Your 20s are a difficult time.
Between television, books, movies, social media, family, friends, and former classmates, you’re made to believe that your 20s should be the best years of your life. You’re made to believe it’s a constant adventure of lovemaking and self-discovery, epiphanies and great happiness. But no one tells you how hopeless you might feel. How you’ll fail more times than you succeed, and how often you might want to just cash in and give up.
Because in reality, this is the time when you truly begin to second-guess yourself, who you actually are and how meaningless that definition is even after you find it. This is when you’ll question more than once why you were even chosen to exist. It’s when you first begin to realize that you probably won’t achieve all the dreams you’ve carried with you since childhood; that you’re maybe not so great at that hobby that you love, and perhaps you’re not really even great at anything at all. After a lifetime of being told that you’re special, this is when you begin to accept that you’re ordinary.
This is a horribly devastating time. This is the excruciating, soul crushing gap between adolescence and adulthood when we are abruptly and then constantly bombarded by harsh reality. We struggle, we scramble to figure out what to do and how to make enough money doing it so that we can afford to live as the adults we naively and unfairly believe we already should be. We claw, we flail, and we drown, and we become hopelessly overwhelmed. We see every wrong turn and every poor ending as evidence as our failure as people.
We don’t give ourselves credit for the small things. We don’t allow ourselves to feel accomplished after a long shift as an office assistant because we were supposed be an author, an artist, a lawyer, a doctor. We were supposed to be something else, someone else; we were supposed to be extraordinary.
You probably won’t found a company, make a fortune, or write that novel you always told yourself you would; at least not now. And while you might have a few life changing relationships, you probably won’t yet find the love of your life either. Even if you do, you might not know it until it’s too late, or you might be too young and too scared to be able to hold on to it. Because your 20s are a selfish, self-absorbed time when you’re far too committed to ridiculing yourself to be capable of loving another person. And for every clueless, jackass optimist who somehow managed to pull together everything you can’t seem to grasp, there are fifty other 20-somethings that feel just as hopeless as you do.
Your 20s are like high school ostracism on steroids. Only you don’t have any other outcasts to hang out with and make you feel like maybe everything will turn out all right. You don’t have that teacher who mentors you and tells you that you’re actually good at something. You don’t have a few more years to figure out who you want to be or what you want to do with your life. You’ve done it. You graduated high school, you went to college, you picked a major, and you got a degree. It’s over. You’re stuck.
Maybe you realize that you’re not as great a writer, an artist, or philosopher as you thought. You start to wonder if you should’ve been more practical like those friends you have who actually seem to have their shit together; the ones who majored in accounting, and business, and medicine; the ones who have jobs; the ones who make money; the ones who seemed to transition flawlessly from hopeful graduate to successful adult while you stand slumped between those two very different worlds.
College was inspiring. College was hope and future and dreams. College was denial. College was amazing while it lasted but now you berate yourself for having been so foolish. Now you regret every class you skipped, every lesson you missed out on, every book you Sparknoted, every paper you wrote last minute. Now you feel remorse for having been so ungrateful of that wonderful world that offered you so much nurturing and potential. That world that offered you any future you wanted, and you chose poorly because you were afraid to think about what it might mean later on. What you might amount to. What you might or might not be able to achieve.
This is the time when you feel guilty for feeling depressed. This is when you have no one to confide in because you’re too embarrassed to ask anyone else if they might feel the same way. And you cannot ask anyone old enough to have been there before because somehow they forgot how it actually felt and now they accuse you of wasting your gift of youth. But that only makes you more hopeless because you don’t know how not to waste it. You contemplate traveling, the universally acknowledged and guaranteed method of finding the answer to life that you covet so much. But traveling takes free time and money and perhaps a companion and you have no idea how to get any of that. You contemplate getting married, starting a family, loving them so you can forget how you cannot love yourself. But every relationship you enter seems to end before it ever really gets started and you know that no partner deserves a wife who is so astonishingly incomplete, and no child deserves a mother who is as lost and directionless as you are. A child deserves someone happy. A child deserves a mentor. A child deserves someone extraordinary. And once again you remember, you are none of these things.
You feel guilty for feeling depressed because you’re young and why should you be depressed? Because there are so many other people with so many problems worse than your own. Because you should feel fortunate and what kind of a person would be so ungrateful for all the opportunities they’ve had? Even the ones that you failed. Especially the ones that you failed.
But soon you will begin to realize that you don’t dislike this person, whoever this person is, that you’ve become. You just don’t know them yet.
You will reflect on the person you were before: how much time that person squandered, how often you were cruel when you could have been kind, how many opportunities you snubbed because they weren’t on par with the level of greatness you so pompously thought you deserved.
You will mature and realize you don’t like that younger person that you were at all. That young person who thought anything was possible. That young person who felt entitled to greatness. That young person who thought anything less than extraordinary wasn’t worth living for. That young person who makes you believe you’re worthless now for being so average. This is when you start to see how much of an ass you were for believing that life is mundane and pointless if you’re not famous, or rich, or a prodigy.
Your 20s are when you will discover it’s okay to be ordinary, because being ordinary in the world has nothing to do with how extraordinary you are as a human being. Slowly, that young, foolish, ridiculous person that you were will begin to fade away, and you will feel peace. You will begin to learn how to love yourself. You will be free from ridicule, and you will finally have the space to clean up the mess you left in your own heart.