I know enough about myself to know I won't really retire young. Even if I somehow hit the lottery (figuratively) and make enough money that I could, I get bored far too easily. I get bored if I'm on vacation for more than ten days. And when I get bored, I get anxious, and that's just a mess.
However, I don't really want to work until the very moment I keel over. That doesn't sound fun.
This is of course a privileged thing to say - to have this choice at all - but, oh well.
Fact is, I hope to stay healthy and mobile long enough to be spry into my early 70s. No matter what it is I'm doing - maybe it's still some version of classroom work, if classrooms still exist - I think I want to be able to say I had a 50 year career.
I've been thinking about this lately because my adult career started in February of 2008, when I got on a 1:30 am flight from JFK and flew across the Pacific Ocean to Incheon airport. I made the best of it, had my fair share of parties and long nights out, but I was scared and lonely most of the time I was over there. And although I stayed a second year, I knew I needed to come home to my city and work for and with the people who live here. I miss those Korean kids, though (well, they're adults now, as I can see on facebook).
This first decade - and I'm not pretending my career is long - can be broken down into three parts, really. The Korea part, where I really could have just stayed without much effort, the volatile underemployed part when I first came back home and blamed myself daily for leaving an easier situation (and absolutely did not take care of myself), and then the last five years, when I got myself on a more stable track.
We shall see what happens with my application to school next month, and a lot of the next decade surely depends on how that goes. But although I'm hardly living the life of some of my college classmates - things I shouldn't think about, but you and I both know we do when we see people - I'm actually at a point where, if you had told me this when I got on that plane to Seoul, I would have actually been happily surprised, and that's something I'm fortunate to be able to say.
I think about that time a lot these days, especially as facebook reminds me of 2008. I really needed to leave to, cliche alert, find myself, but all I did in Korea was realize that my best self was to be found right here in NYC. I'm lucky I never put myself into credit card debt when I easily could have, and I'm glad I started taking care of my body at 25 instead of waking up and being an unhealthy 40 (and that, of course, I wasn't struck by an illness out of my control).
There's no guarantees here. The next ten years could always end in catastrophe. But I think, by 2028, the years I spent unable to keep my feet firmly on the ground in my mid-20s will have receded into the background. And hopefully I'll be able to say, to a family that has grown, that I'm still proud of all I've done, and all I will still have yet to do.