My wasted 20s: A Story about trying to do it all over again at 33.

I am a single, young professional in her early 30s. I graduated from UC Davis with degrees in Art Studio and Russian Language and a minor in Film (as you can guess, I'm rolling in the dough now).  I got super involved in our local radio station (KDVS) where I served as Publicity Director and hosted my own music show for a good 5 years. I was in my element and I loved all of those crazy days, deep underground in a tiny broadcasting heaven. At the same time I painted, drew, spent hours in the photo lab. It. Was. Awesome.

And then I graduated and moved back home with my parents until I found a job. It’s a common story, right? But what happened next was the first of a series of decisions that would come to haunt me for the next 10 years. I got into the habit of making situational decisions that took me far, far away from the path I wanted to go down, in exchange for a directionless, circular racetrack (that was full of potholes and banana peels).

"But what happened next was the first of a series of decisions that would come to haunt me for the next 10 years."

See, given all my art, music and broadcasting experience in college, I should have hit up bigger radio stations, production companies, TV stations and flown the coop and maybe knocked on NPR’s door and offer to make copies until I could get in as an assistant somewhere. But no, what I did is get a job and apartment… in the same small town I went to college in. Yeah! Take that world! I was a big kid now, with a boyfriend and my own apartment and a job! But my first job wasn’t the best fit (as most first jobs aren’t) and after a year and a half, I needed out. Which led to my next situational decision which was to get a “secure” 9-5 gig with “health benefits” and an “easygoing environment.” I’m an adult, right? This is what adults do. So I became a clerical temp at UC Davis and eventually got a job in a department where I was the youngest person by about 20 years in a giant pool of career secretaries (note: I have nothing against career secretaries, its just not where I wanted to be). After a few years, I found myself with a very nice paycheck (I bought a brand new car!) but I was feeling isolated and stuck. I was uninspired to do any creative work or do anything social; this wasn’t good. So then I decided to go back to school. I was 27. This seemed like a good decision. Except I didn’t go to grad school, I went for a 3rd bachelors because clearly, I’m a glutton for punishment. I got accepted into a really expensive, prestigious art school in Oakland and spent all my savings and took out loans for my first semester of a BFA in Animation. Halfway through my first semester it was very clear that this wasn’t the right path at all (there were a multitude of reasons, I’ll save them for my future memoirs). So I finished up my semester and when the money ran out, I thought the only sensible thing to do was to move back home with mom and dad. Looking back, I realize I could have stayed in the Bay, renting out a room and getting any kind of gig I could find but the truth was, I was too scared.

"but I’m getting to a point where it feels really good to just accept that hey- this is where I’m at and this is how I got here. This realization is good."

So back home I went and instead of recognizing the great opportunity to reinvent myself and start fresh in a brand new direction, I made another familiar, safe decision: move out and get a sensible job. After all, you must have health insurance! And so I entered phase 2 of my Administrative Arts training and down the rabbit hole I went. During this phase I again moved back to my sleepy college town (how is that possible, right?) got laid off (thanks, broke California) and was reassigned to more administrative adventures that I had come to know so well. Then some family shit hit the fan and I entered full-on “I’ll fix everything!” mode. And clearly, I couldn’t but unfortunately it took me a couple years to figure that out.

Then came a couple more confusing long-term relationships and whaddya know? My tiny internal flame just got dimmer and dimmer. I knew I was way off target but I wasn’t sure I knew how to get back on track. So I decided to get away and took a few trips to NYC, LA and Chicago and refueled my soul’s gas tanks (as Steph likes to say). While I was away I felt AWESOME. But when I came back… I still felt stuck. So I got away again and took 3 months off work and went to live with my uncle in London for a little while. It was AMAZING. But I had kept my job. And that made me uneasy. I was worried that I’d come back from this amazing experience and repeat the same goddamned pattern I’d grown so accustomed to in my 20s. But I really had to come back for a number of practical reasons. So last June 12th I touched down in Amurikah and…

I felt stuck again. (GAH!)

Ok, so now what?

