There is a certain prevailing theme that has been sweeping the millennial population: This is the decade to make our mistakes.
Experience seems to be the be-all and end-all of life in our 20s. We can never be too drunk, too lost, too unsuccessful or too confused. We’re here to “Do it for the story” and “Figure it out as we go.” We urge each other not to bother with finding the right partner, pursuing the right career or building the right kind of life for ourselves. There is no right, right? We’re young. We have nothing but time to mess things up.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a friend leave a fantastic significant other because they’re “too young to get tied down.” I’ve cringed as perfectly capable peers have put off starting a career in favor of taking the time to find themselves. That’s an admirable sentiment. Self-awareness is important. But rejecting what we’re capable of is not what’s going to help us get found.
We have to stop telling each other that 30 is the new 20. It’s not. Our bodies, our minds and our capabilities are aging as we go. We may have time to figure things out right now but that time won’t last forever. We cannot just watch our 20s go by in a drunken haze, moving from dead-end relationship to dead-end job and then expect to wake up at 30 having it all figured out. It won’t happen. We will wake up at 30 confused and unsure, wondering where the past decade of our lives has gone and why we didn’t use it to cultivate something more meaningful.
I’m not saying we have to figure it all out by 29. Success has no age and the maintenance of our triumphs is an ongoing project. But we cannot keep watching time pass us by on the basis of we’ll try for things later. Getting drunk four nights a week and working jobs that have no room for advancement are an insult to the people we could be developing ourselves into. We are robbing ourselves of the period of our lives when we have the most energy, the most creativity and the most freedom to express and create ourselves.
Sure, we have time to get things wrong. There isn’t a successful person out there who doesn’t know what it feels like to fall flat on their face. But the ongoing desire to “Live and learn” only works if we engage in the latter just as often as the former. The motivational speakers who preach the value of trial and error must be taken in context. Failure isn’t the path to success any more than potholes are the road to Disneyworld. They’re unfortunate bumps that we encounter along the way. Getting stuck doesn’t help us get anywhere. It’s the process of steering ourselves out of the potholes that makes for a better driver.
Let’s stop waiting until later to start getting our lives together. The beauty of being 20-whatever is that we do have time. We have time to try hard, fail hard, recover hard and come back hard. We have time to make every mistake that we’ll be damn well glad we’re done making by the time we turn 35. But we can’t let the mistakes be the end goal. We can’t let the experience define us. We’re not 17 anymore. It’s time we start defining ourselves.
Define yourself as a writer. A runner. A worker. A scholar. A painter. A parent. A planner. An adult. This is the time to become everything you’ll build on for the rest of your life. It’s the time to shoot for every pipe dream, develop every prospect and bring to life each ambition you’ve been harboring since you learned to walk and dream.
30 is not the new 20. But it turns out the old 20 is not such a bad age to be.