When I was younger, and by younger I mean any time before this exact moment, I thought the 20s were “it.” It is obviously a bit vague and dodgy, hence the italics. They seemed glamorous and more importantly full of having your shit together. Does that sound like your 20s? If so, nice work. High five! Write a book, tell us your secrets. If not, you’ve got company.
Some of that perception is obviously fed by society and media, but real people in my life shared that narrative as well. “Once you’re out there on your own, out of high school, out of college, working, it will all be great. Your 20s will be awesome. Just you wait!”
I don’t mind the ignorant masses of other people my age waxing poetic about this possibility, but I do mind people who have passed through the treacherous canal of their 20s lying to my face about it. It’s almost as if they had a town hall meeting and said, “Let’s just say 20s are fun and carefree so that way these little tools will keep hoping and believing that maybe it is the next year that those sensations will occur all the way until they hit their 30s.”
For instance, my mother. Love her. Really do. She is a gem. This particular gem has a funny way of changing up her story to fit the occasion of distress. When I was insecure, felt like a nobody and an emotional hot bed in high school it was, “College is going to be your time honey. Just you wait.” When I was miserable in college it was, “You just have to find your people. Once you start specializing in your field, it will all happen for you.” (She was right about that. I found my tribe in graduate school and that was ah-ma-zing.) When I was in graduate school, poor and unsure of my future it was, “Once you start working, you’ll feel so much better.” Then when I was out of graduate school, still poor (whaddup non-profit work), ending a long-term relationship, and seemingly aimless it was “You just gotta pay your dues and then it will all get figured out.” As you can see there is a pattern. “When…then.” When this happens, then this will happen. One caveat to this is that the pattern never exceeded the prospective greatness of my 20s. It stopped there.
So…long story, long, people will ostensibly tell you that your 20s are great and groan as they approach their later decade-hood, when the truth is 20s suck. You’re essentially a toddler, but people look at you like you’re an adult. You just got your legs. You’re new at almost everything. You don’t know what you’re doing, which is totally fine, but the message is that you should. Herein lies the problem.
Recently, my mother’s pattern got turned on it’s head. I was FaceTiming with my dearest Mama, the prophet to end all prophets. And I was crying, obviously, about how I just didn’t know where to go, what to do…basically didn’t know which end was up; feeling aimless again. My mom stated so matter of factly, “Yeah, my 20s were pretty scary at times. I was just trying to figure it out. It was in my 30s that I really found my footing.” “WHAT. THE. FUCK. MA.” This is a woman who, like many others, spoke so nostalgically in my presence about how great 20s are. So free. So adventurous. no. No. NO. It’s more like walking around in the dark while feeling like you are watching everyone else around you live their lives in the light and doing everything perfectly. This has only been exacerbated by social media.
Do yourself a huge favor. Every time you log into insta or facebook remember: (a) other people experiencing great things is amazing for the whole world. truly. put that gratitude and kindness out in to the world and (b) most of what people are posting is absolute bullshit.
It is the version of themselves they get to edit and make exactly as they want to be. A lot of people may argue, “Well that is great. Put the person you want to be out into the universe and maybe you’ll become more like that person.” There is inherently a problem here. There is a reason we are not like the people we see on social media. We are human, which means we have human experiences, not all of which are hunky dory and sepia colored. Not to mention, that we are OK with our bad days, our failures, our tummies, our acne, our struggles. We are lovable and worthy and amazing not despite those things, but because of them. We seem to be trying to hide our humanness and that makes me the saddest panda. Social media rage tangent over…for now.
I’ve wondered if people who have already had their 20s tell you it’s so great because it allows for vicarious thrills when in reality there was likely a lot of regret, confusion, and frustration during that time. Not because one’s 20s are innately bad, but because someone told us once or twice (or a million times) they were the supposed to be amazing. Here is the thing: Nothing is supposed to be any certain way. Someone made that shit up. 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 90s just are. Thinking that these decade allocations hold in store for us something better than the one we have now is the biggest farce there is. My 20s are everything that is happening right now. They blow. They also are amazing. Sometimes they are blah. And even other times I don’t think about them at all.
When I was in high school I thought I needed to be liked, to be beautiful. In college, that stuff carried over with the addition of thinking I needed a certain type of college experience (e.g., lots of friends, parties, sporting events, and most importantly reinventing myself entirely). In my early working days, I thought I needed to be really successful and competent at my work, as well as have my financial future figured out. And have a clean house. Clean bill of health. Be super fit and a great cook. Great girlfriend. Great friend. Perfect daughter. You get the idea. I don’t know what about a few years to my name and significantly increased responsibility and stress made me think I’d all of a sudden be able to master all of what I thought it meant to be an adult. Sometimes I say things like “I’m not a real adult” when I don’t do things perfectly. What a crock of shit. My boyfriend as he read this for me to check for edits, noticed I used the word “adult” a lot referencing people that are older than me. He laughed and looked at me, “You know you’re an adult too honey, right?”
What it seems like to me is that when we feel tension with our age and relative “progress” toward said age’s achievements as decided by…someone (?), we feel like we are doing “it” wrong. There is that it again. The discomfort, uncertainty, and pain we feel is a part of it. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, it means you’re doing it right.
I guess my title was misleading. Your 20s don’t (or didn’t) blow…or I guess they do and that is OK. The idea that they shouldn’t blow, blows. Make sense? No. That is great start!
No more when…then thinking for this girl. I mean, sure, yes that train will go by in my head, but I’m not jumping onboard anymore. I’ll hang out here in the now. With all it’s messy, beautiful, painful, and uncertain parts.
And Ma, if you’re reading this and I hope that you are, you know I had to call you out. It’s OK that you were hopeful for me (aka lied to me, but I’m cool with it. still not cool with Santa, but we will get there I’m sure). You love me, of course you were hopeful. I need you to know it’s OK to see me struggle and know you don’t need to fix it. We both know I got this. I am your daughter after all.
With gratitude and compassion, Your Beth