STORY: Rheya Tanner
From the outside, I’m the poster child of young adulthood. People say I’m bright and full of potential. I’m a Dean’s List student, a loyal employee, and I wear a million other hats in between. I gather commitments and opportunities like squirrels gather nuts. I do everything a young person ought to do to secure a productive, successful future.
And at night, I cry myself to sleep, wondering why it still isn’t good enough.
Until recently, I’d be the last person to admit I work too hard. Ninety percent of the time, I shoulder my workload with a smile. But thanks to the heart palpitations, the panic attacks, the hair-trigger temper that are becoming alarmingly common, it’s time to face it: I’m stressed out.
Why wouldn’t I be? I juggle part-time work and full-time college with barely a moment to catch my breath. My house is becoming foreign, and my dogs are now closer to my mother than to me. When I am home, I deal with errands I forgot to run, places I don’t want to go, and homework I’m too tired to do (so I don’t, which makes me fall behind, which makes me even more stressed).
I accept—like I have a choice—that a lot of this is my fault. I suck at moderation, I don’t know how to say no, and of course, I like much of my daily busyness. Certainly, I take on part of my workload because I want to. But I take on the rest because I have to, and I blame society for that.
It wasn’t long ago that I was a high schooler (of the Tavares Bulldog variety). Back in those days, it was easy to measure up: keep a good GPA, march with the band, don’t break the local playground equipment (I wish I was kidding), and everything will be peachy-keen.
Fast-forward to age 20. The game has changed. Good grades and extracurricular activities are only part of my duties. Now I have taxes to pay, deadlines to meet, and scholarships to maintain. Now I have to commute an hour and a half to get to school when I used to only drive an hour because rush-hour traffic is ridiculous, and because some inconsiderate jerk on State Road 46 has decided that 55 is just too fast.
It all happened at once, and I didn’t get time to adjust. In less than two years, it became acceptable—no, expected—that I run myself freaking ragged.
And that’s not fair. I should be allowed to relax now more than ever. Hell, I should probably still be taking mandatory naps.
In fact, the more I call myself a young adult, the more I realize the term is a misnomer. A “young adult,” though early in its life cycle, is a fully developed and beautifully blooming member of the world.
That’s not even close to what I am. I’m not an adult. I’m just some stupid kid masquerading as an adult, pretending that life hadn’t just ripped the diaper off my ass and shoved me into the working world. I’m sensitive and afraid, and I only pretend I know what I’m doing because society wants kids like me to have their entire lives planned out by 23.
I wish I had an answer to stop all the tears, but I’m afraid I don’t at the moment. All I know is that “adulthood” feels a lot more like “figure-it-out-hood.” I’ve always got something to learn, and I’m always in the process of learning it.
Because of this stress, I’m learning—slowly—that well-being trumps success. What does it amount to, to be “full of potential,” if I crumble behind closed doors? Who cares if my name is on the Dean’s List when my stress makes me a bad person along the way? I’m still figuring out my next steps, but I think they will involve making time for my hobbies, nurturing my self-esteem, and learning how to say no.
The key will be learning how to work hard without working myself to death. A successful person may know how to balance, but a happy person knows their limits. And I think that’s what will make all the difference.