Inciting Incident Blog #1 – The Cliquish Nature of Your 20s

      Welcome to the Inciting Incident blog, a sub-project of the Inciting Incident podcast. I’m Al Laiman, the creator and main host of the podcast, and I feel like there are topics about which I can write that aren’t necessarily good for entire episodes, but are good to discuss regardless of the medium. Maybe we’ll end up addressing them on shows based on the responses, but I think it’s worth starting it up and seeing where it goes, but for now, consider this a place for separate topics and possible follow-ups. I am at heart and in original passion a writer, so perhaps this will be a way to hear my words in a different medium. Here we go.

     Given the controversial nature of the podcast at times, it may seem odd that I’m kicking off the podcast with something that seems rather tame by comparison. If you looked at the title, what I’m looking at is a bit of a transitional state of life. I’ve addressed this a lot, including on my recent appearance on the Secular Stories podcast, but this is a bit more specific in my intentions, at least for this post.

     Full disclosure if you’re not aware, I’m 31, but I’m a non-traditional college student, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. I was last in high school in 2002, and thanks to the advent of social media, I’ve been able to keep up with friends that I had back then. Because of the unique and strange nature of my journey, it’s fair to say that I’ve had a different experience than a good majority of them. Based on posts I see a lot, I thought it was a possibly helpful idea to discuss the decade of your 20s, and what changes transpire throughout them, especially once you’ve reached the end of it.

     Keep in mind that any generalizations I may make always have exceptions, so please don’t rail me if this doesn’t apply to you specifically.

When we leave high school at ages 17-18, regardless of whether or not we go to college, the habits we’ve spent most of our lives being socialized with end up carrying through for a good ten years at least. When you’re in college as a traditional high school graduate, college can very much be an extension of high school, except you get to sleep over and drink beer, sometimes even legally! There’s always an urge to, if not conform, to at least find your place.

     Jobs are very much similar in that regard. Have you ever noticed that most restaurants, retail stores, and other entry-level jobs feel like high school a good bit of the time? Cliques emerge, the popular ones go out with each other afterward, and those who don’t make a concerted effort to assimilate are mocked and excluded. It’s not unusual.

     However, when you reach your late 20s, and I often see these posts from social media from people my age, there’s this epiphany you have where you realize: “I don’t have any idea who I am!” For many of us, it’s transcendental, because we’re raised in a society that teaches us that we’re already special, individually unique, and encouraged to be who we are. We’re also told that once we hit the age of 18, we’re considered an adult, and with that comes the pressures of acting like one. American youth become terrified when they go to college in their late teens, early 20s, or when they are working in their young 20s and they don’t already have it all figured out. That creates an incredible amount of stress that some of us can never escape.

     If there’s a flaw in our educational system, I think it’s that we’re expected to go immediately to college after high school and already have in mind what we want to do with our lives. But as someone who failed at that twice, and then went back to community college at the age of 25, I have a different perspective on that process. In the eight years between when I first tried college and the successful return, I gained experience in the workplace, learned what I absolutely hated, and what I didn’t want to happen to me for the rest of my life.

      On the other hand, many of the kids I spend time around are putting so much pressure on themselves to already know what it is before they’re 30, lest they be considered failures or underachievers. Because of this, we end up with jobs we don’t want, degrees in studies that we end up tiring of before we graduate, and a sense of a need to be at places in an emotional capacity hard to attain for many young people.

     Once you realize you have no idea who you are, it becomes time to rebuild yourself from the ground up. Of course you keep things that you like, and perhaps opinions you had grow, become rationalized, and better articulated, and others you drop like a bad habit. Your judgments of other people decrease, you become more sympathetic to others who are different from you. You’re not so inclined to draw the line in the sand or categorize everything in black-and-white terms.

