I woke up on the morning of my twenty-third birthday to a dead-end job, a failing relationship, an empty wallet and a complete lack of direction. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that fate.
The years following college aren’t kind to us. We are thrust into the real world with a large amount of student debt, jobs that barely pay enough to make rent, relationships that are rapidly changing and a profound feeling of being lost on how to handle it all. Nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three, including your own life.
And yet, we pull through.
Most of us make it to our twenty-fourth year. Most of us make it out of the woods. Most of us are lucky enough to say that by the end of our twenty-third year we’re no longer feeling completely and utterly lost. But in case you’re not there yet, here are a few things you may need to be reminded of right now.
1. You’re not going to be lonely for the rest of your life.
Twenty-three is a lonely and uncomfortable age. College is (probably) over. Your professional life is (hopefully) just beginning. And your social life is doing an awkward, uncomfortable shuffle in response to all the changes. You’re far away from the people who know you well and not yet emotionally close with the people who physically surround you.
Give it time. Give your relationships the chance to evolve. Give yourself the chance to adjust to no longer living with a group of your closest friends (yes, you will adjust). Loneliness doesn’t last forever, even when it feels like it will.
2. You don’t need to be working your dream job right now.
It’s okay to take a shitty office job because you need to pay the bills. It’s okay to spend your spare time volunteering to get the experience you need. There are a thousand different routes you can take to get to where you want to go. Don’t beat yourself up in the process – just keep moving, steadily and slowly, toward wherever you would rather be.
3. Everyone feels lost at some point.
No, seriously. Every single person you meet, interact with or think about in the course of a day has almost definitely had a period of their lives where they had NO clue what they were doing. So this is yours. You’re just getting it out of the way early.
4. You still have so much time to fail.
You have time to fail at love. At your career. At your creative aspirations. At your personal goals.
You are still young enough to fall and pick yourself back up, so many more times. So don’t be afraid to take those big, scary risks now – while you still have the time and the strength and the determination to start over.
5. Someone is going to love you again.
You’re going to feel that insane over-the-moon feeling again. You’re going to want to tell someone ‘I love you’ again. You’re going to have something real with another human being again, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. The ability to love other people doesn’t leave you, even if it’s a muscle you haven’t flexed in a long while.
6. You are going to love you again.
Your self-perception is going to adjust to encompass the new, adult you: the one that you are still growing into. Don’t beat yourself up about who you are or are not yet at twenty-three – you have so much time left to grow into the person you’ll become, and to be damn proud of whoever that will be.
7. You are allowed to set and keep boundaries.
Being a young adult means saying ‘Yes’ to a lot of things – long work hours, demands from our partners – because you aren’t yet sure what you’re allowed to say no to. But here’s the deal – you are allowed to set whatever personal or professional boundaries you need to set in order to stay healthy and stable.
You don’t have to earn the right to take care of yourself. You deserve it, as a basic product of your existence.
8. You are never entirely without support.
You may not be lucky enough to have parents who are able to give you financial support or even friends who are immediately available to give you emotional support, but rest assured, if things ever went really wrong, you’d have people there to help you out in ways you may not expect. If at least a few names come to mind, you’re doing better than a lot of people.
9. Being disappointed in yourself just means that you know you can do better.
If you were never falling short of your own goals, you’d be living your life all wrong. Disappointment – in moderation – means that you believe in bigger things for yourself. And holding that belief in life will take you further than you could possibly imagine.
10. It’s not your job to live someone else’s dream.
You don’t have to move to Asia to teach English if it’s not going to make you happy. You don’t have to move to a big city and get a mind-numbing office job because it’s going to impress your parents. The choices you make now set the tone for the choices you’re going to make the rest of your life. So you’re allowed to make the choices you want to make – and only worry about impressing your future self.
11. ‘No’ is a very important word.
You’re allowed to use it. Say no to jobs that don’t entice you. Say no to people who bring out the worst in you. Say no to all the opportunities that prevent you from pursuing the bigger, braver, bolder life course that you’d rather be on. Say no confidently, strategically and as regularly as you need to. It is your right and in some cases, your greatest asset.
