There are no warnings. No after school specials. No instruction manuals. Nada. Zilch. When I was a teenager, I don’t remember anyone telling me, “Yeah being a teen is tough, but your twenties will kick the crap out of you too!” The difficulties of being a teen and a 20-something are two sides of the same coin (there is a completely different slew of social problems teenagers face but that’s a whole other conversation). You’re trying to figure out who you are, what trail to follow, why exactly do we have to wear pants, you know, all those questions. The difference is that the expectations change. In high school, everyone kind of goes through it together. It doesn’t matter if you’re tall, short, jock, smarty-pants, everyone is riding the teenage wave. But then you go from being clumped in with a bunch of other kids trying to figure it out to being, well, on your own, except with the expectation that you have something, anything, figured out. If we’re lucky, we have a nice support system through friends and/or family. But either way, we’re suddenly alone, and it’s no longer cool if your mom calls to make your doctors appointments for you (ah…the memories…).
Personally, it has taken me a very long time to figure out what I’m doing. For the last four years, I’ve had about 51 career ideas that have amounted to basically… me studying photography in Poland. It’s as random as it sounds and it pretty much sums up my twenties. Granted, the goal I had after graduation in 2013 was to travel, so a career would have been on the back burner anyway. And I don’t regret any decision I’ve made as I’ve done so much in the process of figuring it out that by now I’ve been on more adventures than teenage me had ever dreamed. But I didn’t realize this whole being-in-my-twenties process would be so similar to riding Kingda Ka on a 104 degree day after eating 6 plates of funnel cake- awesome, sweaty, and nauseating.
My friends who have solid careers seem to be in the same boat. The frustration of being in your twenties stems from being in your twenties. We’re the young ones of the adult world. We’re still in the “building block” phase of who we will be. That’s what makes it so difficult and what no one warns you about- these are the days that lead to who we become later in life. Many might think of high school and college as these building blocks, and they certainly are, but I went through both of those things having no idea for what purpose I was studying and yet the days I’ve felt the most lost all happened after graduation. And here’s the thing: most of us feel this way in one form or another. It’s just not as obvious anymore. Today social media shows everyone’s daily highlight reels. It can feel isolating, like everyone else has it together and somehow you’re lagging behind.
But what I’ve figured out is no one, or at least 99.999% of people, in their 20’s has it figured out (not sure about the other decades but if anyone wants to chime in here, feel free). And those who claim to have it figured out are either delusional or LIAHS or part of the mythical 0.001%. As you can probably guess, most of my friends are in their twenties, and I’ve had the same conversation in all different circles- we don’t know what the heck we’re doing. Salaried, hourlied, studying, unemployed, doesn’t matter. We are all just trying to answer these 6 words: Who do I want to be?
And it’s only to ourselves that we must answer this question. I don’t care what society is telling us to do or where we should be in life; fulfilling our own goals that actually mean something to us is the task at hand. And it’s MESSY. The world is so open now, the possibilities quite literally endless, that it can make you dizzy if you think about it too much. So, in my very limited knowledge at 27 years old, there’s only one piece of advice I offer my fellow 20-somethings because it’s advice I try to follow myself: make yourself proud. Wake up every morning, and do one thing to make yourself proud. Work out, help someone carry their groceries, make your bed, take a photo, sit down to write for 15 minutes, reverse climate change. Something little, something big, who cares, just do something. And acknowledge this pride once it happens. Those little proud moments add up to a life of proud moments, and you never know which small moment ends up being big in the long run.
In short, the twenties are as exciting as they are challenging and thank God we aren’t 30 yet. Yikes.
Author’s Note: I also feel the need to add that I’m grateful for the experience I’ve had in my twenties. I’m not fleeing a war-torn country. I’m not wondering where my next meal is coming from. I’m not working in a factory for $1 a day. And chances are if you’re reading this, you aren’t either. So yeah, the twenties can be frustrating, but they could also be much, much worse. Peace, love, and chicken…hugs?… Ignore that.