     Over the course of those few years, some people leave your life while different ones become closer than ever before. But while your foundation is being rebuilt, it feels like everything is in flux, and that anxiety of being a failure increases. Sometimes we end up married because we think we have to, or having children before we’re ready, in addition to the stresses we’re already facing. The barometer of success feels comparative, both to others your age and to what the expectations are.

     One day, maybe you’re about 30, and you might be looking back at On This Day on Facebook or wondering why you no longer feel the desire to go out, even when you don’t want to. You joke about how you feel old, how you want different things, or how staying inside and reading a book feels more desirable than getting trashed or being at a club. And if you didn’t do any of those things in the first place, it just feels more acceptable to do so.

     What’s happening is that you’re losing the power of cliques. High school trends encompass so many of our actions well beyond your high school graduation, and that mentality drives us to do things we don’t want to do for people we don’t like. But once you start figuring out who you are, as opposed to the you that you want to present, things change drastically in a relatively short amount of time. You spent so much time crafting an image for yourself and a particular group of people with whom to associate. Comparatively, you feel old because it’s been such a short time that reading a book and cooking dinner makes the partying days feel like ages ago.

     When I went back to school, especially once I got into Penn two years later, I saw many of my old behaviors manifested in my younger classmates. Motivations made sense, I could see them playing out to the T of thoughts I had when I was young. But at the same time, I was way more focused on schoolwork, studying, and making good grades than I was when I was younger. Prioritizing, working while being a student, having that life experience to keep me motivated, no longer wanting to return to live paycheck-to-paycheck drove me that much harder to succeed.

     Those experiences define you, not because of who you were, but who you became. You can’t recreate an experience you’ve never had, and it’s much harder to fight to prevent something that you’ve never had to deal with. If you’ve never had to work through college or on minimum wage, you cannot possibly empathize with that situation. If you’ve never had to take care of your own kids while thinking you’re still one yourself, it’s impossible to realize what it’s like.

     But at one point, when you no longer care about what others think, when you aren’t driven to wear certain things or go places because others think you should, that’s when you’ve become an adult. When you see yourself as who you are rather than who you want to be or how you want to be seen, your perspective shifts so dramatically that it causes a crisis in your own mind. I must be getting old, I’m not cool anymore, I should feel bad about what I like now… Nonsense.

     You are who you became as a product of having to deal with things on your own. When you have to work until midnight for tips, you stop caring about what kind of clothes you wear on your day off. When there’s no break between classes and work, what your fellow classmates think of your phone case is irrelevant. When you’ve got your own kids in school, dealing with what other children think you should be becomes completely disassociated with your philosophy.

     That’s growing up. That’s becoming a person. Never be ashamed of it. Do what you like, learn new things, explore new places, and read new books; not because you think you should, but because they contribute to the overall personhood you’ve made through your own hard work and not the pressures and stresses of how much other people in large groups can really suck a majority of the time.

     When people say “You do you,” that is what they mean. You won’t realize it until you get there, but it’s always worth the ride.

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3 thoughts on “Inciting Incident Blog #1 – The Cliquish Nature of Your 20s

  1. Although you claim exceptions, you blanket Trump supporters as anti gay, anti lgbt. I have read all of your posts, Marissa, and have followed you from the beginning at lop.

    In the last year, I heard Trump clamor for LGBT rights at a Republican convention. He even commented something along the lines of “you know, it’s nice to be able to say that in a place like this.”

    Your college professors have mind washed you to be offended at the “manly memes.” You’re obviously offended, as an entire paragraph or two is devoted to it. Social media is entertainment. I own several firearms and have never grown a beard before. I can change a tire because my mother taught me how to do it when I was 16. It is meant to be fun. Do the chuck Norris memes offend you too?

    The protests are dumb. Those protesters raise awareness of nothing, other than ensure I will never vote for anyone they support. BLM loved some hillary.. but why? Is she going to go easy on criminals? Their awareness was a message to the majority that there are suddenly sides. Who knows, Hillary may have benefitted my family in so many ways. I didn’t care because f hate groups. Plain and simple, coming from a middle class, straight white 30 something dude in texas.

