How do I get my own life
May 22, 2014 10:52 PM   Subscribe

I am 21 years old (female). I just ended a long 5 year relationship a couple weeks ago and am finally feeling the happiness I didn't realize I was missing before. After planning out my future as a joint endeavor for so long, I am feeling pretty lost as to what to do with my life and how to define myself.

I currently work and live at home. I have been attending community college for the past 3 years on a scholarship and am about to get my general transfer associates degree. I am unsure of what I want to do with my future. At first I wanted to be a dietician because I was interested in health, then a nurse because it seemed lucrative, and now I'm thinking about elementary education.

I feel like I have always had trouble communicating effectively and defining myself. I didn't really have any role models growing up and but I've always had high morals and standards. My boyfriends sister in law was probably the first person I really aspired to be like and wholeheartedly looked up to. Shes so engaging, funny, smart, pretty and a very determined and goal oriented person. She's also an elementary school teacher. I feel like I'm obsessed with her a little bit as I always think "what would ______ do in this situation?" My style is turning into hers, but I never really had a style in the first place. I talked to my counselor about this before and she said I just never had a role model like that before.

Anyways the next step in my life as I see it is to transfer to university and get a useful degree. I think being a teacher has always been in the back of my mind, but im not sure if it's right for me. I feel like I respect what teachers do and would want to be the kind of person who teaches elementary school. I don't really have much experience with kids at all though. I do like them though. My friends say they can deffinitely see me as someone who is good with kids and would be a teacher. I just don't know though if it makes sense for me. When I start university I will be getting a loan and will have debt, which I don't have right now. Idk.

I also feel like I need to work on a lot of things personality wise. I feel like I am too nice to people and don't know who I like as people. I feel like my conversation skills are weak. I really want to be a cool interesting person. Idk where I'm going with this but I just feel like I have issues relating to others in a good way.

So I guess what I'm asking is how can I create my own life and my own new self? How do I know which direction to go? How should I be approaching life at this time and age in my development?
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We are defined by our choices. Practice by voicing your preference on small things, such as what types of food you like. Next time someone wants to eat with you, instead of saying "Whatever you want", state a preference. Then expand this to movies you like, books, music. Once you have enough practice, your underlying personality will gradually emerge.

Right now you've denied expressing your choices for so long that your subconscious represses your preferences. Once you give it voice, it will speak on ever more important issues.
posted by cheesecake at 11:01 PM on May 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

The best part of life is the adventure that comes with not knowing what's around the next bend- like cheesecake said, choose small things at first, but try to consciously realize that your life will turn out to be the product of all your choices.

I can best maybe use myself as an example: When I got out of high school in 1972, I had no earthly idea what I was about or what I was going to do. I certainly wouldn't guessed in a million years that I would be, within two years, trekking across a jungle in Thailand by oxcart, or inside of 5 years, live within sight of the Berlin Wall.

Once your sense of adventure grabs hold of you, let it guide you. You might not know where you're going, but you won't regret it in your old age, and that's what it's all about.
posted by pjern at 11:11 PM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I feel like I know somewhat what I want out of life-- I want a satisfying, meaningful career and even more than that a great, loving, solid family life with my own family. I want to graduate college, get a career, get married, and start a family. I want a somewhat simple life, not in the city. I want to read books, cook for my family, garden, have pets and be physically active. So I have all that figured out. I just don't feel like I'm together enough and don't really want to date for at least a year, but I don't want to end up single and 30 (happened to my sister). So yeah.
posted by anon1129 at 11:29 PM on May 22, 2014

People who're described as "cool" are generally high investors in some social practice that has a degree of novelty and prestige to it, at least for some particular subculture. So on that front, just pick something--fashion, art, literature, music, technology, etc.--and spend at least a few hours a day dorking around with it, looking for opportunities to either challenge yourself with it or extend your awareness of the possibilities it holds. Even for something you're just consuming, like TV or clothes, develop your interest through some sort of project, e.g. keeping notes on what you watch or taking daily photos of what you wear or whatnot.

But people that I think are genuinely cool do the same without caring about novelty or prestige, emphasizing instead personal growth without making comparisons that are even implicitly disdainful of what others are doing. And the main thing about conversation skills is to be kind: generous with what you've learned but interested in others.

Incidentally, I've taught elementary school. I found it to be a stressful, low-paying job, and I think you can be the same kind of person as an ideal elementary teacher--pleasant, consistent, understanding, helpful, fun, etc.--in many other jobs. I don't want to discourage you from teaching, but keep an open mind. Many workplaces can use nice, nurturing sorts of people.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:34 PM on May 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Start small. You can always take that big travel adventure or land that job you always wanted or meet the perfect partner and so on. But you're probably not going to be searching for that when it happens and honestly it might be great and important but it's just another stopping point in your life to look back on.

For now? Read that book you wanted to read. Go to that show you wanted to see but don't have anyone to go with. Try that new restaurant that opened up that sounds intriguing but you haven't heard anything so it might be horrible. When you don't have any second person to define the other half of what "we" like you have to figure it out for yourself. And then later when you meet someone else you can finally say what "you" like and it may be different from the other person but reasonable adults have different interests but they don't define themselves by them. They might even love those little differences.