12. Nobody can read your mind – you’re going to have to ask for what you want.
Nobody is going to come hand you your dream job or your perfect relationship or your ideal lifestyle because you’ve been obeying the rules so diligently. You have to ask – directly and sometimes incessantly – for those things. It’s unfortunate that the adult world works this way, but it does. The sooner you get comfortable asking for things, the sooner you start getting big results. Results other people don’t get because they’re too afraid to ask for them.
13. You don’t have to be embarrassed.
Not by the job you’re working or the person you’re dating or where you are in life, in relation to the people you graduated college with. Embarrassment is a choice. And the prouder you choose to be of yourself – no matter where you are in life – the further you’re going to go. Confidence is a major predictor of success.
14. Your body is not seventeen anymore.
You can’t exist on a steady diet of beer, burritos and power-naps forever. Your body is starting to change and you have to change to accommodate it if you don’t want to feel just a little bit worn-out for the rest of eternity. Treating your body properly is going to have more of a positive impact on your life in the coming years than you could possibly imagine right now.
15. You’re probably hotter than you think you are.
Something I hear over and over again from middle-aged people is that they can’t believe they ever thought they were unattractive in their early twenties.
We are our own harshest critics at this point in our lives and it’s more likely than not that your most unattractive quality is the lack of confidence you have in your own appearance. Start believing in yourself a little more right now, so you have to kick yourself a little less aggressively later.
16. You aren’t done changing yet, and you probably won’t be for a while.
There are those rare, beautiful moments in our early twenties where it feels like we’ve got it all figured out and we’re entirely out of the woods. But those moments never last for too long. Life is constantly changing – but that’s far from being a bad thing. Your brain is still developing. You are still developing. And the worst thing you can be right now is stagnant.
17. You have to give yourself a break.
At 23, it’s easy to get so caught up in the working and progressing and forming relationships and finding ourselves that we forget to ever take a moment to just breath. To relax. And to take a brief break from frantically dashing toward the future. You still deserve to live and enjoy your life. Your future will come soon enough.
18. Losing friends is a natural consequence of this stage of your life.
Losing touch with your old college roommates or your hometown friends or the loved ones who settled down earlier or later than you did is a natural consequence of growing older. It isn’t solely up to you to keep every friendship you’ve ever had alive – some things fade out naturally, because they should. Because some of the friendships you shared were meant to last a season, not a lifetime, and that’s okay.
19. There will be people you have to leave behind as you grow, and that doesn’t make you a bad person.
Everyone grows up and grows into themselves at different paces. And the older you get, the more you will notice that some people almost deliberately choose to stay stuck or hold themselves back. And it is not your job to rescue these people from themselves. You can love them, you can support them and you can encourage them but at the end of the day you just can’t hold yourself back on their behalf. They have responsibility over their lives and you have responsibility over yours. You are not selfish or horrible to keep moving forward without them.
20. Comparisons are completely senseless, unless you use them as a motivator.
Comparisons are a great thing if you’re using them to motivate yourself to rise up to someone else’s level of greatness. If, however, you’re only using them to beat yourself down, they are the single greatest waste of your time and energy. You are not your friend or your college classmate or your co-worker who just got a raise. You are you. And if you want to rise above the rest, you have to use the skills that are unique to you, rather than pining after what comes naturally to everyone else.
21. Everyone fucks up.
No, seriously. Everyone has made at least one big, huge mistake that they wish they could take back. It’s just that we tend to not talk about our fuck-ups, which creates a culture where everyone believes that they’re the only ones who ever encounters them. Trust me: you’re not alone. We’ve all done some royally screwed-up stuff. And we’ve all survived it. Which means that you’re probably going to as well.
22. Everyone’s terrified.
Nobody really knows what’s coming next. Nobody actually has a foolproof plan. Nobody is 100% sure of how to get where they want in life and nobody has it all figured out.
Even the most confident people are a little bit unsure and a little bit terrified sometimes. Life’s just like that. Uncertainty is a key ingredient to the whole shebang.
23. If you had it all figured out right now, the rest of your life would be boring.
If you had the rest of your life locked and loaded at twenty-three years old, the rest of your life would be a let-down. The ups and downs are just a natural part of what keeps things interesting. And the truth is, now is the best time imaginable to ride out those fluctuations. A period of struggle prepares you for a future of resilience. So struggle away at twenty-three. The future has plenty of time to fall into place.