I Am Damaged Goods.

I waited a whole year to be 30. Year 29 was preluded with so much excitement, capturing moments of hope and confidence wherever the world invited me to. Up until this point, I believed I was free in my 20’s to do what I wanted. I was the first college graduate in my family, served in the US Marines, played professional rugby, and then ran for US Congress. There is a privilege to being a cis-gender male where society allow men like myself to take up space. We are expected to be successful and providers or else we failed partiartical norms. We were forced into this almost inescapable box from birth. I want to help affirm our vulnerability, rather than accept expectations from others. However, this conflict is taking a toll, and I am quickly learning how unforgiving society can be to those growing older before we stop mattering to the world.

The deaths of Ian Alexander Jr .(26) and Cheslie Kryst (30) have been weighing heavily on my mind the last couple of weeks. We may not see the control depression has on others. This is a time where we are relatively young but find ourselves under a microscope at the turning point of a very important decade. Making mistakes is narrowly allowed as adults. We are expected to keep it together. For many of us, our careers, sustainability, and loved ones depend on us to be successful. Social media was devastated with the news, while I was infuriated with seeing comments of people saying how “ he/she was too young to be depressed”. As harmless as the comments were intended, statements like this are invalidating experiences as much as it is condescending. The last couple of years should have taught us that growing older is a gift and maturity is to be appreaicted. Everyone heals at their own pace.

I felt nothing but compassion for them. I was sad but understood the exhaustion of constantly having to fight against the current or deciding to flow with it, barely keep our heads above water. For many of us, we are struggling against time measuring our bodies and spirits. I can only imagine it is so much more difficult for women. I cannot speak from that experience but I know as men we have the ability to change the narrative of how manhood is defined. We are on the fringes of having to prioritize family or careers. Are we seeking aspirations to fuel our passions or is it for vanity’s sake to feed our egos? How insecure are we as a society to live in a world to be led by women while men learn to be nurturing and supporting? This endless chase of arbitrary success is detrimental. I find myself asking do I “sink” or “swim?”

At times, I get caught up in the current. I am grateful to be able to use my advocacy and work with marginalized communities to help address harmful issues affecting us all. Though, I would be lying if I did not admit to being enamored with “20 under 20” or “30 under 30” lists tying youth to success. The side effect causes so many young people rushing to hoard every feat possible before becoming irrelevant to society. I believed at the time that being in elected office was my calling. Maybe if I could make a difference for others, then I would be understood. I was willing to risk much of my well-being and work myself to death to accomplish dreams that society told me mattered. I felt unfilled at each turn. These thoughts lured deeper into my soul while I was planning on running for office again. I decided it was time to take a step back after a drunken breakdown at friend’s house late last year. I always told myself if I came to a point where I needed to compromise on my values to get to where I desired, then it was time to walk away. This moment of vulnerability affirmed my perspective.

For so long I debated the purpose of the lonely road I am standing in. Men are supposed to have career goals — if any — to not be seen inadequate. I speak candidly about my views on marijuana legalization, the United States’ immigration and colonial foreign policies, women’s rights, and the path to a more justified legal system. I have no desire to chase any more awards and recognition. Instead, I wake up every morning as an educator, feeding my passion by laying the ground work for the next generation of leaders and speaking out against injustices.

Year 30 will be emblematic of the next life I am entering into. Find me in a community garden composting and nurturing plants. Anticipate someone who wants to do nothing but cook, clean, and decorate their apartment. I look forward to building a life where I would not mind being a stay at home father. Maybe the world needs more of that. I have nothing left to prove and am living life on my terms.

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Educator. International Relations Graduate student at NYU. Marine Corps Veteran. Former Congressional Candidate.

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Shaniyat Chowdhury

Shaniyat Chowdhury

Educator. International Relations Graduate student at NYU. Marine Corps Veteran. Former Congressional Candidate.

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