Figure out what you want to make of it all and the rest will sort itself out. Maybe not how you planned, but it'll be a fun ride regardless if you let it.
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:36 PM on May 22, 2014

I don't want to end up single and 30

First off, you're 21, so you have nearly a decade to go before you hit your 30s -- and I promise that there is more that's going to happen to you in the next decade than you can even imagine. Second, there is plenty of life, love, sex, and the possibility of marriage and family after 30. I know that the idea of being single at 30 is held up as a sort of social and personal death sentence for women, but I urge you to find a way to put that fear at arm's length and examine the assumptions that underpin it. I found myself married to the wrong person (great guy, but wrong for me) in my late 20s in very large part because I was semi-panicked by the fear of being single at 30, even though I couldn't have articulated it at the time. So sure, I wasn't single when I hit 30, but that didn't actually make me happy. Don't put yourself in the same position just because of a number. (Happy ending: after getting divorced at 32 I found my life partner at 36; next month is our 9th anniversary.)
posted by scody at 12:00 AM on May 23, 2014 [20 favorites]

but I don't want to end up single and 30

Oh my God let go of this attitude right the fuck now. Yes, this deserves italics and curse words. Reality check: life doesn't end at 30, and marriage and kids before a prescribed age aren't the One True Path to Happiness, but you know what's a pretty great way to guarantee a miserable and regret-filled midlife? Making panic-fuelled decisions because you're so afraid of missing the Married By 30 brass ring.

So here's point number one: you're 21. Stop worrying about whether you will find someone to be with. Relationships blossom in all kinds of times and circumstances; your energy is better spent going out in the world, forging a path for yourself, having adventures and making connections with all kinds of people in all kinds of ways, than fretting over whether you'll be Alone Forever.

It's tough being 21. You've spent so much time following an absolutely prescribed path. You go to school, you progress through your grades, you do your work. You don't have to wonder what success looks like, because you know. You don't have to wonder what's expected of you, because you know. Then you're released into the wide world and... then what?

And now to point number two: looking back on myself when I was 21, I realised my biggest problem was I didn't have an accurate read on (a) what my options were and (b) what I was capable of.

I didn't invest much time or energy in really investigating what I could do, and instead focused on what was immediately in front of me. What do I wish I'd done? I wish I'd talked to more people about what they did and how they did it. Does your teacher friend like her job? How did she get into it? Can she introduce you to other teachers? What about nurses? Do you know any? Do you know what their working day is like? Approach it like an assignment. Talk to people about what they do, how they got into it, what they like and dislike about it. Snowball it. Ask them to refer you to their friend with the most interesting job.

You'll be talking to these people and telling yourself 'oh, I couldn't be a radiologist/a special ed teacher/a speech pathologist/a coalminer/a film editor, I'm just not capable.' This is the second road block of the 21 year old, and the answer is capability is time multiplied by effort. You're 21, you have time, and effort is no problem when you're working on or towards something that genuinely interests and excites you. If you're gently defaulting towards nursing or teaching you'll find yourself easily discouraged; the work will feel like a burden. If you're consciously choosing a course or a career or a job then the work will feel exciting. It'll feel like progress, it'll feel like a conscious choice.

This is all very prescriptive, and this is all from some doofus on the internet. You asked 'How should I be approaching life at this time and age in my development?' The sad answer is no one knows, you've just got to want more for yourself and start trying.
posted by nerdfish at 2:24 AM on May 23, 2014 [32 favorites]

It's actually pretty stressful being an elementary school teacher. My best friend is one so I know. She also loves her job. But she has to deal with workplace politics, pushy parents, an unforgiving schedule and other stresses on a regular basis. Do you want to be an elementary school teacher because you want to be? Or because this girl you admire is a teacher? Look, explore the possibility: talk to her about her job but really try to dig in deep and understand what the daily life of a teacher would be like and whether you would want that for yourself.

But more generally: don't feel you need to define yourself by 21, or even ever. That actually limits a lot of the experiences you could have, if you keep telling yourself "I don't like that" or "I'm not that kind of person".

The best thing I did in my 20s was cultivate a default of saying 'yes' to new things. I've met so many great people and travelled to interesting places because of my default answer of 'yes' to new opportunities when they came up.

And don't put so much pressure on yourself. You're 21. It's OK not to have everything figured out by now. When I was 21, I was an egg... I had barely even begun to discover who I was. I'm 31 now (and not married, btw!) and I'm still discovering that, every year. Do not look at aging as something to be frightened of. Life gets better the longer you live it and the more you learn about the world and yourself. I promise you with time you will keep getting cooler. I am pretty sure my 21-year-old self would be in equal parts scandalised and delighted with how her 10-years-older self has turned out and I'm sure 41-year-old me will be even better.

Also I defer to no one in my love and appreciation of family, but don't let your desire to be married before 30 blind you to red flags. The saddest people I know right now are the people who got married because they wanted to be married rather than because they had found the love of their lives and wanted to be with them forever.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:07 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Focus on finding what you want to do rather than what you want to be. It is a small shift in words but what matters is you begin to think in terms of what the experience is like for you. Volunteer at a summer camp or vacation bible school to see what it is like working with kids. Over the next couple of years, seek out things you can do to have new experiences this way. Go to places you haven't gone before, talk to people you haven't met yet. Ask about what other people do, ask about their jobs, their favorite leisure activities. Learn a sport, a language, some music, join a club or a group of volunteers. Get some overview of how people live in the world.

