a friend that was just too smart for college and dropped out the first year. He's hopped from job to job for the past few years, trying all sorts of new things. Some people just don't handle being tied down to one thing all the time. Maybe you could look into careers that would allow you to be somewhere or do something different every day - actor? flight attendant? emergency room personel? military? police officer?

I also have a friend who dropped out of college after her first year, and is just now going back to college at the age of 25. She didn't have a goal or know what she wanted to do until now. Maybe you just need more time to figure out what you want. Explore a little, travel the world, try different jobs. A lot of colleges offer programs designed to help you choose a career, and as an added bonus, you could get a college degree too.
posted by geeky at 6:27 AM on August 10, 2005

Enjoy your freedom! Don't look at it as if you were trapped in the unknown, instead you have all the freedom and excitement of being able to venture out into the unknown!

I would suggest what some others have -- leave where you are and just go wander the world. Have an adventure. There is so much to see and do and so many other people out there to meet and get to know. Don't worry about money! It is quite difficult to starve and you can easily find odd jobs along the way. Just go! Go have lots of (safe) sex. Go get drunk. Go and be young and free!

I don't agree that military would be the best thing for you. I personally have never seen anyone come out of the military in any better state than they were in prior to joining. And they always come back with this weird look in their eyes..

Remember, there are no 'shoulds' in life. We each have to walk our own path, no matter how joyful or painful! There is nothing anywhere that says you 'have to' do this or 'should be' doing that. It is ALL up to you!
posted by dhammala at 7:18 AM on August 10, 2005

I had a friend who did City Year, part of AmeriCorps (like Peace Corps-without leaving the USA).

It offers a structured environment like the military. Unlike the military, killing people is frowned upon, instead helping them is encouraged. May be easier to get into than Peace Corps, although I have no idea.

Here's there requirements:

To participate you must:
Be between the ages of 17 and 24

Be a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident Alien

Be ready to dedicate 10 months to full-time service

Be a high school graduate or GED recipient or agree to work toward high school equivalency while serving at City Year

Have served no more than 2 terms in another AmeriCorps, NCCC, or VISTA program

Agree to a background or security check

My friend was brilliant, from a good family, on a path to becoming a professional vocalist (opera), when the folks ran out of money for school. She joined City Year. One of her partners in the program was a former drug dealer escaping his gang, trying to keep from getting killed. That should give you an idea of the variety of people who participate.

Plus you get free Timberland gear: boots, jacket, pants, sunglasses.
posted by sol at 7:50 AM on August 10, 2005

it sounds like your problem is that you have no idea what you really passionately want, and because of that, you can't get it (ha, i was very much the same all of last year, and i'm 23 now...). i agree with dreamsign--in this case, when you acknowledge you just have no idea what you want really, and nothing comes to mind you care enough about to see through on your own, it might be best to just throw yourself into something where you're FORCED to just do it, where some entity is pushing you through it (the join the army approach--not that it should be the army, but).

most people i know in your situation do some form of americorps/peace corps. i considered culinary school, because i thought my problem with school in general (i graduated successfully, but was burned out and depressed with the whole thing upon graduation) was that i was tired of working hard on something that didn't have a tangible benefit i could look at and be content with, and taking more standardized tests (i took both the lsat and gre) just made me angry and made me think, "this is not how i want to go through life anymore." i ended up compromising and now i'm slated to attend a grad program that has a good balance of academic inquiry and occupational relevancy. it sucks to feel like what you work at doesn't make a difference. (others addressed this above with the whole "what fulfills you" question.)

i also hear you on the whole "i feel estranged from my peers" thing. the early twenties are a surreal social period...everyone's struggling and confused as hell and afraid to admit it because everyone else always seem to be more self assured. it's a very isolating time, and i think part of it is yeah, there's no set pattern to what building a life is anymore, so even your friends won't all be on the same path. it's difficult to compare situations or feel in step with others your age. it's scary. i feel for you, i feel it myself. you're not alone there. it's hard though. i wish you happiness and luck.

there was an ask thread a while back that was a little more specific, but had the same general core confusion.
posted by ifjuly at 8:10 AM on August 10, 2005

I'll second what scody said above. Find something that gives you joy*. Don't worry about whether it's something you can make a living at. If it isn't, it'll just get you motivation to get a decent job so you can bankroll your outside interest. Don't worry about whether it's prestigious. Life's too short to worry about impressing other people.

Unless you're some sort of natural genius in a given field, getting really accomplished in anything worthwhile requires a seemingly insane amount of work compared to the end result. When you discover an activity where you enjoy the process enough that it all seems worthwhile, then you've found something to stick with.

