The Myth Of Having To Do Everything In Your Twenties

Brooke Cagle
Brooke Cagle

Being in my 20s and active on social media, I’m the target demographic for what I like to refer to as “youth bucket lists”. Not for those prone to anxiety or the modern-day FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) phenomenon, these articles verge on click-bait and bear titles like “30 Things to do Before You Turn 30” or “10 Places You MUST Visit Before Age 30!”, or even “Sex Positions Every Guy Should Master By Age 30”. Often accompanied by dreamy photos of young adults doing yoga poses on mountains or standing ponderously with backpacks on the brink of wherever, they encourage people my age to get out and see the world, learn new skills, watch certain movies and just embrace life in all of our glory as young people.

But depending on just what side of 25 you’re on, you’re left either inspired or in full-on panic mode. And even if you are the doe-eyed 20 year old left filled with pensive encouragement, the truth is that life changes and so do plans. And before you know it you may too wind up counting down your days ‘til 30 and wondering why the hell you haven’t accomplished more.

But you know what? You don’t need to pay these youth bucket lists any attention. Well-meaning as they are (though some are just plain gratuitous), what these articles fail to acknowledge is that there is no formula for guaranteed life happiness and success. There are so many people age 30 and up who are perfectly content (and I say “content” because no life is completely happy— every last person on the planet experiences highs and lows) without having spent their young adulthood traveling the world or experiencing a romance of “Titanic” proportions. Hell, some people don’t even have sex before their 30s, and that’s okay too.

It’s also important to realize that perhaps the vast majority of these bucket lists are geared towards a very specific demographic of humans. Don’t get me wrong— I’m one of those humans. Yet throughout my adventures I’ve found one common trend among my counterparts— demeaning those who haven’t “accomplished” as much or perhaps chose another lifestyle. It may not be totally verbalized or meant negatively, but the sentiment is there, and it’s wrong.

Ironically, few 20-somethings can actually afford to check off all the things these articles advocate. Try telling a new college graduate floundering in student loan debt that they need to make time to visit wine country, own and use the latest technology and then go try street food in Asia. Better yet, tell a 20-something single parent that their priorities should be learning greetings in different languages and reading the most important books known to man. They may let you off easy with an eye roll.

And of course, perhaps the biggest reason of all for us to stop holding youth bucket lists in such high esteem is the simple truth that youth just isn’t all its cracked up to be. Comedian Craig Ferguson once went on a fantastic rant that addresses our culture’s problem with “deifying” youth. See, as great as we often think we are when we’re young, what we have a hard time grasping is just how little we know about everything. Youth (and therefore ignorance) is too often promoted whilst age and wisdom fall to the wayside. If anything, one of the most powerful parts of growing up is finally learning to accept your own lack of knowledge and life experience. That’s maturity right there, and it doesn’t matter how many countries you’ve visited or skills you’ve mastered.

And that’s just it, really. Crossing off a youth bucket list can certainly improve your personal happiness, but it’s important to realize that doing so does not make you somehow better than the other people your age who haven’t done those things. There’s no reason someone shouldn’t feel just as fulfilled doing them later in life or never doing them at all.

So just relax — you don’t need to do anything by the time you’re 30 (or by any age really). There’s no race to the finish line, and for most of us, 30 isn’t even the halfway mark. There’s nothing innately wrong with wanting to cross off all the cool things on one of those youth bucket lists, but there’s no real reason that age 30 has to be when the stopwatch ends. TC mark

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