    I love your work and will continue to support you in any way I am able to.

    You know, I worked fast food for 4 years of my life. I’m a nobody that learned how to work. I paid cash for my education at a community college with only the funds generated by my sonic pay check.

    Let me tell you about sonic. Keep in mind, I’m going to take you back to 1998, when minimum wage was 5.15/hr. My mom taught me how to work. Never complain. I was lucky to even have a job. I have lived by that my entirentire career. Shut up and work. After 2 years as a fucking guy car hop, I was switched to cook/fountain. I worked as much as I could. I helped others and cared about making my boss rich. I wanted an atta boy everyday. I was promoted to manager after 2.5 years of working at a sonic. I continued to get raises, and was at $11.25/hr, plus $500 monthly bonus by the end of my sonic career in 2002. Flipping fucking hamburgers and counting boxes of fries in a walk in freezer at 8 am. My mom was a manager at a museum gift shop at the time, starting off as a clerk. Fuck the idea that ceo’s owe you shit. They dont. They earned it. You are a product of entitled. Earn your keep and stop with the world vs me.

    Those entitled dbags that are handed everything.. expecting success. Yeah, let’s see how well they do, because they may not know what work means. You have seen your peers succeed and fail since high school, as have I.

    I have learned about so much from your writing. That’s your gift. You do so much better at that then in a brick and mortars resale shop. Based on your views, and for $7ish an hour plus commission, literally go do anything else and save your sanity.

    I haven’t written this much to bash you. I care about you and your family. I care about the quality content on lop and other avenues. I care about your success and living up to your potential. I don’t judge you or any other gay people based on if you want to stick “it” in a dudes ass. Who fucking cares what people do in The privacy of their own homes with consenting adults. No one is attacking you. I would say you need professional counseling, but you would spin that in some way that would assume I wanted to cure your gay. I think you need help and a huge dose of prospective. The country is actually quite tolerant, however, if you want to find someone that hates gays, blacks, Jews, straight white men, white people, mexicans… you will always be able to find said groups. Fuck hate groups and fuck lazy workers.

    Like

    1. “Although you claim exceptions, you blanket Trump supporters as anti gay, anti lgbt. I have read all of your posts, Marissa, and have followed you from the beginning at lop.”

      I do claim exceptions, because I make it very clear that the people I’m talking about fit these categories. And when they vote for a guy who is, regardless of whether they are or not, they signify that they don’t have a problem with him, despite it. For people like us, it doesn’t matter too much because it’s the same result. It’s the same as when I talk about wrestling fans, Penn students, and religious pastors; if you don’t fit that category, you should already know that I’m not talking about you. The same way that people have that instinct to respond with “Not All…” That’s not the point. Listen to what we have to say before you get defensive of yourself.

      “In the last year, I heard Trump clamor for LGBT rights at a Republican convention. He even commented something along the lines of “you know, it’s nice to be able to say that in a place like this.”

      And then outside of immigrants and Muslims, he came after us anyway.

      “Your college professors have mind washed you to be offended at the “manly memes.” You’re obviously offended, as an entire paragraph or two is devoted to it. Social media is entertainment. I own several firearms and have never grown a beard before. I can change a tire because my mother taught me how to do it when I was 16. It is meant to be fun. Do the chuck Norris memes offend you too?”

      First of all, no. Implying that I am mindwashed diminishes my own opinions as if I’m not intelligent enough to find them myself. Most of my college classes have nothing to do with this. These are my opinions, and while some professors have pointed me in certain directions, I am more than happy to disagree with them at times. Do not patronize me.

      Maybe it is meant to be fun. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. But it perpetuates stupid myths and stereotypes that don’t do anything but reinforce outdated and sexist mindsets, and I will call them out when I find them stupid. Offended is the wrong word. Just because I’m criticizing something doesn’t mean I’m offended any more than it means I blanket statement people. Neither do Chuck Norris memes offend me, mostly because they’re so outlandish that they have no relationship with reality. The former are much more connected to societal perception, and that’s the difference.

