Hi Carolyn:

Is it normal to feel totally out of whack and confused about your future when you're young? (I'm 22.) I've always known what I want, and this uncertainty is somewhat disconcerting. Any advice on how to deal with it, other than just give things time?

D.C.

If you ask me, the people who aren't confused are the freaks. But I say that about supermodels, geniuses, jillionaires and anyone else better off than I am, so my opinion is highly suspect.

Still, the job of a 22-year-old is to wonder what he was thinking at ages 0 through 21 that left him so under-prepared, under-motivated and extremely over-lost. This parade of self-doubt has only grown longer and more frenzied as society ruthlessly removes old barriers and adds new options. Now more than ever, you can be anyone, do anything, live anywhere (though everyone's still fighting over the same two-bedroom co-op in the Village anyway) and with anyone, and make money by the scad.

It's enough to make any place seem boring, any relationship flawed, any career path the low road to mediocrity. And it's the best thing that ever happened to you.

For all those years of pat certainty, you were also a wet-nosed kid. This new confusion is your inner 22-year-old saying, hey, wait a minute--do I really want a life chosen for me by some wet-nosed kid?

The answer may be "yes," but you still have to ask, and take your time responding. But don't stop there. Find the guts to explore, the honesty to rule things out (Nobel Prize-winning physicist, no; centerfold, no; tin-pot dictator, revisit later), the sensitivity to recognize what you should be, and the integrity to become it--even if it's not philanthropist/filmmaker/Internet search-engine mogul. Oh, and don't misplace your sense of humor. Confused people tend to take wrong turns and trip over things as they try to find their way.

But remember, they also see a whole lot more than focused people, who only look straight ahead. If you want to improve your vision, I'll rerun my husband's happiness test: If you won the lottery tomorrow, how would you spend your life? Your calling is in there, somewhere, between the jag at Barneys and the Jag in the driveway. But when you find it, resist the urge to regret it every time someone blows by you in a better car en route to a bigger house with a smarter dog inside it. That's disconcerting. Besides, game's over. Bill Gates won.

Dear Carolyn:

After finishing grad school, I returned home while my boyfriend of over a year, also my first ever, remained at school a few hours away. During the next four months, he was unhappy with my infrequent visits and my focus on job searching. I was being supported by my parents, who would not have approved of frequent visits. I wanted to find a job and be independent before acting on wishes that might disagree with theirs. I found a job, but that week he was unhappy and wanted me there--now. I refused and we broke up. Was I being naive and unrealistic in wanting him to be willing to wait? I wonder if my judgment is skewed because he was my first BF.

Maryland

You acted out of respect? For your parents? What gall! What nerve! What chutzpah!

Listen. Your first BF was an AH. It's a fairly common affliction among firsts, which is why most of us move on to seconds and beyond. Or should.

What's unusual is your judgment. Not only was it not skewed (except in your choice of man, perhaps), it also showed real integrity. Faced with losing a first-ever anything, most people would balk. You didn't. Great.

Dear Carolyn:

Met a presumed super guy last Saturday at a party. Sensed he enjoyed my company, but his friend began expressing an interest. Trouble--didn't want to lead friend on, didn't want to lead super guy off . . . spent remaining time with friends, ignoring the entire situation. Alas, my current quandary: Presumed super guy suggested getting together sometime. What is an appropriate lapse of time before initiating contact? (I never initiate contact, but with the awkward posture of the event, I am reconsidering.) PLEASE don't print my name as I have severe "can't believe I just wrote to an advice column" issues.

Not Wearing Pants and Feelin' the Breeze

Understood. I made up a name for you.

If presumed super guy is an actual super guy, he'll be a team player and won't chase you down behind his buddy's back. So, yes, you make the move. As for the timing, I sat on your letter until enough time had passed for you not to look desperate. Go to it.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or tellme@washpost.com, and join Carolyn's live discussion at 8 p.m. tomorrow at www.washingtonpost.com