College is a time for taking in all this information about what it is possible to choose in life as much as it is about learning in class. Give yourself permission not to decide quite yet what you are going to do in the future and even consider putting off choosing a major for a while. Most people really do not know what they are going to do for a living and, even when they do, it often can change and they're doing something completely different fifteen years down the road. We learn to make plans and follow through, certainly, but we have to get just as good at changing course.

Most of the time we have to do something before we know whether we want to do that or not. Don't be afraid to experiment and change your mind and for sure don't worry about not knowing where you're headed. You sound very well grounded and just need some experience and time. It should be fun, don't forget, even if a little challenging sometimes. Enjoy learning.
posted by Anitanola at 3:17 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I send a lot of people over to Hans Glint's website, "Self Help Starts Here."
He has an amazing, free, no email required PDF workbook (single link PDF file) that might work wonders for your, or at least ask you the right questions on what to do with your life.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 3:50 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Go to university - it doesn't matter what degree. Enjoy yourself. FIND yourself. Eventually, you will.

Don't worry about not being married at 30. If you're interested in relationships and enjoy having an 'other' next to you you're bound to find one (or two or three or... until you find the right one).

You'll become your own role model. Find your own voice and your preferences. These are likely to change through your twenties. Don't worry about that. It doesn't mean you're unstable. It means you are growing and developing.

You are young, that's OK. There's no one to guide you, that's OK.

Keep moving, like you feel the urge to. You'll get somewhere. You'll be OK.
posted by bernardbeta at 3:52 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm really excited for you. Life's an experiment. If all goes well, you have a lot of time to figure out what matters to you, what you enjoy, and how to spend your free time as well as work time.

My top advice: Learn to love yourself. That sounds like drivel but seriously, that is the key to satisfaction in this life. I've been together with my fabulous boyfriend for nearly 2 years. It is the most healthy relationship I've ever been in, mostly because I have learned to love myself and care for myself by doing things that matter to me. (Not only that but also that.)

My bf was tremendously attractive because he was a whole person, not a shell with a big, gaping emotional hole inside. He's a cyclist, a music fan, a voracious reader. He had lots of friends and wasn't looking for someone to complete him but rather, someone who complemented him.

He and I are different in many ways but complement each other nicely. I mention this not because I think you need to fixate on finding another boyfriend, getting married, etc. I mention this because the most attractive, healthy people are ones who are happy with themselves and their lives pretty much as they are.

After a lifetime of clinging to guys for emotional support, I became inspired to work on becoming healthier, happier, more independent. To take care of myself by doing things that matter to me and that I enjoy. And to spend some time figuring out what those things are.

Before you decide what to study, consider going to a classroom (hospital, etc.) and spend a day with someone who does what you are considering as a career. One of my closest friends was a magazine intern, then bus tour guide driver, then got a teaching credential and became an elementary school teacher and lasted only one year because it is really hard work.

She became a magazine editor for several years, then quit to go to law school. After that, discovered she hated working in a big law firm. She quit and started her own one-person shop. Eventually she partnered with another attorney. And she seems content and satisfied with the life and family she has now.

So you might save yourself some time by going out and talking to actual teachers, nurses, etc. (and maybe not just one of each) and also shadowing those who will let you so you can see the reality of their day-to-day work.

That's just one idea. And remember, you don't have to decide anything right this minute. If you don't know what to do, that just means you don't have enough information yet. Eventually, you will figure out what feels right to you. And if it doesn't work out, then you can do something else. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:29 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got out of a 5 year relationship when I was 21. I had totally planned my future life around my then boyfriend and was shell-shocked when he broke it off. But, then, like you, only a few weeks later realized that the relationship was holding me back. I now look at it as one of the best things that ever happened to me (looking back, it was a clearly emotionally abusive relationship, I just had no frame of reference to recognize it at the time). I was socially anxious (someone judging your every move will do that), had few friends at my university (social isolation, thanks ex-bf), and my future life plans were just thrown out the window.

What worked for me was vowing to myself that every thing I did (literally every single action) was going to be something that I 100% wanted to do, without worrying about if someone else would approve, be upset, etc. Sure, it was selfish, I suppose, but I spent all of my teenage years and my (barely) adult life listening to what others thought and doing what others wanted me to do. I didn't have an internal voice that I could truly call mine.

So, I say don't worry about how your actions in the next year or so of your life will affect your "future." Just think "is this something I want to be doing right now, right this second?" I mean, try to avoid heroin and committing crimes and stuff. But, want to sleep with some guy(s)? Great, go ahead! (use protection, obv) Want to sit on your ass, eat Cheez-its, drink beer, and watch the entire Friends catalog from start to finish? Cool! Want to move to a different city and kick ass in a new academic program? Awesome! ...I may have done all of the above.

Think short term. Use that to find your inner voice. From there, you'll find the life path that's right for you.

In case it matters, I'm 30 now, married, employed, planning children.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:36 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I got married at 39 and I don't regret a minute of my single life. I learned so much and had such great fun, getting married was icing on the cake, not the reason for my existance. So work on getting that arbitrary figure out of your head!

It sounds like you're struggling to find your major. You've picked some interesting paths, but they don't really seem to have anything in common, except that they're practical (and VERY traditional female jobs.)

