On Being a Twentysomething

by Danny Zawacki

Ooh boy. This is one of those posts I knew I’d get to at some point but never really imagined it being here. The weird thing is that I knew exactly when it should be written. Today. I needed it out today because as of today, I am no longer in my twenties.

In years past, I’ve tried to sum up only the previous year and what it meant to me. But this occasion is so momentous and it’s more than a year. It’s a decade. It’s a third of my life. It’s finding myself, losing people, and wandering. Not everything that happened was good, and not everything that happened was terrible. In the end, I made it through and I’ve learned what I need to know to keep me going into the next ten years.

Ten years ago I was twenty, my god, I was living only three blocks from where I work now.

I was on my own. In most ways. My parents occasionally bought me groceries and supported me in the ways most parents would but they didn’t pay my rent or my tuition. I was a junior at UW-Madison. The first half of the year I lived in a dorm on campus and the second half Joe was my roommate in the third-floor apartment in a rickety old building that had almost as much charm as it had layers of white paint. Back then, I worked for the newspaper back then but on the verge of breaking out to keep my sanity and school work in order. It was around this time I switched majors. Yeah, it was the summer of my junior year when I switched from an aspiring Journalism major to an English major with an emphasis on creative writing because it was my second or third rejection from the school of journalism. When I was twenty, I had my first adulthood relationship. I wasn’t ready for it and it lasted only three or four months. I wasn’t ready for a lot of things at that time. I wasn’t ready to take another life under my care, but I did and I ended up with Marley. She’s been bumbling through life with me ever since.

Nine years ago I was 21 and Joe and I moved to the downstairs of that rickety old apartment to the first floor and we brought on a couple more roommates.

I learned I was not a good roommate. Nine years ago, I learned about drinking. The hype has since worn off. Back then, bikes and motorcycles became my hobbies. I did a full dive into them in the limited time I had with the limited money I had from working three different jobs. Working to pay for school became more important than working my way through school. If I could do school again, I’d want to focus on schoolwork more, and less on the money. I would have gotten so much more out of it.

Eight years ago I was 22 and things started changing in big scary ways.

I graduated in four years. Graduating means one day you have everything figured out and the next you have nothing. I knew what I wanted to do, join the Peace Corps, but back then the process was long and not as transparent so I didn’t know where I’d be going or when I’d leave if I even got to go at all. So I ended up doing the only thing I knew to do, I went about looking for a job. When you’re 22, finding a job that wants you full-time is a daunting task and way back then we didn’t have access to all the great tools there are now. I found a job. The company hired me as a PHP programmer (I later found out a boss at a different job started that company). The job paid $32,000 a year and had benefits. As far as I knew, it was the big leagues. I accepted just about right away. Three days later, I resigned. I received the news that I didn’t know if I’d ever receive. I was going to Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I didn’t know then but so much came with accepting the post. I was going to see the world and not get stuck in the small space I grew up in. I was going to meet people and have my mind changed and people were going to leave me as much as I was going to leave people. It was a decision that I don’t know where it came from and maybe never really thought about but it changed and shaped me for the rest of my life.

Seven years ago I was 23 and I was alone and angry.

I was in a foreign country and I lived alone. I didn’t know right away that I had some of the best friends in the world a short walk away. All I knew was that I was in a small, cold, dark place and I didn’t know what I had done to end up here. I missed home. I missed my friends. I missed peanut butter and steak and having things easy. I was a fraud, too. People looked to me for all of this knowledge I was certain I didn’t have. I gave them answers to things that I didn’t know. They went with it and it made me feel bad. Kids looked up to me, teachers relied on me. I wasn’t ready for this. Everywhere I went, I had to work. The letters weren’t familiar so the words took time to create in my head. The faces weren’t faces I knew. The places weren’t where I expected them. It was as if someone had gotten there before me and mixed everything up so it would be as hard as it could be.

Six years ago I was 24 and I was starting to figure my life out.

I would be a writer. I tried as hard as I could to practice my craft. I made the English language my life. I worked with the teachers at my school to write a grant to receive the money needed to buy new English teaching materials. The goal was that the students would be given an extra leg up and would go on to succeed in the international market. I spent the year traveling when I could. I went to Poland and Spain with friends. Kyiv with my parents. Lviv with my sister. And Chernobyl with the curiously brave. Back then, I had my future planned out. I was in the best state of mind. I had done great work and I’d soon be home to tackle the next challenges life would be able to throw at me.

