“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
For the longest time, I thought I couldn’t quit law because I’d be the 26-year-old fighting against younger, meaner, leaner, hungrier 22-year-olds. Then I feared I couldn’t hack it as the 28-year-old trying to restart my life. At 30, I began to doubt if I would ever leave, having already invested too much time, money, and energy into building my career and life to fit what everyone wanted for me. And then, at 31 and a half years old, I reached the limit of what I could tolerate of my old corporate life, and I quit. It seemed to happen overnight, but it had been a long time coming. I did it for me – I deserve to work in a place where people celebrate me and my unique qualities, not just tolerate me. I wanted to feel like my full self all the time, instead of just after work. I couldn’t keep living two fully separate lives (work Tiff and outside Tiff), pretending like the pain of one didn’t seep into the other. And I needed to stop having to play so hard to forget how much work had taken from me. I wanted to stop feeling like I had to come in and chip a little bit off my soul everyday to be able to make it through to sundown.
So now, I find myself here in the Amazon, in the midst of a year off, 32-years-old and the oldest person at this research camp by at least 6 years. The oldest coordinator here is 26; my fellow herpetofauna intern turns 21 in a month. I struggle to cross fallen trees while they seem to leap over them with ease. Sometimes, I’ll have to nap to recover from our 10-15 mile daily hikes. I definitely am not last man standing when we have our “wild jungle parties.” And I’m always the first one with random back or hip pains. I’m exactly where I feared I would be for the last 5 years, but now that I’m here confronted with my worst fears, it’s nothing like what I thought it would be. I feel at peace, and happy, and self-assured — MUCH more so than I have ever felt in the past 5 years working in corporate law. I feel like myself again; daily, I regain parts of me that I worried might have been lost forever. And I realize I shouldn’t have worried so much. Starting over will always be tough, but far worse is continuing to live a life you hate. And the self is resilient, if you just give it the chance to try and rise again.
Funnily enough, here in the jungle, one thing I never anticipated has happened: everyone thinks of me and Vinh as the “super wise” old people. I keep insisting we’re just old and have made enough mistakes to know some things. But still, I see differences. We take less shit, give very few fucks, do what we want, and speak our minds. And as I watch my colleagues, all in various different stages of their 20s, I realize that for the first time in my life, I am thankful to be in my 30s. It’s sure as heck fun being in your 20s, but it’s also tiring, confusing, scary, and uncertain — all of the time. Sometime after my 30th birthday, I became too tired to care as much about most of the stuff that bothered 20s me. It’s a natural progression: instead of worrying about what others think, or being good enough, or what you’re always missing out on, mortgages, marriages, babies and other “adult” issues take over. And in the process of getting older, I forgot a little about how difficult a time my 20s actually was.
Here in the jungle, I’ve had a rare opportunity to be surrounded by so many similar, self-selecting individuals at various ages; it’s been like meeting younger versions of myself. Most importantly, interacting with and advising all these old versions of myself helps me appreciate how much I have indeed learned. I can recognize past mistakes I’ve made and can leverage that knowledge to advise my friends. I can tell them that I do know how some things will most likely turn out, because I’ve seen them and lived them already. It’s weird having so many more life experiences than my peers, but it’s also surprisingly reassuring. Much less phases me. I know myself, my limits, and my goals, and can align all three to push myself further. So, while it is hard being the old dog amongst new puppies, it sure is nice having a few tried-and-true tricks up my sleeve. The future is looking a lot less scary knowing that I can fully trust in myself. And for that, I am thankful.
*Written at Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC) in the Madre de Dios Region of the Peruvian Amazon, in June 2016