What Your Twenties REALLY Mean

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She had come to give a presentation for the “Last Lecture” series during Iowa’s Senior Week. With a month or so left before I graduated college, I was anxious for the change and transition ahead. Listening to her speak was like talking to a like-minded friend; apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to Carpe Diem or base my decisions off of “you only live once.” Her belief that your twenties are a defining decade, setting the foundation for years to come, resonated with me. The actual book was both insightful and refreshing.

Reading it was one thing, but living it out was an entirely different story. As I applied for jobs and made a genuine effort to meet people, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was on a race against time. It had less to do with Meg Jay’s Millennial-based philosophy, and more so with the horrifying tragedies that seemed to occur on a daily basis. Do I really have enough time? What if it all ends before I actually accomplish something? I was told that it was normal to struggle, but the urge to do more and to be better still lingered.

My personality and interests were also changing and evolving, and I wondered if I was turning into an old lady who didn’t know how to have fun anymore. My alcohol tolerance was going down, and I could barely fathom the idea of staying up past midnight for a consecutive amount of time. I longed for a partner, and to be surrounded by those who let me be as serious or as silly as I wanted to be. These were natural desires that related to growing up, but I needed confidence to understand it.

An enlightening conversation led me to watching Meg’s TedTalk, having forgotten the majority of her previous presentation. She frequently discusses women’s fertility and marriage, and insinuates that females are less desirable after the age of thirty. She can spell out what young people should be doing, as though there’s a type of concrete formula that bridges certainty with success. I could see how her ideas would not bode well with some, and leave others in confusion.

But what if it’s not about having to choose between prolonged adolescence and responsibility? What if our twenties were the starting platform of merely being intentional with our dreams and decisions, rather than just taking it to one extreme or another?

Sure, you’ll still stumble around and make mistakes, and things might not happen when you want them to. But there’s a difference between exploring/pursuing, and trying to conform to some BS culturally infused identity because either you’re scared or you don’t know what you want.

Whether you’re a young one or a few decades in, adulthood is always going to involve adjusting to both the messy and the beautiful. It’s the time to learn about who you are and fully embrace it, even if that means setting an example and being a leader for the people around you. You’re no longer living in this ridiculous, unrealistic bubble that surrounded you in high school, and maybe even college. Every path is different, too complex and layered to have a singular “classic” experience.

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The thorn of it is that nearly everyone is going to try to give you advice. Age might make a person wise, but it does not always make a person right. With social media, comparison is almost unavoidable, especially in regards to careers and personal relationships. The internet is one big smorgasbord of opinions, and if you ‘re not careful they’ll drive you crazy. You’ll feel like you’re in a tug of war, like you have to choose one side or the other.

But you don’t; you can be proactive without an insane amount of pressure. You can have fun and be curious, while still setting boundaries. You can spend part of the night at a bar with your friends, and then go home and watch Netflix in your pajamas. You can be romantic and realistic. And you can go through changes on the outside, but still be exactly who you are on the inside. Anyone who says otherwise is probably insecure or has an extremely narrow view on life.

Maybe you’re comfortable with who you are, and self-doubt still persists. Maybe tuning out the noise seems exhausting, and you can appreciate the occasional affirmation once in a while. It’s not about being ignorant of the fact that you’re human, but rather keeping it all in perspective.

At some point you have to ask, why am I doing this and who am I doing it for? If your answer doesn’t involve you or God, than you need to take a step back and figure out why.

The “Glory Days” exist because someone was willing to put a vision into action and make the most of the opportunities they were given. It’s not about age; you experience different things at different times because of maturity (or lack of it), surroundings, and recognizing what you can’t control and what I can’t. I was a bit of a late bloomer in certain areas, and I understand now that it’s because I wasn’t ready. Yet I’m grateful that I took risks and chose to be vulnerable, because it’s better to discover that something isn’t right than to wonder I have regrets and wish I had gone about it differently, but if I got everything I ever wanted at one time, I would probably take it for granted.

Forget the list of cliche things you should do before you’re twenty-five or thirty. Traveling, marriage, independence, cultivating habits, and so on are great, but don’t make it about a checklist. Focus on experience, and making every experience count.

It can be overwhelming and frustrating, knowing that you have time but not necessarily all the resources or ability to do what you want.  I can’t predict where my own path will lead, but I do know that I intend not to waste any of it; and in hindsight, when you have the right attitude and surround yourself with good people, you never waste anything at all.

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