You should have the ability to recognize when your fear is disguising itself as ‘good judgment.’ When your brain is trying to convince you that it’s a smart idea to not apply for that job, or move to that city, or go on that trip, or to sign up for that extracurricular activity after work – when in reality, you’re just subconsciously afraid of failing, or being judged, or being rejected.
You should have the ability to tune in carefully to your thoughts, to your stream of consciousness, and to figure out the difference between a rational, well thought-out decision, and a decision that’s simply made out of fear.
You should have the knowledge that fear never goes away, that there will never be a point in which you’re not scared. You should hold on to the understanding that no soul on this earth – not the most successful business mogul in the world nor the most beloved celebrity that comes to mind – is free of doubt, free of judgment, free of the fear of failure. You should clutch onto the notion that every person you know (or know of) is just as uncertain and scared and doubtful as you are. But that what separates the doers from the people on the sidelines is just that – the ability to do and to keep doing, the resilience to keep showing up, in spite of how terrified they are.
You should have the mindset of running to things, instead of away from others. It was a lesson I learned at twenty-two, when I word-vomitted on the phone every night to my dad about how miserable I was at my job and how badly I wanted to leave. One night I’d say, “Maybe I’ll just quit and move to California.” The next night it would be, “Should I just go back to school and try to figure something else out?” And each time he’d say, “You should quit your job when you know, or have a very strong inclination, of where you want to go next. But don’t quit tomorrow just to get away from it. Run somewhere, not away from something.”
You should have the capacity to be both hard on yourself and loving towards yourself. To expect no less than the best of yourself every day, but to also be able to forgive yourself when you’ve screwed up, to go easy on yourself when you’ve had a bad day. You should be kind to yourself, and gentle and understanding and supportive – while still getting out of bed every day and reminding yourself that you’ll never get better at anything without a little sweat, a little blood, a few tears.
You should have the freeing realization that the quality of your friends truly matters more than the quantity. It’s a hard transition to make at first, especially after coming out of college – where it often felt like you were making a new friend every five seconds. But by this age you should understand that there are people you talk about ‘doing drinks’ with seven times without it ever happening, and then there are people who show up to your place within ten minutes and hang out with you in pajamas and see you ugly-cry and make you feel more understood and more heard and more seen than most other people you’ve ever met.
You should have the desire to nurture and care for these friendships, to know which ones are worth your time and energy, to give to each of these people as much as they give to you. To be there for them when they need you, knowing that it’s a never-ending process – that someday soon, maybe in three days or five months or two years, that you’ll be on the receiving end of this love, that you’ll be the one who desperately needs the encouragement and warmth, until it’s their turn all over again, because this is adulthood and bad things happen and that’s the way life works.
You should have the belief that there is no right way to do this, no specific timeline that your twenties must follow. That as long as you’re working hard, challenging yourself, fostering your relationships, and walking through your life awake, that you’re doing your twenties right. Some people you know will travel. Some will focus on their careers. Some will get married, some will have kids. Some will stay single, some will date around. Some will reside in the same town they grew up in, some will move across the world. None of these choices are right, none of these choices are wrong. What they are is a series of milestones on an infinite number of life paths. One of them is yours. Go on.