Possible areas to explore: playing guitar, programming computers, helping the homeless, yoga, juggling, Civil War reenactment, political activism, martial arts, painting, community theatre, writing, photography, standup comedy, mathematics, archeology, rock climbing, fixing cars, building period musical instruments, carpentry, wilderness survival, gardening, historical research, web design, field biology, starting a business, swing dancing, flying airplanes, landscaping, calligraphy, playing chess, electronics, poetry, pottery, zen meditation, songwriting, ... the list is endless.

Try one that looks interesting, give it some honest effort, if it doesn't seem to bring you enough satisfaction to be worth the work, then move on to the next thing. You're young, you've got time to explore.

*note - this does not mean all fun, all the time. Sometimes the things you've devoted your life to can be a frustrating pain in the butt. The joy should still be there anyway.
posted by tdismukes at 8:19 AM on August 10, 2005 [3 favorites]

scody, judith, and Independent Scholarship nailed it. Do something, anything, you really WANT to do. More than likely it'll lead you to something else, which will lead you to something else, and then you wake up one day and realize you're a pretty damn good scrimwshaw artist or kickboxer or Portugese speaker or what have you.

I'd also suggest you find a professional to talk to. Really, it helps to have a neutral sounding board, which your friends (as wonderful as they may be) are not...especially since a big part of the problem seems to be that you're comparing yourself to them. Don't. The fact that you made it through whatever bad family stuff happened as a teen--and your teens ended only three years ago!--and are still well-written, obviously intelligent, and not on top of a clock tower with a rifle IS an accomplishment. It just doesn't sound as good in conversation as "Oh, I'm working for XYZ Corp making a more efficient widget."

Don't forget: you're still young!

Because it bears repeating: YOU'RE STILL YOUNG! And that is in no way meant as a put-down, just a reminder. Hell, what are one's 20s about if not flailing around, screwing up a bit (or a lot) and figuring yourself out? I spent most of my 20's either slacking my way through school(s) or working at a not-very-promising bureaucratic job, and had the "dark night of the soul" you're currently dealing with...at 28. Hang in there, you'll be fine.

(On preview: tdismukes has an awesome list of potential stuff to do.)
posted by Vervain at 8:27 AM on August 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

At 22, with no family obligations, you have some opportunities that won't be there later. Do the traveling, adventuring and screwing off that you can really only do in your 20s. I recommend picking some new places and getting different types of work. Like moving to a resort area and waiting tables or tending bar. Follow your interests, if you're a mountain climber, go where the climbing is. If you have the money to travel internationally, or the ability to work in another country, do that. Peace Corps is a shorter commitment than military, and safer. I'm sorry I didn't apply when I was younger.

I've leaned the most by saying yes to new experiences, and trying to step out of what feels safe. With a child still at home to support, my opportunities are limited, but I still try to push my own boundaries.

School is a good thing, but if you can't focus on it and make it happen right now, then try again later. When you're motivated, school is easier.

22 probably doesn't feel so young to you, but you have plenty of time to make mistakes, go to school, do great things, etc. One of my favorite professors didn't get serious about school until her 40s, then finished her Bachelor's degree, continued on to get her Ph.D., and become a professor, then a college president.
posted by theora55 at 8:32 AM on August 10, 2005

I don't have much to add that isn't echoing what has already been said, but I'll share my anecdote anyway.

I was 22 years old and working at a burrito joint. I asked the 'what should I do with my life' question to my boss (who was probably around 35 at the time) and his respone was:

"What you do with your life will become what it becomes. Do what you want to do, fuck around, work silly jobs. Everything else will take care of itself."

To my slacker ears, this was good advice to hear. There's only so much you can control anyway, so just go with the flow. You'll end up having multiple "careers" throughout your life, anyway. You can go back to college when you're 40. You can live on a beach and surf for the rest of your life. Both of those options can be equally satisfying and rewarding.

At this point just do what you feel like doing. The rest will take care of itself. Don't start doing heroin, have some responsibility and go with the flow. You're only 22 years old. Please try to relax about the direction of your life.
posted by fletchmuy at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2005

Paul Graham (A truly great Computer Programmer) wrote an inspirational essay called Hiring is Obsolete. Its main point (or the one that I personally came away with, to be more honest) is that companies/society don't really reward people who work their way up in the normal way. Instead, they reward people who try hard and fail spectacularly. Trying hard and failing big, according to him and to other VC-types, is much more instructive and valuable than simply learning the ropes.

At 22, you have nothing to lose, unlike those of us with families & mortgages. Try something big. It is much more likely to inspire you than yet-another-low-rung-job. If it succeeds, then yay for you. If it fails, you are still ahead of your peers in life/work experience.