Get a copy of What Color is Your Parachute. (I've linked to the one for teens, I think it may be relevant to you.) Figure out what you find interesting and fun, don't just pick something because you think it fits in with your ideal-life, or worse, because there's some 'guaranteed' job at the end of it. I hate to tell you, but getting a job as an elementary school teacher is going to be HARD! There's a dearth of folks on the market and a lot of laid off professionals with years of experience.

My university, Arizona State, had a class that was pass/fail that involved classroom observation and some pedagogy as a way of assessing whether or not teaching was a thing a person actually wanted to do. See if your school offers something similar.

Also, don't be afraid to change your major, or to major in something that's stictly liberal arts. My degree ended up being in English Literature. For a lot of regular jobs, just having the degree is enough. That said, I thought I wanted to teach too, and I got a job while I was still in college, then I had a 25 year career in Telecommunications. Sometimes, the wind blows you onto a different course. Be flexible, it's said that the average person will have 3 different careers over the course of working life.

Cut yourself some slack. You're 21, you're a baby, you're not supposed to have anything figured out. Experiment, expect to fail at some stuff, and kick the ass out of other stuff. Your college years are for learning to live life. No one expects you to know what you want, or to have huge accomplishments at your age.

As for style, it's no big deal. I still struggle with it! I'm over 50. So some days you're Stevie Nicks and other days you're Audrey Hepburn.

Accept that you're on the journey, don't concentrate so much on the destination. Have fun and don't be so serious!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:11 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is there any way that you can go to a university that's far enough away from home that you cannot live with your family? It could be a wonderful experience for you to be really on your own in a strange place. It might help you to figure out what you're really interested in. And you will meet new people, people from varying places and backgrounds.

Do not consider teaching until you have spent a considerable amount of time with young children. And do not consider teaching unless you love math and science and and history and geography and reading and writing. (By the way, you write very well!) If you don't love all of those you will not be as successful at introducing young children to them as someone who is.

If you do become a teacher and later decide to change careers, that's fine, really, it's fine! You shouldn't pressure yourself to know right now at 21 what you want to do for the rest of your life. People change, you will change.
posted by mareli at 5:33 AM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

nerdfish speaks the truth.

You really need some perspective. The way you are thinking about this is doing yourself a huge disservice. 30 is not some magical cut off age where your entire life is declared successful or unsuccessful. So what if your sister isn't married at the age of 30?! I got married last year at the age of 31, deliriously happy, but from what you wrote it sounds like to you that seems hugely hugely unlikely. It seriously isn't. PLUS, you are 21! You've been alive for just over 20 years. To hit thirty it will be 10 more years, which is HALF AS LONG AS YOU HAVE BEEN ALIVE!

And really, cut your sister some slack. You speak as though she is in some horrible, pitiable state just because she is 30 and unmarried. That is nuts and seriously unfair to her. And to every other woman who is older than 29 and unmarried. Being married is not the end all be all, and I say this as a married woman. Being married is great, but it is not what I use to measure the quality and success rate of my life. I have two older sisters, both unmarried, with hugely successful happy lives. One has a long-term partner, one is single but dates. Both have phenomenal careers (one of whom is a seriously big deal internationally in her field). Both not married. Are they failures? Hell no. Their lives are in fact enviable in a lot of ways.

Also, you need to remember that any choice you make now is not set in stone. If you want to pursue education and becoming a teacher then do that for now. You can always change your mind!! You seriously just need to go with the flow a bit, and stop worrying so much about the future. Just as a comparison: When I was 18 and graduating highschool I was enrolling in university with the intention of getting a business degree. When I was 21 I was in university getting a psych degree with the intention of becoming a pyschologist. At age 23 I was finishing my pysch and english degree with the intention of becoming a teacher. At age 24 I was enrolled in a computer programming course, which is where my career ended up going. That one stuck and worked and I am happy. Most people I know had a similar career path hopscotch, where they changed their plans multiple times.

And I agree with others - if you want to find out who you are and carve your own style then moving away to someplace new where you meet new people and experience new things would probably be great for you. Just STOP WORRYING, chill out, let life happen, stop focusing on the "what ifs" so much, be happy. Your concern of how your future is going to play out is running the risk of negatively impacting that future!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:39 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

but I don't want to end up single and 30

That's such a fucking immature idea it leaves me speechless. Move away from your family and go away to university, maybe live in the dorm the first year and get to know lots of different people from different places. Grow and learn away from what's familiar. Finish college, study abroad, have adventures, engage in interesting volunteer work. New experiences open us up to new possibilities. You don't have to have a life plan today, figure it out as you go.
posted by shoesietart at 6:45 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm 30 and single and have an awesome, happy life full of adventure and companionship. Don't be afraid!

But The 20 Something Manifesto was a big help to me when I came out of a serious relationship in my 21st and didn't know what to do with myself and was stressing out about it.
posted by Chrysalis at 6:46 AM on May 23, 2014

In 1967, when my mother graduated from high school, she was told she could be either a secretary, a nurse, or a school teacher. (She picked nurse). My husband's mother also got that same message in 1972. (She picked secretary.)

It troubles me to hear nothing much has changed in the last 50 years. Dietician, nurse, or elementary school teacher? All female-dominated, low-status, relatively low-paying careers that don't result in paid-back student loans very quickly (though nursing is changing as more men enter the profession - but I disagree that nursing is lucrative).