Well, in the last couple months I’ve forced myself to examine the string of choices I made in my 20s. It took me a while to get over the disappointment of the missed opportunities during those years but I’m getting to a point where it feels really good to just accept that hey- this is where I’m at and this is how I got here. This realization is good. I mean, it can feel kinda crappy but it’s an amazing way to learn a lot about yourself.

The good news is it’s not something I can’t get myself out of. So, yay! And though sometimes it’s hard to realize it, I might actually be in a prime spot to finally make that move into a direction that brings me happiness. This might actually be my time. So I just started a class at City College on the Business of Music because my dream is to one day start an indie record label or music publicity business. I’m currently involved with a local nonprofit that helps communities start their own radio station and amelping coordinate efforts to bring an indie, low power fm station to downtown Sacramento. I’m illustrating a kids book my friend is writing and though its taking forever to get it done, the thought of soon completing this project brings me immense satisfaction and who knows where it might lead? I took my Leica camera to London and came back with about 25 rolls of film, full of photos that I am slowly making my way through and posting online. Little by little, I am feeding that little flame inside and though it’s still pretty tiny, I feel it starting to grow. At the moment I still have that crummy admin job but I’m applying for other gigs and I hope something bites soon.

"I am feeding that little flame inside and though it’s still pretty tiny, I feel it starting to grow."

I’m not sure if this long-ass, convoluted story makes any sense to anyone out there but me (actually it rarely makes sense to me either) but I will say that starting over is hard. Especially when you’re a creative soul who wants to do it “their own way.” Self-doubt and confusion are constant enemies at the moment but there’s a voice inside telling me it’s worth it. I think I know why I was so bummed about “wasting my 20s.” It’s because I (incorrectly) believed that a successful life has to be one, uninterrupted, constant line of progress. But now I see that life is anything but that; starting over is the name of this game. How else are you ever gonna get good at it unless you mess up and start it all over again? 


Before I launch into this, I must tell you I have had a good life. Really.

My mother was a drug addict and died in a car accident when I was young, but my family swooped in to rescue me from a life of foster care and group homes. When I was fifteen I was doing back flips off the diving board and hit my nose and fell into the pool, knocked ever so slightly unconscious. Miraculously, I hit the board in just a spot that only gave me a black eye and didn’t break my nose or something worse. Whenever I lose my wallet (which is more often than I’d like to admit) it always comes back. Only once was the money missing, when it flew off my car and I shit you not a co-worker’s husband drove by and noticed a group of kids tossing the wallet to the side of the road and he pulled over. I got my wallet back, minus a few bucks. I make good money doing what I love. It’s good to be me. Really.

A couple of months ago, I was sitting at Magpie drinking a beer with my friend Loretta. We were shooting the shit about life and relationships, and I was explaining how/why/when/where I got back together with my husband of 8 years, whom I’d been separated from for over a year. I was acknowledging the part I had played in the breakup, and was wondering aloud about my subsequent batshit crazy behavior getting involved with a clearly poor choice of partners and the hilarity that ensued. She listened. Then she said, “You know I’ve always liked you. You’re a good person.  But it has always seemed like... you had a hole in your heart.”

I am not being dramatic when I say that my immediate reaction was to start bawling. Poor Loretta. She instantly tried to comfort me, but I just looked at her and said it’s alright, and that I wasn’t upset. It is rare when people hit you with the truth.

"It is the hole that has kept me busy, all the time. Even when things were good I would feel dissatisfied, restless, like there was MORE and I didn’t have it."

This hole that she speaks of is an old wound that made me feel like I didn’t have enough. I’ve tried to fill it with stuff, experiences, you name it anything to not feel it, not face it, and not allow for it to close naturally. It is the hole that has kept me busy, all the time. Even when things were good I would feel dissatisfied, restless, like there was MORE and I didn’t have it. Master’s degree? Not enough. Three beautiful kids? Not enough. Great husband who was having a hard time, just like me, raising kids and working and trying to be? Not enough.