I envy you.
posted by Invoke at 9:39 AM on August 10, 2005

I agree with the above post. Try something big. If you succeed, great. If you fail, great. Seriously. I personally can't think of anything I regret failing, but I do regret many things I didn't try.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 9:52 AM on August 10, 2005

I didn't write this thread, but at times, I feel like I could write a thread like this. Thanks everyone for the support.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:55 AM on August 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I am with ThePinkSuperhero, I didn't ask this question, but I come more or less from the exact same position as anon. I can tell this is a thread I will refer back to many many times.
posted by wannabehippie at 11:00 AM on August 10, 2005

What do you want to do? What is it that inspires you, makes you wanna get up in the morning, makes life worth living? What kind of job would you do, even if you don't get paid?

Once you figure that out, just do it. Read this article for inspiration. (Especially the part where it reads "She got in. She bucked all expectation and thwarted the temptation to quit and take a well-paying corporate job and she endured the incredibly brutal first year and rose to the top of her class. Oh and by the way, she did it all when she was over 40. With almost no money. While going through an ugly, debt-ridden divorce")

Having a goal makes life worth living.
posted by vjz at 1:25 PM on August 10, 2005

All I can give you is what worked for me. I graduated university with a mediocre degree in a subject I loved but had no practical application (beyond teaching).

I signed up for teacher training at age 22, and hated it with an unbridled passion. 6 months into my course I quit, with no real plan about what I was going to do instead.

So I travelled. Firstly to Cambridge where I got the best job I've ever had (barman in a small pub by the river). Then when I'd saved up a bit of cash I was off! USA-bound! I met a wonderful woman (a LOT older than me - man, that kind of thing changes ya!) and had a fabulous time in the US. I gained more experience, knowledge and maturity during the 9 months I was away from home than I did in the previous 3 years of university.

When I came back to the UK I was ready for the next step. I got a job, cut my hair, removed the earrings and was happier for it.

Like I say, this is what worked for me. I've read and re-read your post and it's amazing how much you sound like an early-twenties version of me. I'm 30 now.

Things will only change if you do something to facilitate that change. But you haven't "completely messed up" your life. Your life's just beginning.
posted by Ridge at 1:43 PM on August 10, 2005

In life, it is the things you don't do you regret most.
posted by phrontist at 2:39 PM on August 10, 2005

Travel. I flunked out of college at 20, got a soul-destroying job in a factory that I worked for two years, drank too much. Then I quit, loaded my car with camping gear, gave away everything else, and hit the road. Hit most of the major national parks, camped and hiked, hung out with whomever crossed my path, met some very different people from any I'd known. Sold my car in Arizona and wandered south--finally reaching Managua, Nicaragua.

Back home a year later, I was a different person, with a passionate interest in life. I started at the local community college. To keep from falling in my old ruts and ways of thinking, I took summer jobs out west, working for the National Park Service. Some autumns I wouldn't feel like going back to school, so more travel. The third world is cheap.

Ten years after flunking out of college I was working on my dissertation, and now I have job and life that I love.
posted by LarryC at 2:46 PM on August 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Firstly, thank you for this question. I'm (or was) in a similar boat - fed up with life, want to do something different and unusual, didn't know what to do. It was like an early quarter-life crisis; I'll only hit 20 in September. Already my feet are itching.

Right now I'm in the WorldSmart Leadership Program, a spinoff from Up With People. Basically, young adults 18-29 from all over the world travel to 7 countries (US, Japan, parts of Europe) for a semester, and do work and learn things based on leadership, communications, culture, and performance. (You don't need to be a master at any of those though; they'll help you along the way.)

It's just started, but already I have been interacting with people from all over the world, trying all sorts of different things (we just got back from building an equestarian trail), living with brilliant host families, and having the time of my life. I'm definitely looking forward to the months ahead.

It's quite pricey - US$14,500 - but there are scholarships available, and they have plenty of resources to help you out.

Do keep us updated.
posted by divabat at 5:42 PM on August 10, 2005

You mentioned medication for depression: are you taking
it now? The reason I ask is that there are some medications
that cause the person taking them to feel as you've described you are feeling.

It's sort of a neutral attitude and perspective: there are
no highs or lows everything is on the same plain. I experience this sort of 'beige-ness' taking the medications
I am.

I could relate to what you wrote for I feel much the same
way although I am a great deal older than you.

If you are seeing a doctor you might mentioned to him/her
your feelings and find out if any medications you are taking
could account for the way you feel.

It may be a long shot, but hey, it's worth it to not feel
so bad, right?
posted by bat at 12:57 AM on August 11, 2005

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