I’ve been thinking about that one NY Times article about “The 20-something’s” ever since I got to Vietnam and started this job.
“Just as adolescence has its particular psychological profile, Arnett says, so does emerging adulthood: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities.” A few of these, especially identity exploration, are part of adolescence too, but they take on new depth and urgency in the 20s. The stakes are higher when people are approaching the age when options tend to close off and lifelong commitments must be made. Arnett calls it “the age 30 deadline.”
I took this job opportunity to live in Hue, Vietnam for another year for so many reasons. The more obvious reasons include: the opportunity to be involved in work that I’m passionate about and have experience with (development work and care for disadvantaged children), and the chance to maintain all of the beautiful relationships I have created and nurtured here in Vietnam.
A little less obvious are my reasons related to timing and support. I’m at a very flexible, young age without much urgency or external ties/responsibilities. I’ve voluntarily chosen another year of being poor, and I realize how unique and privileged I am to be in a position where I can choose to do this. So, in the end, I felt able and willing to make certain sacrifices and leave my life in the U.S. in order to share my skills and talents with the international community here.
And then, there are my more hidden motives. I wanted this challenge because I know living in a different country (especially Vietnam) could help me work on my weaknesses and character flaws (self-focus related reasons.) More specifically, I knew that this job’s varied amount of responsibilities along with this country’s own extremely difficult obstacles would give me the perfect opportunity to practice my multi-tasking/problem-solving skills, patience, and flexibility. When you find something/someone who is always pushing you to become a better person, it’s hard not to keep going back to them. For me, that someone is Vietnam.
“During the period that he calls emerging adulthood, Arnett says that young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic… This is where the “sense of possibilities” comes in, he says; they have not yet tempered their idealistic visions of what awaits… But despite elements that are exciting, even exhilarating, about being this age, there is a downside, too: dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game. More than positive or negative feelings, what Arnett heard most often was ambivalence — beginning with his finding that 60 percent of his subjects told him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups.”
This month has been particularly trying on my journey to “bettering myself.” I just got over a three-week episode of shingles (yeah, sounds fun, right?) and I’ve been much more tired than usual. The excruciating pain is pretty much gone now, and I’ve been taking things a little slower to try to allow myself time to reenergize. But, I also take great pride in my work ethic and ambition (especially with this job, since its work that I really care about), so I continued to persevere and tried not to let this illness affect too much.
When I found myself getting burnt out this month, my initial reaction was disappointment in myself. Time and time again, I tell myself that I’ve had enough experience and practice with balancing my work load and additional creative pursuits, all while maintaining my physical and mental well-being (I wasn’t so good at it in high school, but I gradually got better at it throughout college.) So, the moment I realized that I wasn’t doing this balancing act as well as I thought, I said to myself: “What the hell… after 24 years of practice, I still can’t healthily multi-task?”
“It’s somewhat terrifying,” writes a 25-year-old named Jennifer, “to think about all the things I’m supposed to be doing in order to ‘get somewhere’ successful: ‘Follow your passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be financially responsible, volunteer, work, think about or go to grad school, fall in love and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition.’ When is there time to just be and enjoy?” Adds a 24-year-old from Virginia: “There is pressure to make decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life in your 20s. It’s almost as if having a range of limited options would be easier.
On top of trying to do my job as volunteer coordinator effectively (currently overseeing 40+ volunteers :)! ) and dreading this long, tedious process of getting a Vietnamese work permit, I’ve also decided to take on a few creative projects, since Halloween is coming up (and you all know how much I love Halloween.)
For the past two weeks, I’ve been busy planning/creating a Haunted House for FHF/Xuan Phu Shelter. I chose to do it there, because I knew I could - the board, staff, and kids always fully support my creative ventures there. I don’t really like to do any of my projects half-assed, so it’s been a huge, huge task that has eaten up all of my free time outside of my work hours.
Unfortunately, this means that for the past few weeks, I’ve been unfairly neglectful to my other obligation: An Hoa Children’s Shelter. While reflecting on this situation, I realized that I’ve been spending more time in Xuan Phu Shelter this month because, well, it’s easier. I’m in love with all of the children and staff there, they’ve all known me for years, and they’re always there to comfort me when I’m feeling stressed or lonely. I’ve been running to them during my whole bout of illness, and I did so knowing fully-well that I was being unfair to my current organization’s shelter. I went completely against my goal of being non-preferential this year.
It’s become a much more complicated story than I thought it could ever be. I thought I could balance my time and bounce back and forth between the two shelters/group of kids, and then I could prove to them that nothing has to change all year. But, I’ve been finding myself disappointed, confused, and scared, when I can’t help but give preference or let a conflict of interest get in the way when I have to choose between the two.
During Tet Trung Thu, I “chose” to spend more time with An Hoa Shelter over Xuan Phu Shelter, perhaps because it was the first holiday I had to split between the two groups of kids. I told the Xuan Phu kids to try their hardest to understand where my decision was coming from, and thankfully, most of them dealt with this well (enough). But, this time around, I misjudged my abilities and made the wrong decision to do a Halloween celebration for both shelters. The thing is, I forgot how much more time and energy consuming these projects would be, since I would essentially be organizing these on my own.
And now, I’ve checked myself into a failure hotel. I’ve put An Hoa Shelter’s Halloween celebration in the back-burner, since the Xuan Phu Haunted House needed so much more of my attention, and now (because of certain pressures to fulfill my obligations to An Hoa), I have to gather whatever remaining energy I have in order to do something for the other shelter. I can’t back out now, I just have to try my hardest. And this balancing act needs to be perfected soon, since these conflicts are going to happen all year.
I’ve been thinking about why this happened, about why I couldn’t just have balanced my preparation for both shelters a long time ago, in the first place. Perhaps sub-consciously, I’m scared to commit to the An Hoa kids. Now that I’m over that initial phase of introductions with those kids, I’m finally at the real “meat” of the relationship-forming process… but, maybe I’m scared to continue because I know how much it might actually change my other relationships. Or, maybe I’m intimidated by the prospect of becoming a big brother for 44 more children and therefore, spreading myself too thin. Then again, maybe it’s just a time-related issue, and I just need more time to play around with my limits and comfort zones, until I get the balance right.
Whatever it is, I hate that I have to blame my failure on external circumstances like my self-doubt, my health, or “taking on too much.” I’d like to just be able to do it all with very little complaints or worries. I hope I can do better soon.