It is the hole that made me feel like I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t completely lovable unless I was useful to someone or handing over everything, even when I got nothing in return. It is that same cruel hole that has made me do the opposite: cut people off when I face being hurt, even when they meant me no harm and just wanted to love me. It is the hole where my inner child has resided, waiting for me to take care of her one day.

Over the summer I read this incredible novel, Beautiful Ruins. I won’t bore you with my interpretation of such a glorious read, but I will share the there is a quote that keeps resonating in my heart over and over like a heartbeat:

“Pasquo, the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.”

In my opinion, this requires three small but key pieces to manifest.  

1. you need to be able to discern what it is you desire. Not what you should desire, or what others desire for you. This can be more difficult than it seems. There are so many messages we receive about what we should want. The media, our families ... who knows. They’re there, and it’s so easy to listen to them and ignore the little voice inside that tells us what we really desire. 

2. you need to be able to discern what is right for you. And by extension, for others, too. Refer to the 1. 

3. you also need to know what happiness really feels like. Again, refer back to 1.

In that moment, there at Magpie crying into my beer, I realized that the space between what I desired and what was right was wide and gaping. In the last couple of years, I had wanted things that were bad for me and had things that were good for me that I didn’t want. I realized that this may have always been the case. In that moment I realized that the hole in my heart was responsible for this. If you’re busy shoveling anything into the hole, it is highly unlikely you have a good filtering system.

In the fairy tale ending of this story, I went out into the wilderness and did a naked dance with wolves and I was healed. Or at the very least walked straight into the therapist’s office. Neither thing happened. Sorry.

What did happen was that I went home and cried some more. I spent the evening inside the hole. I held a minor pity party that involved (more) alcohol and my husband holding me, slightly confused but very supportive. A month later I finally called the therapist, whose number I’d had in my phone for over a year. 

It’s been a month since then. Things are good. I can see the hole, feel the hole, and know that the hole is healing. Desire. What is right. Getting closer and closer. I can feel it.


By nature, I fear most things. The usual: snakes, people that drive 1970s vans and religious militias. But then the fears become irrational and paralyzing; the dark, anxiety about car trouble anytime I leave the city limits, being the victim of a crime. 

Living alone for most of my adult life, these fears have restrained me from pursuing activities and career changes. The worst part of being single, other than loneliness, was not going camping because I was scared to go alone. I conquered my fear for one weekend of tent camping in a state park, but the sleep deprivation resulting from my fixation on the fact that the only thing between me and a serial killer was a zipper and wall of nylon was too much. A combination of things set me on my quest to change things and overcome my fears of camping alone. Always a fan of vintage trailers, I perused Craigslist for months and determined something less than restored would be affordable. There was also a group of women in Roseville that organized group campouts for female vintage trailer owners. So there was hope! I figured in a few years, it could become reality. 

"A combination of things set me on my quest to change things and overcome my fears of camping alone."

In summer 2010 I began my quest. In August, however, my stepfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As anyone who has experienced it can relate, when terminal illness enters your life, it tends to reconfigure how you view things. It is a brutal reminder of how truly short life is and that regrets are a waste of energy. The following spring I found my 12 foot, 1972 Scotsman trailer locally on Craigslist and used my tax return to purchase it. And yes, as I was reminded by a handful of people, that money should have gone to my retirement account. Fear mongers. The trailer needed some work and I did not have the skills, time away from the family situation, nor the finances to complete it all, so I did my best with the dedicated help of a male friend and put it aside.

In May 2011, a month after my stepfather’s passing, I took the trailer on its maiden voyage for a week up the Oregon Coast. The rest of the summer I went on multiple campouts alone. Me and the trailer. It took a lot of practice in the driveway and campgrounds to learn to back it up into the campsites. Of course initially I was worried I would never master it. And again, a handful of people told me as much. I made a checklist of what to do when hooking-up the trailer and kept it in the glove box so that I would not forget something. I read about Sisters on the Fly,  and they inspired me even more. My fears still lurked when I was camping alone that first summer, but they were diminished by my new found sense of empowerment, joy and achievement. I also found it to have healing powers in dealing with my grief. The price I paid for the trailer has been rendered insignificant for it has been one of the most powerful experiences of my life. 