That list feels like you settling. I'm not surprised to hear none of these career paths blow your socks off with their awesomeness. So then why aren't you aiming higher? Dermatologist, Vascular Surgeon, Trader, Judge, Project Manager, University Professor, Management Consultant, Starship Captain - why not any of those? Please don't let your social class and your gender hold you back. I wish someone would have told my foremothers this 45 years ago.

Too "nice"/ not enough substance/ communication patterns that aren't serving you well?

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office by Dr. Lois P. Frankel is essential reading.

Have you ever wanted to travel abroad? Take an improv class? Open an Etsy store? Become a yogi? Make a list of 10 new things you want to try before the end of 2014. You have all the time in the world right now.
posted by hush at 6:47 AM on May 23, 2014 [11 favorites]

I think you should go for it- go to university and become a teacher! University is the perfect opportunity to do all the things you're talking about: finding your own voice, experimenting with different styles and different friends, developing yourself and gaining independence. I'm 26 and the things you're talking about (knowing myself and what I want) haven't started falling into place until the last 6 months or so. I think university is the experience you're looking for.
posted by winterportage at 6:56 AM on May 23, 2014

So, a lot of what you're feeling you would be feeling even if you were still with your boyfriend or even if you'd never been in a relationship. This is super-common, early-20s kind of stuff. And I rolled my eyes hard at the "single at 30" comment, but honestly I probably felt the same way at 21 (and of course then I actually *was* single at 30, and for that matter at 35, and you know what, it was fine, even good a lot of the time, and I was certainly happier than a lot of my coupled-up friends). Anyway EVERY 21-year-old needs to do a lot of work, personality-wise.

I think you need to meet more awesome, ambitious, put-together people. More role models. Your boyfriend's sister-in-law sounds great, but there are lots of other ways to have your shit together. Fortunately you can meet these types of people at your university! Take advantage of ANY program that helps you make the transition from community college to the university. If there's any program that offers you a mentor, either another student or a faculty/staff member, TAKE IT. Join clubs (either things that interest you or that are for people of your background or major).

Your world is going to expand a lot when you transfer to university. It might be scary. But I think it also might be exactly what you're looking for.
posted by mskyle at 7:11 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

For whatever reason, my social circle includes a lot of teachers, both women and men. I get the loud and clear message that it's a very stressful and thankless job, and you deal with a lot of bureaucratic BS from administrators and you deal with a lot of BS from over-involved parents. Definitely speak to others in the profession; observe a few classes if possible... you don't have to decide right now if that's what you want to do.

As far as getting married by 30, well, I think that's a load of BS too. Why? You should, at whatever time is right for you -- whether that's 20 or 35 or 50 -- get married (or don't) to make yourself and your partner happy, not because it's what society expects of you.

During my 20s, I watched a lot of friends in my age group get married, while I had a string of long-term relationships that weren't right for me. I had this deep-seated fear that I was falling behind my friends. I was 32 when I got married, and I think I'm a lot better off for waiting -- I'd learned a lot about myself and about other people and about who was right for me and who wasn't -- whilst some of my similar-in-age friends who got married early had already gotten divorced. I'm not sure where I read this, but there's documented research that people who wait to marry until their 30s (or even late 20s) have a better chance of sticking it out. (Then again, my parents got married at 21 and are still together; though I think they're completely wrong for each other in lots of ways.)

It's OK to be undecided at 21. Find out about teaching -- if you decide it isn't right for you, that's OK too -- better you spent time finding out it's not right than committing yourself to working towards an elementary education degree, spending 10 years teaching, and THEN finding out it's not right for you. Don't limit yourself in career choices either; if there's something you're interested in doing for a living, pursue it. (Others have commented about traditionally-gendered job prospects; I don't think you mentioned that as a reason for pursuing the career choices you stated, but if it is, toss that out right now.)
posted by tckma at 7:27 AM on May 23, 2014

I currently work and live at home. I have been attending community college for the past 3 years on a scholarship and am about to get my general transfer associates degree. I am unsure of what I want to do with my future.

Anyways the next step in my life as I see it is to transfer to university and get a useful degree. I think being a teacher has always been in the back of my mind, but im not sure if it's right for me.

Girl, you're doing fine. You pretty much sound like a typical 21-year-old to me. Most people are just starting to figure their careers out in their early 20's, just like you. You're working, and you're in school ... things could be a lot worse.

So I guess what I'm asking is how can I create my own life and my own new self?

You've already got it. This is it. Congrats!
posted by Asparagus at 7:37 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Although, one change you might want to think about working toward is getting your own apartment, or one you share with roommates if that isn't financially feasible. Living on your own is awesome.
posted by Asparagus at 7:44 AM on May 23, 2014

You sound a lot like me. I also had no real role models to aspire to, and took a lot of my self image/self esteem from my romantic relationships (which led me to waste time in some truly terrible relationships/situations). I wish I could have recognized that more clearly at your age, so pat yourself on the back for being so self aware. I gravitated towards teaching when I was your age because it was what I knew, and as a fairly quiet and agreeable woman I fit the stereotype of the ideal teacher. After teaching I realized the classroom management aspects of the job (which are a large part of it), just weren't for me.

