As I sit down to write this piece, I have just finished decorating my apartment for the Thanksgiving dinner I am co-hosting tomorrow. This will be my first ‘grown up’ dinner party, bringing together friends from school and work. In the bathroom, as I clean, I notice the extra toothbrush in the sink that belongs to my boyfriend. My bedside table is a stack of books and notebooks, journals and business plans. I am being eyed by the tattoo of a skull I had inked above my right knee the day before just because. This is my life, at 23, a dizzying mix of faux adulthood, juggling responsibilities, and the near constant feeling of treading water, unsure of which direction to swim in. This is life in your 20s.
At 23, the theory goes, I ‘should’ have graduated university. I ‘should’ either be working full time or pursuing a postgraduate degree. Instead, I am in my final year of my undergraduate degree, working part time, interning, working on multiple creative projects, and still trying to have a social life.
I have friends who are on these ‘should’ paths. I have friends working for their dream company, and creating work they are passionate about. I have friends who are engaged or married. Friends with kids. Friends with plans and goals and dreams. Friends who have no idea where they are going.
Expectations are a loaded concept, whether they are self-imposed, or otherwise. At 18 I was convinced I wanted to be a journalist. At 23, dating a journalist is as close as I will get. I had set myself up to follow this ‘should’ path, and it backfired spectacularly. I’m sure there are some for whom following a predetermined path works just fine. I know people who are pursuing long-held dreams to great success, and I am so happy for them. I also know a great many people who are unsure of what they want to do, where they are going, or have changed trajectories. I think this is also completely valid, though I may be a bit self-serving in doing so.
I would like to publicly denounce this notion that we need to have everything figured out in our 20s. I would like to denounce the notion that there are set paths that should be followed, and that to be unsure is to be floundering. I would also like to thank my father for reminding me constantly that all I need is a starting point. This nugget of wisdom has staved off many a panic spiral when I get lost in the idea that I should have everything figured out at the ripe old age of 23. The fact that I even think I am ‘old’ and ‘running behind’ is ridiculous in itself.
If you consider your teenage years as a time of youthful irresponsibility, and your 30s as the mark of true ‘adulthood’, then your 20s are your transitional decade. The shift is not black and white, but a spectrum of grey. These years are made for discoveries, learning, and making mistakes. They are made for making and pursuing goals, even if you haven’t mapped out all the individual steps yet. They are made for self-awareness and improvement, and building the foundations for future success.
Rather than be paralyzed by the fear that I have no idea what I am doing, I am leaning into it. I encourage you to do the same. Embrace the unknown, and the multitude of opportunities ahead of you. Accept that it is okay not to have everything figured out at 20, or 24, or 29. Kill the voice of comparison in your head. Reject the idea of the ‘should’. Where you are now is merely a jumping off point, not the conveyor belt you will be strapped to for the rest of your life. Enjoy this period of discovery, and learning, and mistake-making, and remember you are not the only one who is treading water. I, for one, will be right there beside you.
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