"My fears still lurked when I was camping alone that first summer, but they were diminished by my new found sense of empowerment, joy and achievement."

 It is lovely to wake up in my little canned ham with its English chintz curtains, handmade quilt and cool thrift store decorations. Curling up in my pajamas at the dinette and lounging over a good book with a cuppa in the morning. Actually it is pure bliss. So my advice to all you lovely bad ass Wild Women-JUST DO IT. Towanda!!  I’ll see ya on the road.

Be Rad. Be Wild. Be Real: Antoinette

“My name is Antoinette and I’m a 40 year-old college student.” “Hi Antoinette!”

That’s how I expected it to feel, returning to school after a 20 year gap. But that’s not at all what really happened.

Twenty-one years ago I was working full-time, supporting myself and just trying to survive. I was in a hurry to escape my abusive home and that left me no time for school. I got a job as soon as I could and moved out on my own. Twenty years ago, I met my husband, partner, full-time cheerleader and father of my son (all the same person by the way). 

"Six years ago I realized that I was a very unhappy person. I used my creativity to my advantage and was able to contribute financially, but I didn’t have a career."

Sixteen years ago our son was diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder. It had always been important to me to be there for him full time, but with this label, that goal become even more critical. He became my whole world. Any aspirations of a career that I had (or any personal fulfillment) came second to his every need. In fact, it came third. I was going to give my son every advantage that I could, even if it included sacrificing my own ambitions. 

Six years ago I realized that I was a very unhappy person. I used my creativity to my advantage and was able to contribute financially, but I didn’t have a career. I felt a little empty and realized just how much I let my own identity slip and hinge instead on my son’s happiness. If you yourself aren’t happy, fulfilled, healthy and successful, how can you teach your children to be? How can you continue to give everything to everyone when you are running on empty? I knew I had to make a change and more importantly, that there was no such thing in my life as a “good time.”

While working a small part-time job that I hated, I enrolled in an evening American Sign Language class at my local community college. I always wanted to learn sign language and I wanted to see what it was like to be back in school. I assumed I would be “the oldest” or worse “the fattest” person in my class. I was wrong on both accounts. I also reminded myself that I was taking the class just for fun, because I expected 100% to fail. At the end of the semester, I had earned an A in the class. That one little letter gave me such a rush of confidence and accomplishment, the likes of which I had never felt before. It was something I had done, worked so hard for and it was just for me! That next semester I took two classes.

It took me six years, but I earned my AA degree in Psychology and graduated with highest honors and a 3.85GPA (stupid Statistics class!). I never thought of myself as particularly smart, or able to succeed in school - but A after A showed me that I just had never been given a chance (or given myself a chance).

"A after A showed me that I just had never been given a chance (or given myself a chance)."

Last fall I transferred to UC Davis and I’m now starting my senior year. I’ve won many scholarships and awards and am honestly kicking butt. I’m also STILL not the oldest (or the fattest) in any of my classes. I’ll be applying to graduate school this November and am going for a PsyD degree (that’s a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology).Five years from now you can call me, “Dr. O’Neill.”

This wonderful gift that I’ve given myself also turned out to be a gift for my son. It was good for him to not have all of my time devoted to his needs. With me more occupied he was better able to grow and learn new skills for himself. Like me, he grew in ways I never dreamed. He graduated high school the same year I graduated with my AA Degree. It was like a dream to see BOTH of our hard work and accomplishments celebrated so closely like that. 

I hope that by taking care of myself, my future, my needs I have taught my son that this is your one beautiful, crazy life. It’s the only one you get (or so I believe), so you need to make every second of it memorable. Be happy, be healthy, be strong and nothing is out of your reach. I hope he knows that he can do anything and be anything and not to let anyone tell him otherwise. I hope he looks to me and sees how hard work can make anything possible. Persistence is everything and there’s no step too small. I’m very proud of the young man he has become, but I’m also very proud of the 40 year-old woman I’ve turned into. Be rad, be wild, be real and go get your dream!