I agree with the advice that teaching/nursing/dietician are settling (in light of your limited experience), it's what you're familiar with so that's what feels safe. Nursing especially has a high burnout rate, you don't want to do it for your whole life just because it will pay the bills, you need to value the work beyond that to stay in it imo. Know that there will be jobs 5, 10, 15 years from now that are completely novel and that they may fulfill you even more than say teaching. Focus on what you enjoy doing, and build as many skills around them as possible. If you like the idea of teaching, list the skills it requires and focus on building those skills now (e.g. lesson planning, public speaking, etc.). I have found success (thus far) by following what I am good at, enjoy doing, and where people welcome me and value my skills. In university I took a variety of courses and stuck with the ones I enjoyed and got good grades in (excepting statistics which was a necessary evil for my degree/future). I also found professors who mentored me because they saw potential in my abilities and they opened doors for me. Make sure you talk to your professors and let them know you are interested in volunteer/work opportunities, they are an invaluable resource and gateway to opportunities.

Martha Beck has some good books on finding out what you really like/want to do, including "Find Your North Star". There are exercises in the book you can do right now that will help you decide how to structure your university courses and time volunteering. What did you love doing as a child? When do you feel time stopping because you are so immersed in what you're doing? These are clues to what you would be happy doing more frequently/getting paid for.

Moving away from home will help you assert yourself and find your voice, I highly recommend it for the freedom it will bring if you can swing it. I learned so much about myself and my family dynamics after I moved away from home.

Also this has already been touched on but there is ZERO SHAME in being single at 30 (and beyond!). My mom (who started having children at 24 and has spent her entire adult life taking care of other people and putting herself last), always told me to wait until I was at least 30 to get married/start having children, you grow and change so much before that (and your taste in men will probably improve at the same time).
posted by lafemma at 7:51 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

So I have all that figured out. I just don't feel like I'm together enough and don't really want to date for at least a year, but I don't want to end up single and 30 (happened to my sister). So yeah.

This is such a strange sentence. I'm in my early 30s and single, with really no marriage prospects in sight, and it's like you wrote out "I don't want to be living independently, supporting myself, and finally coming into my own as a solid and complete person who understands what they need out of life."

Just.... what are you afraid of? This is boggling to me. I never had the mindset that marriage would lead to happiness, my parents had a very unhappy marriage and in all honesty it's only very recently that I've thought it could be a positive in someone's life. I'm hitting the age where divorces are starting to crop up around me, and it's blatantly obvious how difficult it is for marriage to remain a positive. Seriously, spend a few weeks browsing the marriage tag here!

From the way you tossed that out, like you expected we would all nod along and agree with it (SNORT), and your job prospects (that you don't seem all that fired up about), it seems that you were raised in a very "traditional" household. There's a thing about "tradition"... it's not for the benefit of women. You need to get out of your bubble and experience some different lifestyles and points of view. Don't stay in your area, you can move back, but get out now before this bizarre idea of what being a woman means solidifies and you actually do turn into your sister. Not necessarily unmarried, but unhappy.
posted by Dynex at 8:40 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay, so I guess where the "single and 30" idea came from is that I hear a lot of people feeling sorry for my sister. And I'm only 21. My stepsisters are always saying "geez I wonder when she's going to settle down" and my dad tells me to not end up like my sister. I mean I don't think it's horrible because she actually happy, and I really look up to her, she's a very cool person and is happy and has a lot of things going for her, she just says that there's not as many guys to date at her age anymore, and since I want a family someday i don't want to hve to settle. And I guess on my facebook I keep seeing all these people my age who are having babies, but it's probably not as many as I think. And my younger stepsister has a baby, and my other stepsister was pregnant (miscarriage...). So I guess my frame of reference is a bit skewed.

Also, the reason I wanted to do all those jobs was because, well for dietetics my best friend was doing it and I was really interested in nutrition, then nursing because I thought it'd be easy to get a job, and then teaching because I thought it was meaningful and that I'd like it. I just don't know what I'm really interested in career wise, it's not that I want to do something traditional and feminine. My dad doesn't even think I should go to college because he sees about how people are struggling to pay back student loans and in his day you didn't need to go to college to make it well. He's a carpenter so he never went to college. I feel like I don't have any real support from him. My sister says I've always wanted to be a teacher and that I should go for it. And m family is not traditional, I currently live with my dad and his girlfriend who moved in when I was four, she didn't believe in marriage because she thought you could love someone and not need a certificate, so yeah not necessarily traditional.

I do want to move out but if I go to university and have to work a lot to pay bills I don't know that I could do it. I was accepted into a local state university and I want to go there because it is very affordable and my credits will mostly all transfer, unlike a private school. It's a 30 min commute. I don't really have any close friends at the moment to move in with. I live in the US, Saint louis missouri, and there are a tn of colleges around me. I think it would be cool to go away to college but I don't think id want to live in a dorm because is be a bit older than everyone. I also don't want to waste money on college if I'm not going to get a job after I be able to pay loans.

I realize I need perspective and that's why I asked this question. I'm young and a lt in my life has changed with being newly single, and like every other 21 year old I'm just now realizing that there's no roadmap for my life anymore, I get to take it in whichever direction I want, it's both exciting and scary and I am just trying to stay afloat
posted by anon1129 at 9:17 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Many people abovethread already said most of the things I would say (especially about the "single and 30" comment, from this single 36-year old woman), so I'll skip them, but I want to re-emphasize the remarks about how life is an experiment and can be a constant surprise. All through my teenage years I believed I would go to grad school. All through my teens and twenties (including in grad school) I believed I would enter academia. Here I am, some years out of grad school, not in academia, not doing anything related to my dissertation topic either, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it.

