“How to Life: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Like, Do Stuff”

On numerous occasions I have lamented to my mother that I wish life–or at least adulthood–came with an instruction manual. Some sort of comprehensive guide that gave both practical advice–such as how to file your taxes and get your cat to stop clawing the couch–and answers to bigger, more ethereal questions–such as “What do I want to be when I grow up?’, “Should I sell all my possessions and move to a cabin alone?”, and “How do I eat raw cookie dough and watch Netflix all weekend without becoming fused to my couch?”

i have no idea

My mom always laughs in that knowing, mom-laugh way (undoubtedly one of the most appealing things about being a mom, I assume) and says the feeling never goes away. That despite seeing a progressively older face in the mirror, you always feel like the same unsure kid you were as a teenager.

To be clear I’m NOT insinuating that my mom is old.

She’s practically the same age as me.

And I’m still very, very young.

I suppose as a teenager, I assumed there’d be more certainty in my future. I’d find a career and job I enjoyed and work there for 40 years. I’d find the place I wanted to live and buy a house and live there for 100 years (because clearly I’m going to live to be at least 120). I’d find someone to marry and have kids and we’d be super happy.

laughing 2

Whelp, I’ve achieved approximately zero of those visions–and I don’t think any of them will ever come true quite like that (though I’m not ready to give up on getting married and having kids, I am no longer naive enough to think that those things alone will allow me to be super happy. Hey–growth y’all!) My disappointment in adulthood comes not from my lack of achieving my previous visions of life, but from the realization of how *many* decisions there are to make, and how frequently I feel like I’m just making them all wrong.

During a conversation with some fellow teachers the other day, I remarked on the realization, during one of my first years of teaching, that I had been inducted into a life and career where nothing would ever be done. Never. There would always be a running “to do” list that just kept accumulating items for completion–plus all the stuff in my person life.

Like, did you know bills come EVERY MONTH and you have to keep paying them? I tell ya…

billscrying mr krabs

I’d been accustomed to the way things were in my youth–when I had stuff to do, I did it and then I was done and had oodles of time to play and read and clip magazines for pictures of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. “Done” existed.

But in adulthood this is not to be had. Instead you get on a treadmill and start running–or, if you’re lucky you choose to run outdoors–and occasionally the speed gets cranked up or down on you. I had to learn that sometimes–actually, quite often–it is necessary to get off the damn treadmill and make your own free time. A skill I admittedly still struggle with often and can thank my former co-teacher for helping me learn. Her advice generally sounded like: “In an hour, that lesson plan really isn’t going to be so much better that your students get set on a dramatically different life trajectory–and you need to like, sleep and eat and stuff. So GO HOME.”


I owe you much Christina, your voice is still in my head at the end of long days. Thanks woman.

I’m sure, however, that should Christina ever read this, she’ll claim she doesn’t really know how it all works either (even though she’s super awesome and I don’t even know how we’re both adults at the same time because I’m over here laughing at fart jokes and she’s raising two children and generally being awesome.) But I find something comforting in that–that everyone has that kid inside, who’s uncertain and doesn’t really know if they’re doing all of this right or not.

Some of you may have noticed that it’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything on here. I think about writing often and frequently write in my head without putting it down on paper. I make lists of random thoughts and ideas I feel might be interesting. But when it comes to actually going through the process, I often find myself stalled.

Because what if I’m not doing it right?

Not the technical process of writing, of course. I certainly hope people would not have been letting me teach for the past 10 years if I wasn’t a competent writer. This worry of mine is more about what I have to say–because who am I to have the authority to say *anything*? Sure I do cool stuff like move to China and whatever, but I am FAR from having anything “figured out”.

If they were going to write the instruction manual, I would not be the one hired to do it.


I have things to say, and I like saying them. I really enjoy writing. I really enjoy the idea that maybe someone reading my writing will say “Me too!”. I enjoy the idea that people I’m far away from can hear from me and we can connect for a moment or two. I have no expectations of my writing changing lives or being anything profound, but hey, it’s fun and I like it.

ron swanson

And so I circle back to the original point of this little post–I have no idea what I’m doing. And no one else does either. We dress up in our work clothes and get in cars to go to jobs and make big and important decisions. But at the end of the day, we’re really just making the whole damn thing up. So I say write or play with legos or collect expensive porcelain pigs or go hang gliding, or quit your job to make ice cream, or whatever feels true and good. Because, as one of my teenage-self’s favorite shows used to say–everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

Plus, in all honesty, if that instruction manual existed, I’d probably throw it in the trash anyway. As any improviser will tell you, things are a whole lot more fun when you’re making them up anyway.

throw book



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