This Is What Your 20s Are REALLY About

A smiling woman in sunglasses and a dress stands on a pier holding up peace signs
Hannah Busing / Unsplash

Being a 20-something is glorious.

It’s easy. It’s beautiful. It often looks like a pair of designer cut-offs or a laptop on a beach. It isn’t terribly serious.

In fact, it’s rarely serious. Yet it makes sense–more sense than any other age because it’s newly educated, self-discovered, and hopeful.

Right?

This is what social media tells me. It is what college told me. It is something many of us believe.

I am convinced, however, that there is more to it than this.

Someone or some book neglected to add a few more postscripts to this chapter of the Book of Life. Or maybe they were lodged under the “Recommended Reading” portion of the syllabus (and hence overlooked).

Whatever the case, your real 20s are about something in between the really good vodka and the wandering. That something has the power to shape this decade of your life into a different kind of gem.

(Yes, you can cut your teeth on it.)

1. Uncertainty

College (or life after high school) somehow perpetuates the myth that graduation precedes a concrete stairway. And that stairway leads clearly to a life path, a career, a vision, and a culmination, all to the sweet tune of Jimi Hendrix.

A bachelor’s or associate’s degree initiates many into the world of work and careerdom. But it does not necessarily make things any more certain.

Perhaps you’ve graduated with a degree in French literature and suddenly feel an impulse to stare at lots of graphs and statistics.

Maybe you have no impulse whatsoever. You have hobbies—fixing bikes, swiping left—but cannot seem to grasp a vision.

If you’re like I was in my 20s, perhaps you sense you want to do everything your parents didn’t, if only your feet would touch ground sometime soon.

This decade is definitively unknown. Not having a solid sense of what comes next is not an inherent fault of yours; it’s part and parcel of life’s whimsical years.

Want in on a shinier secret? All decades are uncertain. This one just feels the ripest.

If you wake up every morning and have no answers (or job, or girlfriend, or house), great! You’re doing this right. Answers will emerge, but in the meantime, sit with the discomfort of being simply where you are at.

2. Forgiveness

As the decade of uncertainty unfolds, lean into it. I found that I could get more comfortable with being an unknown entity in my 20s by forgiving myself (and others).

You don’t have to go to an ashram to practice forgiveness, although I’m not discouraging you from this path. Nor do you have to start embracing a new religion or giving up red meat and Cheetos.

Forgiveness starts with awareness. Beginning to recognize the difference between personal goals and societal demands is the prelude to following a gentler, more visionary path.

When I forgave myself for being a perfectionist, despairing that I would never find a job, and wondering if I really should have chosen my English major, life became much easier.

Science also tells us that our brains are still firing, forming, and developing in our 20s.

As such, friendships may peel away. Certain kinds of knowledge may dissolve. You may start to realize that holding grudges or avoiding conflict isn’t worth it anymore—or is now worth forgiveness.

Forgiveness can also be empowering. It’s one of many doors that can shuttle you more effectively into the unknown (with grace and a good pair of heels).

3. Exchange

Everything we learn in childhood, high school, and beyond is not necessarily the truth. The decade of your 20s is about conscious and willing abandonment of past ideals, notions, and information.

To some, this may be simple rebellion. To others, it may be part of the self’s natural evolution.

To me, it’s about an exchange.

Being in your 20s can involve trading in those old ideas for more relevant ones. It’s like the best consignment store, but for self.

At this stage in life, a lot of things crumble. A lot of new buildings and scaffolding develop.

Sometimes, this is brutal. It may feel unfair. It may feel like a relief.

No one is here to say that you have to be the self of your childhood or the self of eighteen (or last year). Mindfully weeding out the old and heralding in a more graceful, informed you will make that part of your thirties that much easier.

4. Risk

If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, this is all really risky.

I mean, trekking across Mongolia, coming out, changing your name, abandoning your career, or taking up deep water diving isn’t easy.

Forgiving yourself and leaning into uncertainty—those are hard, too.

A lot can get lost. A lot more can crack, splinter, and explode. It’s a minefield for the mind and heart.

This decade may be the riskiest of your life. But that’s how you know you’re playing a good hand.

Without risk, the path becomes in danger of getting “too comfortable.” That’s one thing we millennials can agree on, at least—to be comfortable is to be stagnant.

I say, be risky. Feel imperiled, whether it involves a belief system or relationship or vision. On the other side of risk is knowing.

5. Authenticity

This decade is yours. It can shimmer, darken, or expand depending on what you do with it. No one can tell you otherwise.

Society may urge you to be free, playful, and exuberant in your 20s. Excellent.

It may also urge you to be driven, focused, and cynical. Also excellent.

But your 20s are really all about authenticity, or what you do with it.

The greatest years of your life won’t necessarily be college—they may just be the ones in which you chose to live powerfully within the scope of your greatest and truest self.

Onward

If no one was there to prep you for your 20s, or if you feel that the ones who were got it all wrong, take these words to heart.

Be uncertain and timid. Be afraid and unfinished. But also be audacious and genuine, and don’t forget the hummus (or self-love).

The one who’s looking closest is, after all, you. TC mark

One story, told five ways…

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