I’ll be transparent. This little blog hasn’t been doing so hot. My Jimmy Carter facts fell flat, and even my tell-all post about spending money on digital dragons didn’t garner the attention I hoped for. What was I to do? Giving up absolutely wasn’t an option, so I decided to write something similar to one of my more popular pieces. After considering the mild success of my Olive Garden post, I decided another funny restaurant review was in order.

When I learned that an old friend from grade school was in town, I saw an opportunity. I could catch up with my pal and get a slice of sodium-filled corporate Americana to write about. I reached out to him on Twitter, and we agreed that Chili’s Bar and Grill would be the site of our reunion. It would be a great time, I would write about it, and everything would be peachy keen. The gathering storm clouds outside of my window? Not a sign, that’s for sure.

What do you wear to a Chili’s meetup with your platonic childhood friend? A dress that is indisputably too low-cut, that’s what. It wasn’t that I wanted to impress anyone- I just happened to buy it at the mall earlier and wanted to wear it somewhere. I added a necklace to the ensemble, noticed my upper torso was chilly, and left for the fabled eatery.

I arrived at the Chili’s ten minutes early and decided to wait in my car, as I am highly allergic to being alone in public. To pass the time, I took stock of my surroundings. Why does the restaurant’s sign have a picture of a massive chili with an apostrophe right under the word Chili’s? My working theory is that they want to advertise to people who exclusively speak in emojis. Why was there a pre-pubescent girl in the parking lot with a bottle of beer? Easy- this is northeast Florida we’re talking about. Other stray observations: I could see a massive sign that said MARGARITAS through the restaurant window, I was near a La-Z Boy Furniture Gallery, and I briefly locked eyes with a husky boy in a Tabasco hot sauce shirt. He did not smile back at me.

When my friend arrived and we entered the restaurant, I nervously pointed out that the door handles were large brass chilies. This awkward remark would set the tone for our entire evening together. As we talked, I struggled with eye contact and with articulating my thoughts, but I tried my best to catch up with him. When our waitress welcomed us to to the establishment, I immediately ordered some social lubricant- a coconut margarita. Spoiler alert: it did not help.

After we both ordered the same “Triple Dipper Appetizer” as our main course, we chatted about our lives. I asked him a lot of questions about his various exploits- his international travels, his soon-to-be fiance, his career, and his experience with fatherhood. When it came to my exploits, there wasn’t much to tell. “I’m an unemployed blogger,” I admitted. I felt increasingly uncomfortable at the table and was glad when our food came. Spoiler alert: it did not help.

As I ate my appetizer platter, I did what everyone keeps ardently insisting I shouldn’t do: I compared myself to my friend. While he was out adventuring, I was getting a near-useless liberal arts degree. While he was falling in love, I was oscillating between unhealthy relationships and isolation. While he was working, I was writing shitty posts for my shitty blog. My thoughts spun out of control and I struggled not to cry into my coconut-adjacent margarita. In short, I started having an existential crisis at Chili’s.

I don’t think most people try to have an existential crisis at Chili’s, and honestly, I don’t recommend it. When you’re pondering whether your life has even a minuscule amount of value, your waitress will keep coming by to check on you. You have to keep lying and telling her that everything is great, because answering “How’s the food?” with “I’m not sure it would matter if I died at this very table,” is not an option. The waitstaff isn’t trained for that scenario and it would be unfair to expect them to respond appropriately. And since alcohol is a depressant, your margarita is likely to turn your sense of worthlessness into a tidal wave of despair. Once again, I don’t recommend it.

Since I’m not one to cut an existential crisis short, my despair continued on the car ride home. Negative thoughts came down like a shower of bullets. I peaked in high school. I’m not the person I used to be. I chose a worthless major that I didn’t enjoy. I have no purpose. I have no reason to exist. I’ll never find happiness. I’ll never find success. I’ll never find love. Everyone is thriving and I’m a stagnant puddle of radioactive sludge. I sure am glad for my cocktail of psychiatric medications, because when darker thoughts came, I was able to mostly deflect them. Still, I wasn’t doing well.

In her TED Talk, autistic comedian Hannah Gadsby says something that has always resonated with me: “I always thought I couldn’t sort my life out like a normal person because I was depressed and anxious. But it turns out I was depressed and anxious because I couldn’t sort my life out like a normal person, because I was not a normal person, and didn’t know it.” As I sat in my bedroom, I thought about whether this quote applied to me. Is my autism the reason I’m not meeting the same major life milestones that my peers have achieved? After sleeping on it, I think the answer is more complicated than yes or no.

My autism makes many aspects of life more difficult than they would be if I were neurotypical. For instance, my difficulty with eye contact and with nonverbal social cues means that I don’t interview or network well. Additionally, I often struggle to articulate my thoughts if I don’t have them written down somewhere first. Even my mannerisms, interests, and mode of dress can be considered off-putting to many. Essentially, I’m playing the game of life on hard mode. But that isn’t the only reason that I’m not the picture of the typical 20-something.

Without wanting to sound like a pompous asshole, I really do believe that after high school, I decided to take the road less traveled. I got an undergraduate and graduate degree in a field that doesn’t offer many traditional job opportunities. Even my graduate project was considered unusual, as it focused on women in comedy instead of more popular topics in my discipline. Now that I’ve graduated and have decided to pursue comedy and writing, I am on an unconventional and difficult path that offers no one-size-fits-all method to succeed. After thinking about the combination of my autism and unusual life choices, there are three points I want to make before I end this post.

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with not meeting the same milestones that other people are making. This sentiment isn’t exclusive to neurodivergent folks or writers, though I do hope this post is helpful to those with unconventional dreams. While artists, performers, and writers face a difficult path forward in life, so too do many others. This is especially true when you consider the barriers that classism, racism, sexism, and other social ills place on people. Everyone can’t meet every milestone immediately, and some of us chose to chase milestones that are so radically different that comparing ourselves to folks on traditional paths is patently unfair. The time it takes for us to succeed isn’t what matters, as no one is on the same schedule.

Secondly, I want to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with a more traditional path in life. In fact, I quite admire the friends of mine who have careers, marriages, and children. The point of life is to follow what will make you happy. For me, that means pursuing my comedy dream. For others, a more traditional path is perfect. Both paths should be seen as equally valid.

Finally, I want to speak directly to the people on unconventional paths in life. Keep going, motherfuckers. It may be hard to see your friends succeed more quickly than you, but that doesn’t discount the progress you’re making towards your goals. What matters is that we’re making forward progress, even if it means we’re falling up stairs. We will achieve our goals, and when we get there, the victory will be all the more enjoyable.

Now all that’s left to do is consider the state of this blog. I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter that next to no one is reading my writing. It doesn’t even matter if every single person on this planet sees the title of this post and burns their laptops out of pure disgust. I will admit that views are gratifying, but right now, that shouldn’t be my main focus, This blog is for honing my craft, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m putting in the work to make my dreams a reality. I was put on this earth for a reason, and no existential crisis can take that away from me. Not even if it’s an existential crisis at Chili’s.