That’s me. Traveling around the European continent with a receding hairline and a not-so-Irish giant rainbow floating over my head. No, that doesn’t mean I’m a leprechaun, but rather I’m a millennial gay man who is struggling to grasp the idea of growing older. Granted, being 23 doesn’t constitute as old, but there are many things that I assumed I would have accomplished by the time I turned this age. Maybe I’d have my master’s degree, a house, a new shiny SUV and 2.5 kids.
Instead, I received my undergraduate degree only last year after changing my major five times. Instead of working a 9-5 job with a 401k and a growing savings I work 65 hours a week making less than I did at my previous job. Instead of being straight, I’m gay. Instead of spending so much time worrying about the status quo and what people think of me, I’ve come to discover the joys of living independently.
This mindset to stray from the status quo is brought to the surface by traveling. Traveling makes you think about things in a way different than what you’re used to. It makes you question your way of life. It makes you question your upbringing, your education and what you thought you found most important. It challenges your beliefs and values. It makes you appreciate the beliefs and values of people different than you. It exposes you to a universal acceptance of all things different.
It’s this universal acceptance of differences that has encouraged me to live a life unashamed. Unashamed of who I am and where I come from. Unashamed of my own passions and interests. Unashamed of my own beliefs and views. Unashamed of my receding hairline, growing older and being gay.
What I am ashamed of is how long it took me to get here.
Rural Kentucky has its own culture. A culture that involves close-knit families, hard-working lower-to-middle class citizens and small communities. My hometown of Bardstown, a Catholic community that houses a thriving bourbon-tourism industry, was dubbed “the most beautiful small town in America” by Southern Living Magazine. So naturally, everyone knew everyone. And most everyone was a conservative.
I attended a small Catholic school with a class of only 10 boys, nine of them played sports. Two guesses for the one who didn’t? As a result, I was often the oddball out. At an early age I realized I was different than most around me. While everyone else played sports, I was often the only one taking art classes, favoring schoolwork and immersing myself into clubs and organizations my peers would shun.
I didn’t understand then that I was on the path of discovering my holistic self. I was in training to become a man that lives not by the masses, but by the guidance of his own aspirations. A veteran as a person who can muster confidence in the most nerve-wrecking situations. A man who would soon travel the world.
And while I still stress and panic over things I haven’t accomplished and judgement of my way of life, the only reason I do so is because I fear ridicule of people closest to me. My whole life I’ve lived by black and white rules, careful to never step over the line to being unconventional. However, as I sit in a tiny coffee shop in Grantham, England writing this post I realize that fear of being different is a pitiful excuse to keep me from living my own version of a holistic life.
So whether I’m a millennial gay man with a receding hairline or a man stressing about his next career move, I could not ask for a more fulfilling life. I’m thankful for not being tied down to a mortgage, a large car payment, children or my own insecurities.