I know it seems like your 20s are designed for the build – a steady progression of acquiring better and more. I know it seems like the most important thing in the world is to build a picture of mind’s eye comforts – the ways you have it “together,” the things the world would look at and approve of. The things you can think about to soothe yourself out of a panic attack. But your 20s are about unlearning, too. Stripping away lukewarm loves and work you don’t thrive doing and friends you’ve outgrown and limiting ideas you’ve been leaning on to guide you. You’re making room for your actual life to begin.
Most people stumble in their 20s because they’ve spent their lives anticipating them. They’ve lived for this point – when happiness can ensue. But the most unhappy people are often the ones with the pretty nice apartments and the decent amount of friends and the good-enough job in fields they’re at least somewhat interested in, because they’ve spent their lives building ideas rather than learning how to feel.
Your 20s are about undoing as much as they are anything else. Choosing new. Deciding otherwise. Shedding layers that have muddied your idea of who you think you are. This is the kind of scary magic you want. The kind that leads you into the beautiful unknown. You are becoming the person you are going to be for the rest of your life. How genuinely are you going to live? How afraid are you going to be? For how many more years are you going to let your demons conquer you?
You are only in your 20s. It is not too late to start over.
In fact, I hope you start over all the time. Not by burning bridges or ditching town or closing yourself to what you have, but by no longer fearing what you don’t. I hope you spend your free afternoons working on the skills you need to have the job you want someday. I hope you accept that you’re not supposed to look the way you did in high school, or really want the same things. I hope you ask yourself: “What do I want now?” every time it occurs to you to do so. I hope you learn that there is only one way to guide your life, and it is by consistently focusing on the next right step.
Genuinely unhappy people are never upset by their circumstances, they are upset because they have externalized their power. They put their faith in finding the right person as opposed to being able to attract and choose the right person. They put their faith in finding the right job, in the right economy, as opposed to honing their skills to the point that a company would be remiss to overlook them.
If you want to genuinely start over, clear the slate of everything you ever thought about how to get your life together. Don’t predict, project, mind-read, assume. Don’t imagine a better elevator speech. Don’t only think of what it makes sense to do. Think of what it feels right to do. Not what your impulses say, not what your laziness says, not what your fear says. Those things have probably gotten you where you are. But a layer beneath them is a more resolute voice, and it will tell you which way to go. You only have to get quiet, listen, and act.
Learn to live your life more than you’re inclined to sit around wondering about it. You can’t reflect your way into a new existence, but you can think yourself into paralysis. If you know, at your core, that you must start over, it’s not a matter of whether or not you will – it’s whether you’ll do it later, or whether you’ll do it now.