Quite independently of my relationship status I might add, because very recently my 12-year-old relationship ended. The struggle is amazingly painful right now. It's also quite independent from my professional life and the satisfaction I can derive from it, and somewhat independent from my extra-curricular life and the satisfaction I can derive from that [1].

What got me out of academia and into fields of professional activity I never would have guessed for myself was having gained the ability to be flexible in college and the willingness to accept opportunity when it came my way, without clinging to what I had prescribed for myself. I am not the only person in my immediate professional circle in that exact same situation, either. The world has changed; the exact thing you train for may be less important than the training itself now.

Another thing that might help you is realizing that at that point in your life, it's quite normal for you to feel future anxiety because so many of your boundary conditions are not set, if you'll allow a bit of engineering-speak. And one you thought was set changed quite recently. So you look at the future and it seems formless, shapeless, and you don't have any answers. It's important to realize that you're getting that "answer unknown" stress reaction because it's actually the questions that are unknown yet. (And at different stages of your life, many different questions are going to remain unknown.) They will make themselves known. Just let them, and let yourself answer them as they come.

[1] Admittedly, that was because I saw the writing on the wall and took steps to arrange matters that way a bit before the relationship ended. But it can be done, later as well as sooner.
posted by seyirci at 9:25 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

"My stepsisters are always saying "geez I wonder when she's going to settle down" and my dad tells me to not end up like my sister."

Don't live at home while going to school. Seriously, DON'T. You're living with people who can't understand or believe someone can have real happiness outside of a small set of archaic rules, and it's clear you're slipping into agreeing with them. You say your sister is happy, but you believe becoming her would be awful because...?

You're not too old to live in the dorms, a lot of 3rd and 4th year students stayed in them at my university so there were plenty of 20 to 23 year olds. I would have too if it hadn't been so overcrowded that I didn't get a spot. I am so SO glad I spent my first year in it, something that became obvious was that people who didn't live in the dorms never really made friends at school. You sit in a classroom with a bunch of strangers, then you go home. It's harder to meet people. Live in the dorms!!

Also, if you truly want to get married and raise a family (are you clear that's your goal, and not just your dad and stepsisters talking?), the majority of people meet their mates at school. You want to find a husband? Live in the dorms!

(Also, everyone I know who had babies before 22? Divorced single parents in their 30s. Seriously, don't be looking at your facebook feed for inspiration.)
posted by Dynex at 9:41 AM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

You need some better, non-family-member role models.

You need to get with the kind of people who think having a baby at 30 is kind of on the younger side, and having a baby at 22 is crazy pants. (MeFi is a good place to start).

Amen to what @Dynex said: LIVE IN THE DORMS! There are ways to live there for free - I was a Resident Advisor and got free room and board. My future employers loved that.

You have the rest of your 20s to live in a crappy apartment.
posted by hush at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having babies at 22 is basically the same as a teen pregnancy. It severely limits your ability to fast track your educational goals and delays the start of your career, sometimes permanently. Women who have babies at 22 have (lot of the time) settled. Of course there are exceptions to this, but in today's America, if you want to "have it all" (education, a career, and family) having a kid at 22 is a pretty safe bet against a stable journey to where you want to go. Because they have similar interests, women who have babies will hang together and seem to relate more over kid things. Get used to this now, because it will seem almost like they are in on some kind of secret joy that you are not in on, but you need to have faith that you will be eventually, just a few years later, once you've built up other joys (single living, college, etc) which will seem foreign to them.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:08 PM on May 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

You're not a baby, you're an adult. This trend of babying people until they're 26 is bogus.

Adults do the following things:
They provide for themselves
They sacrifice now to get what they want later
They balance conflicting choices.

So, one thing you want is to get married by 30. Contrary to the above people, I don't think there's anything wrong with keeping this as a goal -- but don't tie your happiness to it, just give yourself the best chance of achieving it, and don't do it to the exclusion of growing as a person.

So try out lots of different activities and put yourself in a position to meet lots of different people, and be smart about it. Try new activities, and try more with >50% men attending. If a female-dominated activity looks fun, still do it, but strive for balance. Don't commit to a relationship for a while; make male friends and you can learn about the qualities you like and don't like in men, so when you find someone right for you, you won't just feel it, you'll be able to objectively explain why :).

Also, I thought I'd never live in the city, but here I am. Still hate some of it, but I have the opportunity to make friends who actually share my unique interests -- if only 1/20,000 share your unique interests, you aren't going to find anyone in a town of 20k. And you will make unique interests.
posted by flimflam at 1:07 PM on May 23, 2014

I don't really have any close friends at the moment to move in with. I don't think id want to live in a dorm because is be a bit older than everyone.

Two small things: many, many people who move away to university do not know people they will be living with; and there will be other 21 year olds in the dorms. Besides, who cares if you're a little bit older? Everyone will want to be your friend because you're over 21. Seriously.

I think moving out will do wonders to broaden your perspective.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:11 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want something, it should be about you, not about fear of being judged by family members or anyone else. Because ultimately, you - not your family members, not anyone else - have to live your life and live with the consequences of what you decide to do for yourself.

