I recently became a quarter-centurion, and my feelings about that fact are a little conflicted. I’m one of the youngest teachers at my school, as well as among both my Japanese and foreign social circles. I can’t exactly go around lamenting to any of them that I’m beginning to feel the weight of my years! 25 is still young, I know. But it’s not quite as young as I once was.
When I was 20, I felt young. I was in my second year of college and the world was my oyster. My only real concerns were soaking up as much knowledge as I could during those 4 years of higher education and trying to not eat too much cake while coping with the stress of that academic pressure.
5 years, graduation, a year working part-time jobs to scrape by, and a move across the planet have changed my perception of my age. The years used to seem long and slow. I remember my parents telling me that time passes more quickly the older you get, and I also remember thinking “Pffft! Yeah, right. How long until I can get my driver’s license again?” Now I find myself entering a stage where time slips through my fingers like fine grains of sand. I blink and a year’s gone by. Not to diminish anything that’s happened within that year, because the funny catch is that I can still remember everything, good and bad, and feel the effects of each experience just as clearly as before. But the once mysterious and elusive *future* isn’t so far off any longer. Instead it’s right around the corner.
I find this particularly unsettling because of my current situation – working a job designed to be temporary, a stepping stone into a career, and living in a country that can make it quite hard for a foreign person to settle in with any sort of permanence beyond a few years. To stay in Japan long-term would mean a lot of life changes and sacrifices. For starters, I would have to invest more time, energy, and potentially more money into studying the language. While I can live my life here efficiently and (most of the time) happily, I currently don’t possess the communicative ability to sustain the rest of my life here.
I know I can’t be in this position (assistant language teacher) for my whole life, or even much longer than a few more years. I am chomping at the bit to have more to do, more challenges, more responsibilities, more autonomy. Regardless of whether I stay or go, or which direction I choose to take my career, I need further education and training. My route into the field of teaching has been an unconventional one, thus I have some catching up to do if I want to climb the ladder. To stay in Japan would mean obtaining that education in Japanese. Right now that would be impossible, as I am not even fully literate (damn kanji…).
While career is definitely my current driving force, the future of my personal life is also important. I miss my family in the States, and I don’t want to be so far from them forever. One day I’d like to have a family of my own, and recently the pressures to get moving on that endeavor (both internal and external) have started to pick up. Single and working hard with no “settling down” in sight is fine at 25. But will I still be fine with it at 30? Maybe. But after years of not putting any weight behind that aspect of my life, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I should at least put in a little effort. That train of thought inevitably brings me crashing right back into the fact that, oh yeah, I’m in Japan. Most people in my dating pool are also busy working, and not English speakers. And it doesn’t help much that all I want to do when I’m not at school is vegetate on my couch with Netflix, coffee, and chocolate. I need to work on getting my ass back to the gym on a regular basis before I can dedicate any energy to a romantic life (I find the process of modern dating cringe-worthy).
Returning to the States introduces a whole other blend of challenges; finding a new job, readjusting to American school and work culture, getting a Master’s degree, dealing with missing Japan and the life and relationships I’ve built here. These all may be inevitable, but no less daunting to consider. I worked long and hard to get to Japan, and the thought of moving on and letting it go is not something I’m ready to tackle quite yet.
All this going on about getting older, and at the end of the day I still feel very young. Sure, I pay off my bills and student loans every month, I can cook myself dinner, navigate foreign lands with confidence, wrangle classrooms of rowdy adolescents…and still there is some part of me that feels very much like a kid myself. The inner child is still going strong despite all the pressures of adulthood. For every dollar adult-me tucks away in my student loan and dental care funds, child-me squirrels away something for that new camera or that dream vacation to New Zealand. For every hour I lay awake at night worrying about the future, there is an hours’ worth of silly conversations with my students or crazy karaoke with coworkers and friends.
Amid all the confusion, doubt, and insecurity, I enter into my 25th year of life with hope and positivity. If there is one thing I have learned in the last quarter-century, it’s that even the best of plans can be dashed to bits in an instant – but going forth with a level head and a strong heart, things generally tend to turn out alright. Young though I may be, I’ve weathered some storms in my time. And dark as the sky may seem, most clouds are pretty good about having silver linings.
Here’s to my silver birthday! 25 years and counting. 😉