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Following the Rules

Turning 21: A Retrospective

I was in the grocery store yesterday and I saw a bunch of alcohol on display. It won’t be long until I can just buy it off the rack and honestly that frightens me. That’s just one more thing to worry about. Until now I’ve been able to hold back my urge to binge drink by telling myself it was illegal and saving my drinking only for social occasions, but soon I won’t have that option.

Alex as a baby sized man.

A few of my friends, when I share this fear, tell me that the drive is only natural and that you “get over it” in time. It’s believable, that’s what happened with everything else I’ve been addicted to in the past. Getting away from games was easy once I realized how detached it was making me from the world, and removing myself from Reddit was just as simple as blocking the website.

You may have noticed that my posts stop from July until a few weeks ago. That’s because I fell out of the habit of writing and into the habit of lazily consuming information with no purpose. My ability to write deteriorated along with any vision or forward thought.

Now things are different and I can tie it closely to reading more and meeting more people. If I read this post in ten years, I hope I’ve kept up the habit of talking to and meeting anyone I find even a little interesting, and doing the same for books I might like. There’s a joy and an opportunity gained from meeting people and building relationships, and I hope my future self will still have that same conviction.

How I looked four months ago.

I wasn’t always able to speak my mind like this. I’d say the change happened in 2009, entering my first year of college away from home and being thrown into a completely new world. At first I retreated into the familiar task of video games. For hours I’d sit my room and play World of Warcraft while my three similarly aged but more talkative roommates would hang out on the couch. I’d watch them bring girls over, throw parties and hang out, but I never really felt like part of the group. Something changed when I drank though. When liquor touched my lips some urge to talk, joke and meet new people came out and I was a party animal. I could talk to girls without worrying, I could make friends, run the room and feel included for the first time in a long time. But, I knew it was only temporary and that drinking every night was not only stupid, but unsustainable. I was in my second year of college, and I still cared about my GPA, I had a reputation to keep up. And so, after a few months of streaking around the campus, getting my hair shaved into a mohawk and being so hungover a gender studies class was actually entertaining, I decided to take a break for a while. I quit drinking, I quit video games, and I decided to focus all my energy on developing my social skills.

It took a long time, a bunch of false starts and changing direction, but I feel like I’m a good person now. I can relate to most people, have very few moral undoings and am happy most of the time. It’s important to keep in mind though that at this point I still have two more months of college. I’ve only worked one real job so far, and that was only for a month. It was at a sandwich shop; I treated it like summer camp.

Hanging out with a monkey sophomore year of college.

Whether or not work will destroy my drive and ambition, or whether my life will excel once I get that magical slip of paper is up to the fates. Well, I guess really it’s up to me, but the fates thing sounded more mystical.

Turning 21 I feel like I’ve matured a lot from when I was younger, gained a lot more control over my emotions and actions, and generally have gotten a lot more comfortable being who I am, but there’s so much more room to grow, so many more things to learn, so many more people to help, a family to raise (at some point), and some money to make. I hope that if my future self reads this post he’s better off, but if he’s worse off I want this to serve as a wake up call: Alex, you were happy once, you were well rounded and you had a future. Don’t let circumstance run your life. Get out there and meet people like you used to. You make your own future, not bad habits and certainly not circumstance. Plan your own parties, get your own jobs and help others in the process.

What I looked like in high school.

That’s how I feel turning 21, I know life still has a lot of stuff to throw this way, but thinking back in time, everything that’s happened in the past has helped me grow into the person I am now. All the time’s I’ve embarrassed myself, all the money I’ve wasted and even the people I’ve pissed off have all been building up to this. My life, almost one quarter over and this is who I am.

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