The Steps Aren’t Numbered 

“I know I’m never going to have fewer responsibilities than I have right now” – Dakota Fanning, 22 

Really? Why do people say this stuff? Or more frightening yet, could it actually be true? 

While I admire the intent to seize the day, I find myself with this nearly primal rejection to the idea that we should do less day-seizing as our years go on. Maybe it’s just naïve grasping in the ‘last year’ of my youth, but I can’t get over that idea that if correlation doesn’t equate to causation, why do we accept that time and age equate to responsibilities and limits? Are responsibilities really like snowballs that grow larger and larger as they roll downhill? Or are responsibilities just layers we choose to put on, like sweaters and scarves on a cold day, that can easily be stripped off when warmer weather arrives or we take a vacation in the sun? 

With no kids and no mortgage at present, maybe it is easier for me than most to reject that responsibilities are inevitable. Or maybe I just want to reject that responsibilities are limiting factors in living the life I want. I don’t claim to know what it is like to have responsibilities that require my feeding and care, but I spent this week preparing grown men to respond to natural gas pipeline ruptures…. so to each their own. While I feel the weight of my own responsibilities all the time, I also reject the notion that they are life-limiting. I  see these tasks more like a humbling privilege than shackles to bear. If these are the things that accumulate with age, bring it on. But I refuse to keep the layers that aren’t born out of connections with other human beings or that fire in your stomach that drives you to do your life’s work, whatever that may be.

Maybe we just apply this term ‘responsibility’ all too casually (and negatively), as a way to avoid the fact that stripping away the things that tie us down requires work. And even more than work, it requires a strong recognition that the ‘next step’ is a myth. A flat out lie. The steps aren’t numbered. Not even a little. I want to scream it from the rooftops: where you are right now doesn’t have to dictate where you will be.

You can become a homeowner at 19, be over a half a million dollars in debt by 27, and be light and free, living in an Airstream wherever the hell you want by 29. Aging is inevitable, but being tied down is not. So next time you think your best days are behind you, instead of saying ‘I could never’, try asking ‘why can’t I?’ Why can’t I live in my favorite place on earth? Why can’t I work less? Why can’t I enjoy today? Why can’t I make this happen? Why, why, why not?

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