Women who are more experienced than you have been told, "Your dream is out of reach, because you spent too much time as a stay at home mommy." Sometimes the person who says that to you is hiring manager for a job you want or college programs you want to be involved in. This can affect men too sometimes, for instance the man I know who was asked why he wanted to go back to professional school at age 37. This attitude is why a lot of women wait to get married and have children, so that they are far enough along in their careers, that they won't pay a high price when they do marry, or have kids. Unlike men, women's capability in our society is still tied way too closely to things like being married and having children, because of backward policies for family leaves and child care. It may be that you'll get a sense of our society's ambivalence the first time that somebody illegally asks you during a job interview if you are married or whether you plan on having children.

Deciding to marry and have babies very early is also a socioeconomic and cultural difference. At the community college level, you may meet a lot of people who had children not at 22 but maybe even some who had babies at 16. You will meet a much smaller percentage at the state university, even fewer at highly regarded schools. An early mentor of mine had a baby when she was a teenager, but her family members decided to help her raise that child while she went away to a more selective college many states away. She was a very motivated, special woman, and although I know many women who returned to school after having babies super young, none of them have achieved the impact she has. it doesn't sound like your family would be supportive of you doing something as unusual as what she did...they have an issue with your sister not being married at 30.

Ultimately what you decide is about you, so why rush into any major decisions right now that you can't easily walk away from? I agree with the others that you can have some fabulous opportunities if you transfer into the State University and you look at living in the dorm. Please don't let unfounded worry about being the oldest person there keep you from having some great experiences.

I took off two years before I went into undergraduate study so I am one to two years older than many of my friends from college. It really doesn't matter very much. Higher education defines a nontraditional student as one getting a bachelors after 25, and there are far more of them, for instance veterans, than ten or twenty years ago.
posted by mitschlag at 5:49 PM on May 23, 2014

"I just don't feel like I'm together enough and don't really want to date for at least a year, but I don't want to end up single and 30 (happened to my sister)."

Oh no! That must have ruined her bride price!

I say this from a place of love: I was a lot like you at 21. Community college, kinda a dead-end job, single (though I was both a dude and more the FOREVER ALONE type).

Now I'm 34, engaged, with a pretty good job doing something that I really like. In that time, I went to school, was a music journalist for a while, worked a bunch of terrible jobs, moved across the country, started dating my girlfriend (in fact, started dating her right about age 22)…

The biggest thing that I'd want to tell you or my younger self: This is totally normal. It's OK. It's OK to not know what you want to do at 21, even though a lot of other people do have it figured out. You can be just as smart or just as much of a worthwhile person without sweating what other people are up to, without comparing your failures to what you see as their successes.

The other thing that I remember from being 21? Drinking and weed is pretty lazy, though there's nothing wrong with it. But I will say that I got a lot out of doing a lot of acid and enjoying that. MDMA too, but that had a quicker tolerance and it was never as good as the first time. But hallucinogens are both mind-expanding and therapeutic, as well as being a hell of a lot of fun.

So, uh, don't worry so much, pick something that you enjoy to do and try to get good at it, and have some adventures. This is prime identity-forming time, so both try things then be honest with yourself afterwards. And know that when people talk about "You've got a lot of growing up to do," that growing up can take the form of adventures and deciding what YOU like and don't.
posted by klangklangston at 8:38 PM on May 23, 2014

It doesn't really sound as if you have a lot of role models and people in your life who do not fall into/favour/promote fairly traditional paths both in terms of career options or female life paths. And from your follow up I get the impression that the main reason why you're focusing on these options is because you've not got many people giving you different ideas to model...

So do move out to go to college. Move in with people you don't know/move into dorms and go out of your way to meet a range of people with different ideas and a range of backgrounds and see what else is out there. That doesn't mean that you can't become a dietician who settles and starts a family but it means you're doing that having met a bunch of young women who want to become doctors/accountants/engineers/architects and that it is now a conscious choice as opposed to what everybody does. On the other hand you may find other paths you want to pursue.

I'm not dissing your family or friends here or belittling these more traditional paths. And I get it - I am the first person in my family to pursue a professional career. When I did my undergraduate degree one of my roommates explained to me that her former school friends told her she was only going to get a degree because she couldn't get a husband (at the age of 21!). It's not easy being without a range of role models as a young adult.

When I was growing up my life plan was definitely being married with children in some kind of job that would allow me to have a family. Then my mother started to tell me about the virtues of civil service and getting a nice steady government job with a nice pension (I was about 9) and that sounded like the least thing I wanted to be doing. Then I started to work in a number of jobs after school and realised I learned very quickly and got bored very quickly and might struggle to find something to do that would keep me interested. But there's higher education to figure out these things so I went and did that. And then I realised that things I was interested in and very good at don't necessarily come with family friendly working hrs. And then I also spent time with a range of children and realised that I didn't really enjoy that all that much. Today I am 36, single, childless and happy with where I'm at. My father loves me and is proud of me but that is not to say that he would not have preferred to have me settled near him with a few grandchildren but that's for him to deal with not me.

These days I am unapologetic about doing what I want and happy to spend my spare time and money on myself. I am disappointed if I don't manage to travel to at least three different continents in any 12 month period, in addition to saving for my old age and making regular additional mortgage payments. If I won the lottery I'd quit my job and do nothing but travel while completing one online degree after another in subjects I find interesting.

So, things change and your 21 yr old self may be surprised by the roads you'll end up travelling….or not, as the case may be. But if you don't explore what roads there are you'll never know.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:09 PM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

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