I am just going to put this out there – being in my 20s is way harder than I thought it would be. I used to idolize people older than me for their ability to be independent and make choices free from others. Now, I spend a lot of my time wishing someone else would make my big decisions for me.
In your 20s, there is this strange pressure to romanticize your life. I don’t just mean in terms of a romantic love interest (although that pressure exists too), but in general to make your life look like it’s behind a sepia toned filter. From some hidden source comes this whisper that you have to have it all “figured out.” For some reason, we are all running around making trying to make it seem like our homes inspired a Pinterest board, our bodies look like magazine ads, we strictly adhere the latest paleo-vegan-caveman-juicing diet, we are extremely passionate about our work because we are doing something meaningful, and that our life is all-around glamorous; never boring, and never stressful. Or sometimes it actually is stressful and your life could never be as stressful as ours because, obviously, we are doing something meaningful.
Sometimes, I find this sepia-toned image appealing. I scroll through images on social media, pass dedicated people at work, or get too many “Oh, everything’s great” responses at a party, and I start to wonder why my life isn’t what everyone else’s is. Why does my home always seem like a mess and why do I always have all these doubts about my career choices? Why can’t I figure out how to actually budget my money or remember everything on my list at the grocery store?
This is the point when I have to step back. I have to consciously remind myself of the filter. That deceptive little filter. We’re all doing this. We are all putting glimpses of our best, brightest, most exciting and organized moments out there for the rest of the world to judge. We do it on social media and we do it at social gatherings; we are just tempted to make life seem better than it is. Few of us are publicly laying bare our vulnerable selves for everyone to critique. And why would we? No one else is. We would just look like a hot mess who can’t get it together. Yet, even though I know this, I fall into the trap of comparing messy life to the edited lives of those around me.
In these moments I have to remind myself:
Life does not actually look like Pinterest (or any other form of social media for that matter). And it shouldn’t. Life is too complex to fit neatly into a series of one-by-one inch squares. The reason my life never looks like Pinterest is because on Pinterest people can edit. People can take something in their lives and make it look shinier than it really is. Unfortunately, we don’t always get a chance to edit the real world. And honestly, I think that is important. Life is not a picture; it is not a movie, or a fairytale. It is sometimes messy and frustrating, sometimes unclear or mind-boggling. Life is long to – do lists that never seem to shrink. It is always needing to run an errand or pick up some obscure, forgotten item from the grocery store before dinner. It is waking up tired and going to bed exhausted. It is also feeling like you accomplished something after a hard day of work or laughing at your favorite comedy on television. Life is also staring into the eyes of someone you love and realizing how significant that is and spending valuable time with people who speak truth to you. Pinterest cannot encapsulate the density or the beautiful complexity of life.
It is ok to make mistakes and it is even ok to fail. Life is not perfect and neither am I. Mistakes often teach us something about ourselves or about the world. Sometimes failure is good. Sometimes opportunities are born out of failure. We are not meant to go through life without being humbled and humiliated. Many of the world’s greatest inventions and strongest leaders were forged from failure. Failure is an option. Sometimes our failures point us in a new direction. Failure happens. It happens to everybody. Failure can happen on a really big scale. The reality is that we cannot escape failure or out run it. We can cry or punch something and then deal with it. Even when we fail, life is not over.
Everyone has uncertainties about their career. No one is without a doubt, 100%, absolutely, positively sure of their career all the time. I admire people who have always known what they want to do. I’m jealous, really. Even when they are sure now, it is very easy to look back and gloss over the times that they wondered if they really wanted to do this or if they really could. The other thing about choosing a career is that we don’t know what they all are until we are actually in the workforce so there is no way to know from age 5 that we want to be a biological science technician, a digital marketing analyst, or a waterslide tester (ok, maybe 5 year olds know they want to do this one).
For most of the 20-somethings I know, heck, even 30-somethings, there is a lot of questioning going on about their chosen line of work. Some people are better at ducking their heads and just putting their nose to the grindstone each day and keeping quiet about their doubts. Others of us are more vocal about our constant fears of future uncertainties. The truth is, in our 20s and our 30s, (and beyond these days) we have a chance to figure some of this stuff out. We have an opportunity to think critically about who we are and what we want to do. And luckily, it is ok to make mistakes and it is even ok to fail (see above).
And for that matter everyone has bad days at work. Even people who are lucky enough to be doing something that utilizes their greatest skills and taps into their full potential sometimes don’t like going to work. Or they have some tasks at their fabulous job that they hate doing. Even our dream job isn’t always a dream. This is normal and we sometimes just have to put that into perspective.
Being in your 20s is scary. I suspect that I will find being in my 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond scary too, but possibly for different reasons. Life is the unexpected, unexplainable opportunity. We don’t get to control the majority of things that happen to us in a given day or a given year. Sometimes it feels like we are holding on for dear life. One of the good things about life is that it tends to come in seasons. We never know what season is coming next, but we can take heart that good things will come. Creating strong relationships, being vulnerable, doing something we love, and continuing to hope are often the most important things we get to do in life.
So, to all my 20-somethings out there, yes, life can be a jumbled mess and yes, it can be tempting to compare our mess to other people’s messes. But the funny thing is, life has this uncanny way of working out.