After years of expensive education,
A car full of books and anticipation,
I’m an expert on Shakespeare, and that’s a hell of a lot,
But the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought.
Maybe I’ll go traveling for a year,
Finding myself, or start a career.
I could work with the poor, though I’m hungry for fame.
We all seem so different, but we’re just the same.
So starts one of my favourite songs, TwentySomething by British Jazz artist, Jamie Cullum.
I have spent the past 9 years taking stock of my life each time the song comes on (usually via my Chilled playlist on Spotify). The song is full of existential gut wrenching and an uncertainty that is reflected not only in the lyrics but also in the melody, and it has always resonated deeply with me. It is a beautiful piece of music, and as potent a representation of millennial angst as any work of art I know, full of sarcasm and dark humor.
There is a progression throughout the song that seems to match realities of living one’s twenties. Post-school and post-university life isn’t as easy to chart and track progress as the entire life one’s known up until that point. We travel and we work and we flirt and we love with the aim to discover what life is really about. We learn about the power and addictive nature of money, but learn that it doesn’t represent the truly important things, and one’s twenties are all about discovering that truth and embracing the independence of adulthood to define those important things for yourself.
As a 29 and a half year old, I’m nearly exiting my twentysomethings, and it is equal parts satisfying, painful, and humorous to see what has become of my own life, more than ten years after first hearing the song as a teenager.
I knew from the first time I heard the song that I wouldn’t be “living for my Friday nights, drinking eight pints and getting in fights”. What I didn’t realize at the time is that that is because I need to get to bed early in order to rest before the crazy busy weekends at my restaurants. My own life has been an attempt to forge my own path, to defy any stereotype or label someone might try to bucket me in with. I’m still searching for my ikigai, the alignment of passion, profession, mission, and vocation that the Japanese claim is the key to a fulfilled life, but I’m learning about what is important to me, and throughout each new experience I feel like I’m getting closer to my truth.
In University I learned that I love to explore new places and ideas independently and in deep conversations with smart people, but am not the natural networker or self-motivated go-getter I thought I would be. Most importantly, I found a woman I have come to call my life partner early on and have held onto her dearly since then. Growing up together and experiencing first hand the craziness of young passion was the highlight of my University experience, and I have surprised myself at how both the initial romance and the subsequent transition to deep, profound love felt totally natural. For Ross Garlick to be the best Ross Garlick, KC Schmitz needs to be in my life.
I learned that I am very good at playing the professional game, probably even better than I was at the education game. Professions are about cultivating reputation with the right people, and showing enough combination of ability and commitment to impress them. I was able to do that at JPMorgan on Wall Street, and in a parallel universe I’d still be there, working as an Investment Bank VP and earning absurd amounts of money, but I’d be miserable. JPMorgan was an incredible employer and yet I still felt trapped and pigeon-holed, a cog in a giant organizational structure that would dim and restrain my spark with it’s golden handcuffs. Once I had some form of external recognition that I was playing that game well, I started to look for the next thing. I needed more freedom and more independence to work on something that gave me “real” feedback and made me feel proud to say what I did for work. I recognized a need for independence.
I’ve learned about the role of luck in our lives, and witnessed both the virtues of patience and the recognition that life is shorter than we want to believe. I’ve learned about pattern recognition and the realization that at a certain level everyone is just making stuff up as they go along. There are no such things as completely rational markets or people. At the end of the day we’re all just human, living the one life we’ve been given.
And so I took the path less travelled, and moved to Latin America to open a restaurant. And Jesus fucking Christ running a restaurant is hard work. I work more hours than I have ever done in my life, and haven’t taken a salary in 3 years. But I am so damn proud of what KC and I have built, and what I’m currently building in my second restaurant. What I am doing is not sustainable on a personal level and I don’t intend on it to be the culmination of my life’s work, but it feels so real in comparison to everything I’ve done beforehand. There’s so many decisions to make that can each affect the outcome of my business, and it is mentally draining to shift between so many different roles each day (head of HR, administrator, delivery boy, accountant, barista, kitchen hand, manager, CEO), but I burden myself with responsibility because I see direct consequences from my actions and control my own destiny, business-wise.
But this career independence has come at the expense of my personal freedom, and I have learned that I am not as happy as I used to be when I made time and space for my three R’s: reading, (w)riting, and running. A combination of responsibility and COVID has also meant that I have lost the sense of exploration and wonder that kept pushing me forward to keep discovering new foods, new streets, new landscapes, new artists. I have also recognized that I am more of a strategic, big-picture thinker and that I should really delegate the operations to natural operators to make sure the operations actually happen.
So throughout my twenties I’ve explored some very different styles of living, living on two foreign continents and visiting friends and places across the entire world. I have learned as much about how I don’t want to live my life as I have about how I want to live it. I am exiting my twenties with a clearer sense of who I am and what possibilities lie ahead of me.
The latest sign of my maturation throughout of my twenties has been the change in the direction of magnetism I have felt towards my parents. I had long felt the need to push away from my parents in order to build my own life rather than a life they chose for me. While never explicitly denying me of anything or forcing me to take any particular action, the burdensome expectations that had been set for me from early on in my life were a source of constant tension that I have rebelled against in my own way, while simultaneously setting out to live up to them in a manner of my own choosing. As I round out my twenties and my parents show signs of being in their mid-sixties, I no longer feel any need or desire to rebel against them. I feel comfortable with who I am, with my own life goals and expectations, and now I can be part of their lives without needing to justify my actions. Instead of feeling pushed away I am starting to feel a pull to spend more time with my family, for which I am grateful.
Jamie Cullum has his own conclusions to draw from his TwentySomething:
Love ain’t the answer, nor is work.
The truth eludes me, so much it hurts.
But I’m still having fun, and I guess that the key;
I’m a twentysomething and I’ll keep bein’ me.
Next up, the thirties. For now, I’m a twentysomething and I’ll keep bein’ me.