Five years ago I was 25 and I had to readjust to reality.

It came as a slap in my face, on my birthday of all days. All of those plans I had made while I was 24, they all seemed to depend on the pieces lining up just right. I needed to get this one job which would lead to the next opportunity and so on and so forth. It didn’t work out. I took the first job that came my way because I needed something to do. I couldn’t believe how much money I’d make. It started at $32,000 a year and that was a lot considering I had made nothing for the past two years. I bought myself a car and I moved myself to an apartment. And the expenses added up. At the beginning of twenty-five, I met a cute girl at a wedding and I’ve chased her around ever since.

Four years ago I was 26 and I was lost.

I started the year with Ellie who had graduated and moved back in with her parents temporarily. The two of us decided to treat ourselves to a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was more than I possibly imagined it would be. But when I got back, I filed my taxes and found out that I owed $5,000 because my employer hadn’t been taking any out. That put me in a low. There were about six months where I spent nearly every minute of my idle time thinking about how I was going to come up with this cash. I really didn’t want to owe money to the government. I saved every bit I could, and it drove me insane. It never seemed like I could save enough. But fortunately, shortly before my deadline, I was able to write the checks that cleared my name. Then after that, I was lucky enough to find out that Marley needed some expensive dental operation that would set me back yet again. All said and done, I was left with an empty bank account and a lack of meaning in what I was doing. Ellie had moved to Madison and was an hour away. I felt stuck at a job for a company whose mission didn’t really line up with my own. It was a long process of finding jobs and applying for jobs and waiting to hear back from jobs before just giving up and moving on to the next one.

Three years ago I was 27 and I found my rock.

Her name is Ellie. She pulled me through more and more the longer we were together. She is strong when I’m not. She was the fuel that helped me find the job that brought us together in Madison. Somehow I landed a job working in a woman’s condo and I was writing? Whatever, it was enough to get me to town and I’d figure it out from there. So, after a brief stint of getting rear-ended by a drunk driver, I finally made it back to Madison and moved in with Ellie. Life changed a bit. The job was rocky and weird and uncertain. But it was also relaxing and I learned things and could dip my toes into different things as needed and try on new hats to learn new skills. It was a good breeding ground for what I would become.

Two years ago I was 28 and I was smitten.

So smitten that I bent the knee and proposed to Ellie. She happily said yes. Twenty-eight was a year of really thinking about the future and what it would mean with the same person by my side. I knew it would be worth it. It wasn’t easy preparing for a wedding. There is a lot to do and parts of it I was very helpful with (the mindless repetitive tasks) and the things that I was not helpful with because I couldn’t wrap my mind around what to do to plan a wedding. Or even a honeymoon for that matter. Sometimes there are too many choices and it is easier to just not make any decision at all. Overwhelmed and exhausted, Ellie and I married. She changed jobs and I was left not knowing where mine was going. I sat down one day and set a few reminders on my phone to reassess my career periodically.

One year ago I was 29 and the future was on the horizon.

I was freshly married and on the fast track to a promotion at work. I was feeling good about life. So the wife and I decided to buy a house, settle into a neighborhood, and start saving for our future. That in itself was an experience we weren’t ready for. It’s stressful to buy a house, partly because it’s so much money you’re spending and someone always wants you to spend more. But we did it. I have a garden and a woodshop and a kitchen I’m proud of. We’re slowly working to make the house more us. It’s coming together nicely. This past weekend, I hung a shelf. I also got tired of being led on at my old job. Everyone was waiting for something that never seemed to come. My boss promised raises and promotions on when the investments in the company came in. In my case, my boss told me I’d have it sooner and when that day came and went with no word of the changes being implemented, I consulted the reminders in my phone and decided it was time to reassess my career. Around that time, an opportunity came knocking and I decided to move on. It’s been a change, but ultimately I’m more relaxed and stress-free. Ellie and I now have insurance and money is being put away for the future and we both and life insurance policies taken out on each other through work. We also welcomed a third pet into our home, Stella, joining Marley and Tilly.

Today

Today I think about the past decade and how I’ve learned to adult. In that time, I’ve faced more challenges than I thought I would and somehow I’ve been able to deal with them. The scariest times are when I am able to handle adult situations without trying. So what’s in store for the next ten years of my life? I could speculate on what will pass, but really it’s only fun to live and see. I’ll make sure to keep you updated along the way.