      “The protests are dumb. Those protesters raise awareness of nothing, other than ensure I will never vote for anyone they support. BLM loved some hillary.. but why? Is she going to go easy on criminals? Their awareness was a message to the majority that there are suddenly sides. Who knows, Hillary may have benefitted my family in so many ways. I didn’t care because f hate groups. Plain and simple, coming from a middle class, straight white 30 something dude in texas.”

      Maybe they don’t raise awareness for YOU, but they do gain visibility for groups that may not be represented as well as straight white guys realize. I can’t tell you how often people come to me and said that I’m the first transperson they’ve met, and having it put in a human context helped them immensely. BLM is not a hate group, nor was the women’s march. People wanting to make their voices heard does not equate to hate.

      “Fuck the idea that ceo’s owe you shit. They dont. They earned it. You are a product of entitled. Earn your keep and stop with the world vs me.”

      I never said that. And I am not entitled, fuck that bullshit. I worked my ass off to get where I am; from passing no years of high school and being homeless to being about to graduate from the Ivy League. To say that I’m entitled or that I didn’t earn anything is beyond insulting. THAT offends me, because it diminishes 13 years of hard work and effort. Do not ever claim that I didn’t earn it. I earn my fucking keep by commuting to that school 100 miles each way a day while working while being a parent while supporting a family and while putting out my own work to further my career. It’s not us vs. them, it’s this is how I see the world, can’t you see that? You’re turning what I say into very simplistic assumptions, and I have a problem with that.

      ” have learned about so much from your writing. That’s your gift. You do so much better at that then in a brick and mortars resale shop. Based on your views, and for $7ish an hour plus commission, literally go do anything else and save your sanity.”

      Truth. That’s exactly what I’m doing too.

      “I don’t judge you or any other gay people based on if you want to stick “it” in a dudes ass. Who fucking cares what people do in The privacy of their own homes with consenting adults. No one is attacking you. I would say you need professional counseling, but you would spin that in some way that would assume I wanted to cure your gay. I think you need help and a huge dose of prospective.”

      I’m not gay. This is the part that pissed me off the most. I’m not a gay person, I’m a transgender person. My gender has nothing to do with my sexuality, and reducing it to what I might or might not do with a guy is ridiculous. And nobody is attacking me? I get attacked almost every single day. You do not know what it’s like and don’t pretend you do. But you say you wrote this to support me, but it doesn’t seem like you get who I am at all, even if you do enjoy my writing. I’m not entitled.

      As for professional counseling, I’m under the care of three different Ivy League psychiatrists, a gender therapist, a psychologist, and an LGBT counselor. There’s no need to spin anything, because that’s what I had to do JUST to get on hormones in the first place. But saying that I do need counseling comes across as subtext that I need help for how I think and feel, and that too is insulting.

      I don’t have to look for people who hate us. I see it every single day. But if you’ve listened to supposedly everything I’ve said and done, you’d also know that I have said despite certain things being perpetuated, in just three years the world has progressed so much since the first time I came out. I have said that repeatedly, loudly, and appreciated it every single time someone has said or done something nice for me. But I don’t have to look for people who are looking to attack me; trust me, they’re there. But they’re not the majority.

      I hope you see the difference. None of this has been attacking you either, so please notice that difference. I’m pointing out why some of the things you’ve said are offensive, even if they have the best intentions. I appreciate you following my work, and if you like my writing that much, I’m indebted to you… But not to the point of sacrificing who I am, how I see the world, and being miscategorized for the sake of simplicity. Do not ever assume things about me, simplify what I say, assume what I would say, or talk down to me, because I will call you, memers, commenters, or anyone else who does it, knowingly or unintentionally, all of them… I will call it out when I see it with no shame.

      Like

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