Our twenties are supposed to be our selfish years: This opinion is almost impossible to avoid. Every magazine, self-help book, billboard and well-meaning friend advertises the message. We are young, thriving and free of any meaningful commitments. These are our years to focus on ourselves. Let the responsibilities and drudgeries come later.
There is an element of truth to these messages. We do have to go after the things we want. We cannot please everyone. More likely than not, we’ll have to make at least one pivotal decision in our twenties that will disappoint someone we love in order to benefit ourselves. But this does not mean that we are devoting an entire decade to selfishness. In fact, we are using the term so readily that we’ve almost forgotten the meaning.
We can be self-preserving without being selfish. Selfish implies that we don’t need to factor in the needs, concerns and investment of those around us. It implies that being between the ages of 20 and 30 we are given a free pass to ignore the consequences of our actions. This is simply untrue. We do not get a moral hall pass at any age. There will never be a time where it is okay to tax out the resources and support of other people because it is we are only looking out for ourselves. This will always be a plan that gets us nowhere.
Our twenties are our years to explore our interests, establish our strengths and pursue our passions. But selfishness is not a necessary component of any of this. In fact, the more we share our lives and factor others into them, the more solid connections we build. The more positive attention we gain. The more we establish ourselves as responsible and trustworthy people.
Your twenties are your years to look outside of yourself. To discover what’s going on in the world around you, and start to find your place in it. It is the youngest, the sharpest and most likely the most mobile you will ever be. Just as we have the least to lose in our twenties, we have the most to give. We have the most energy, the brightest ideas and the lightest burdens. We have the greatest opportunity to form connections and the greatest chance at fostering those connections into meaningful relationships – both personally and professionally.
The empowered notion that we are the center of our own universes and ought to do whatever we can to satisfy our own interests is not only unproductive but also inherently lonely. Whether or not we like it, disregarding everyone around us is not a particularly happy way to live. We thrive on human connection the way we thrive on sustenance, water and air. We need to look out for each other, and not just because we want that care reciprocated. Being a reliable friend or companion being brings meaning to our lives. It gives us a reason to wake up in the mornings. It gives us the chance to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.
At the end of the day, the greatest accomplishment we can strive for is seeing that we’ve made a change in the world around us – or at least in the lives of our loved ones. This inherently selfless goal is one that breeds more personal satisfaction than any self-fulfilling one. At the end of the day, we all want to matter. We all want to succeed. And we all want to be remembered. Three things we’ll never learn to be if the only people we focus on are ourselves.