When I was twenty-four, I was working at an oppressive law firm in Chicago. I had many jobs around that city in my early twenties, but this one in all its seriousness seemed more finite. After I had worked there only a few weeks, the days felt meaningless and unending—like I had signed my life away to this job. My friend told me with compassion and exasperation, “This isn’t your whole life. This is a season in your life. In a couple of years, we’ll say ‘Remember that weird time you worked at a law firm?’” 

She was right. It was a season. A brief, informative season that ended up having much more significance than I could have predicted, but I always forget to add it to my résumé. 

It didn’t feel like a season at the time; it felt like the rest of my life. That’s how most seasons feel while you’re living them, and then your surroundings transform just as you’re getting settled in. The winter-to-spring shift is slow but dramatic, bringing with it a change of heart and wardrobe. The fall-to-winter transition is quick, taking place the very minute Santa Claus comes floating by at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The end of summer is slower. This time of year is precious to everyone. It belongs to the soft cotton part of your heart that never ages past ten years old. You can smell it—fresh pencil shavings and cinnamon. 

Fall is a grieving period. It’s beautiful and magical and has its own dress code, but it’s a season all about loss. Even if you’re not sad to see summer go, fall is still heartbreaking, especially when rain sings through empty branches and leaves litter the ground like dusty garnets, waiting to be stuffed in black trash bags. 

When I entered my twenties, an older friend told me it was my time to explore. I had ten whole years just to grow and experiment and push my limits. “If you stumble,” she said, “that’s a great sign. It means you found your edge. You tried something that didn’t work, and now you know.”

This insight has guided me. I’ve tried jobs I didn’t think I’d be any good at and ended up learning gobs about my interests and abilities. I’ve dated people I didn’t think would be good for me and they’re still some of my best friends. I’ve moved to cities I didn’t think fit my personality and, for the first time in my life, found what feels like home in Washington, D.C. 

All too often, I was anxious to feel more settled, to have it figured out, to stop learning lessons and just reap the benefits of lessons learned. The most helpful way to get over this anxiety was to think about my life as a collection of seasons, rather than as individual steps. It’s tempting at this age to carry around a mental checklist of Things an Adult Should Have and a monthly report card with markings for each Life Category.

Reprinted from Am I There Yet? Copyright © 2018 by Mari Andrew. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.