It doesn’t matter if you wander foreign continents or find a place to call home, if you find love, lose love, do everything you love or love everything you do. It doesn’t matter if you party until your body aches or settle down and learn to take care of yourself, if you indulge your wildest impulses or learn to control them. It doesn’t matter if you secure your dream career or drop everything to try something new, if you adopt a new identity or find peace with the one you own.
It doesn’t matter what you do in your twenties. The only thing that matters is what you do today, that the next 24 hours of your life are an immersion in your own identity and not somebody else’s.
Too often we get caught in the identities of others. In the generously-liked profile pictures and carefully crafted humblebrags that so insidiously permeate our ways of thinking, the egotistical projections and vainly celebrated milestones that corrode our self-esteem. Too often we get caught in the image of the ideal twenty-something who, like us, is craving the feeling that they aren’t wasting this enigmatic and supposedly short-lived decade. Who feels that there is always something else to do, money to spend, somewhere to go, energy to expel. We share each other’s dreams until we forget how to feel satisfied. We spin webs of want so wide and intricate that we end up suspended in the middle, paralyzed with the inability to recall who we were before we became so entangled in the lives of others.
The Internet has become littered with words about what we should be doing in our twenties (backpack Asia, have our hearts broken and drink Bud Light, apparently). We are making an effort to spread consciousness of our fleeting time, to remind ourselves that we won’t have this freedom, these bodies, this energy forever, and as a result there are some activities that we should probably do now rather than later. That makes sense, but the message is twisted. There is nothing more counter intuitive than trying to get the most out of your life by living off of somebody else’s checklist. You don’t need to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. If it doesn’t support your health, happiness or relationships it’s not essential. Billions of humans have lived happily and died at peace without having done any of the things that twenty somethings are being told we need to do, lest we live a vacant, miserable life because we didn’t go bungee jumping when we were 22 (for example).
Combine this need-to-do rhetoric with the fact that our friends’ social media accounts comprise the most interesting aspects of their lives and it’s no surprise that many of us get tricked into feeling that we are doing our twenties wrong. You see a write-up about one friend who has launched a successful tech startup and a post by another who has dropped their career to work at a coconut stand in Costa Rica, and somehow you feel jealous of both of them. How is that even possible? Social media isn’t real. We use it to make our own existences look glamorous, to justify our presence and declare our worth. With many of us having 500-2000+ contacts on our combined social media accounts, it’s easy to understand how we can quickly be deceived into thinking that everybody is doing something awesome all the time, and to judge ourselves for not being as awesome as everybody else. For example, I read most nights and I thoroughly enjoy it, but I don’t set my profile picture to a picture of me reading. Instead I go surfing, or scuba diving, or skydiving one time and use a picture of one of those, because I want people to think that I’m that type of person. And I contribute one more rumor to the giant lie of the ideal twenty-something.
What I’m saying is this: do what makes you happy, and forget everybody else. Seriously. Who cares what your friend Becky is doing? Who cares what that girl from class is doing, what that cool promoter guy is doing, what your cousin Bob is doing, what your second year Bio prof is doing? ETC. You don’t know if it’s as fun as it looks, if it’s as fulfilling as they make it to be. Amidst the crushing influence of social media, in an age of visual perception and constructed identities, we need to remember that what looks good on somebody else won’t necessarily feel good for us. We need to realize that we can’t tell the future to find out if others are experiencing their twenties properly, that we can’t access their minds to find out if they are truly happy.
You only have access to one mind and it rests vicariously between your shoulders. It can be your friend – your lantern in a dark universe – and it can be your enemy, but it is the only thing you have. It opens itself to the inexplicable osmosis of all that you are. It listens as you bombard it with stimuli, with your endless wants and needs, feelings and conceptions. It longs with you and it feels your angst. It wonders what it’s like to rest between a different pair of shoulders. But sometimes, if you forget about everybody else, put yourself on mute and just listen, your mind will speak to you. And when it speaks it will speak in the language between your sleeping and waking dreams, in the details that were meant to define you.
Mute the noise and listen to your mind. If your mind tells you video games, play video games. Review video games, develop video games, find friends and colleagues and a partner who play video games. If your mind tells you fitness, go to the gym. Prepare a month’s portion of vacuum sealed macro nutrients and eat them after every meticulous workout. Find fit friends and get more fit together. Take pictures of your shredded biceps and share your oily glory with the world. If your mind tells you climb mountains, climb mountains. Climb ten mountains. Find a mountain in some unnamed corner of the earth and name it after yourself.
And when you are on the other end, lurking the Facebook profiles of your video game playing, dumbbell curling, mountain climbing friends, don’t you dare feel obligated to do any of these things. Because you are you and they are them. The only concern you should have with their lives is that they are happy with what they are doing. Your twenties are a time to find your own mountains, not to slip and scuttle through the debris of everybody else’s.
I understand that this article applies to people of all ages, but it applies especially to twenty somethings because twenty somethings have become obsessed with telling twenty somethings how to be twenty somethings, and frankly I’m over it. The next time you see one of those articles “20 things you need to do in your 20s” ETC., close your computer and write your own list of 20 things, and go do them. Do what makes you happy, and forget everybody else.
You be you and I’ll be me. Comfortably separated, our lives will exist in perfect harmony.