The rather trite phrase “Do what makes you happy” seems to always come paired with this massive, glooming asterisk next to it, clarifying: “*but if what makes you happy doesn’t include complying with the societally constructed, traditional path of life or make you a lot of money, then, jk, don’t actually do it.”
Our early 20s are plagued with this reputation of being the most irritatingly difficult to maneuver. We have so many demands to fulfill and so many expected milestones to meet, that as we begin our spiraling descent into what is constantly drilled into our heads as The Most Hellish Years of Our Entire Existence, it makes sense that we’re scurrying around panicked and uncomfortable with ourselves and the near future.
The biggest pressure: securing a “real job” and ~*~making it in the real world~*~. I’m not even sure what “making it” qualifies as, since it always seems to be treated as a singular accomplishment, but shouldn’t it be defined differently by everyone since everyone is different?? And what even is a “real job”? And why do you have to get one and start it the same day you’re handed the diploma you essentially just spent 16 years of your life working towards??
In addition to the issue of obtaining the ultimate “real job” (general consensus seems to deem this post-graduate miracle as working in a cubicle, wearing a pantsuit, unironically carrying around a briefcase), we’re also expected to be swiping left and right on Tinder to frantically find and secure our future spouses. And, if we’re continuing this struggle to comply with the mandated conventional path of life that’s expected of us 20-somethings, this significant other must also have a *perfect job* so that we can afford sharing an apartment with no rats and superb wifi speed, date for 3-4 years, get married in the spring, move to the suburbs, and then have 2.5 kids all before we’re too old (read: 35).
Look, I’m 20 years old, single, and have no job prospects lined up for after I graduate college in a year. And the main reason why I’m worried about any of this, is because I’m told I should be.
We’re trained to believe that we should just look forward to the next stage of adulthood by closing our eyes and running through our 20s, suffering through jobs we hate and interacting with people we can’t stand, so that we can cross the finish line of our 30th birthday with something to account for: a “proper” career and a spouse. Who knew the secret to “making it” would be dedicating 10 years of our life to doing things we may not necessarily want to be doing, just so we can finally fluff up our LinkedIn pages and permanently change our relationship statuses on Facebook?!
Do whatever you want. This isn’t a romanticized promise of an easy journey to achieving whatever it is you want, but enough with the stigma about this period in our lives. If you want to do something wholeheartedly more than anything you’ve ever wanted to do in your entire life, but your dad or older cousin or best friend is telling you not to do it— why are you letting that get in the way?? It should make you want to do it more, not make you longingly stare at the work abroad brochure emails your college still sends you, as you sit in a freezing conference room in some grey office building.
And if you want to stay single during it, don’t let your mother and your roommate, both of whom have been dropping not-so-subtle hints about their concerns over you opting for Netflix instead of dates, influence that decision. Travel, write, cook (at least learn how to properly), be a barista, bartend, waitress, design, build, study— this list is infinite (and why shouldn’t it be?) because in what state of mind is it sane to think that obtaining what someone else deems to be a real job or an ideal partner is going to make you, a human being independent of this other entirely different human being, feel happy or accomplished?
An entire decade of our existence shouldn’t be dismissed as just an inevitable “rough time”— especially when it doesn’t have to be.