5 Causes Of The 20-Something Self Esteem Trap


As a 20­-something myself, I can say that, yes, I get it. It’s difficult being the age when everyone expects you to have your life figured out even though the very idea of that seems like a joke. We’ve all probably even said on multiple occasions to an empathetic friend, “You know what’s a joke? My life.” The response to this is always an overenthusiastic laugh that quickly evaporates into a sigh at the realization that it’s maybe not as funny as you’d like it to be. I also understand the catharsis that we find in sharing our trials, dreams, and fears with friends or anyone willing to lend an ear. Parents don’t count though, right? Because how could they understand our what it’s like to be in our shoes?

My work as a success coach, both for students in my professional role, and for friends because I like making their lives better, has quickly shown me there are just a few roadblocks stopping most 20­somethings from moving beyond the feeling of being stuck, the feeling that we must wait for some unknown event to happen to finally move us beyond the limbo that follows graduating college and landing your first “adult” job.

My two disclaimers for this list are

  • Admitting that I have been guilty of all of these things, and I am often still guilty of a few of them.
  • Some (or all!) of these items can be influenced or exacerbated by a few mental illnesses, so if that’s you, please do not take this as me saying to you, “Get over it.” That’s not my intent.

1. Social Media Envy

Countless others have written about this specific topic. I’m writing about it because it’s just that important to move beyond. The representations people create of themselves on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and even dating apps *cringe* are NOT accurate in portraying what their actual lives are like. If a person took my social media presence seriously, all I ever do is sit on the beach watching sunsets, get in rare, heated, slightly ­immature political arguments, and play with my Shih Tzu, Benji. I can tell you Benji has been giving me the cold shoulder lately because he he feels I abuse him for social media popularity, but who can blame me? He photographs very well.

In all seriousness though, I have known too many people who have lamented to me how low­ key and boring they believe their lives are compared to all their friends, which is almost always based on what they see documented online. The only people who accurately portray their daily lives online are the people we all unfollowed years ago. (No, for the last time, we don’t care what you had for lunch, honestly.) Everyone else spends their time with their faces glued to their phones, just hoping for something quasi­interesting to happen that will draw three seconds of attention from their online friends. I could write so much more about this, but I know you get the point.

2. Overanalyzing EVERYTHING

My in­ depth research (read: a few questionable internet articles) tells me that there could be many causes of this, but the cause isn’t important! I have had too many conversations with people about how anxiety­ inducing unreturned text messages can be. This is especially nerve wracking when you sent some kind of sensitive information or important question. I get this. I still get frustrated by this, but it’s still stupid. A text conversation is not actually bound by any conventions, as much as we might like to think it is. Even if you think to yourself that you would never pull the no­ response on an important text, that doesn’t mean everyone else needs to be as attached to their phone as we are. Maybe your friend got in the shower, isn’t getting service, or got hit by a bus. There are too many possibilities for you too get worked up over something like this. Even in the worst case scenario, let’s say your friend is purposefully not responding to a text, Facebook chat, or whatever because they don’t know how to respond without upsetting you, oh well! 99% of the time, when compared to everything else going on in the world and even in your own life, this is not of significance. That’s not what it feels like in the moment, I’m aware. That doesn’t change the truth.

3. Living in the moment

“Carpe diem!” “Live for today!” These are half­ truths we have been fed by feel­ good books and 80’s and 90’s movies since we were old enough to think it was novel to think such ideas. My own personal take on these mantras is that the problem is that we live in a world where it’s not possible to fully commit to these ideas, but it’s dangerous to only half commit. Our parents and all those ‘real’ adults we look up to took whatever career they could get right out of high school or college. Maybe they didn’t love it, but they committed to it and worked their way to where they are now. Our problem is that we (rightfully) worry we won’t be as successful as they are by the time we are their age, but how can we expect to be when we spend years telling ourselves we are ‘living in the moment’ and ‘pursuing our passions’, which usually amounts to have a lack of goals and ambition.

I’m not arguing against putting off your dreams because they are impractical; I’m arguing that If you are one of the few people who can actually live out carpe diem in its most literal sense (at least on weekends), great! I’m not advocating for that, necessarily, but I see the appeal. For the rest of us, we need to find the right blend of that lifestyle and constantly keeping in mind our future. I know that sounds boring and adult, but not doing so is absolutely one of the key causes of the 20­something trap. It didn’t seem that big of a problem to say during the first two years of high school and college that we didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do with our lives because we were living in the moment. When senior year came around though, suddenly that uncertainty turned from the idea of endless possibilities into fear. There is a pretty clear line between smart living in the moment and being too unmotivated to actually plan for your life. I doubt I will ever advocate everyone needs a concrete five­ year plan broken down into minutely specific details, but at some point we do need to make a vision of where we would like to be in the future, even if the thought of that is what scares us the most ­especially if the thought of that scares us the most!

4. Dating

I’m not even going to try and concisely sum up all the problems related to this, especially since one of the problems is that many of us 20­somethings don’t even date. Some of us literally do not engage in pursuing a S.O. for whatever reason we tell ourselves (if you don’t feel your vocation in life involves being in a relationship, this point doesn’t apply to you), and some of us waste our time with “talking” and “going on dates but not dating”. The leftover portion of people our age are the ones who have somehow already been married for two years that we are all a little bit envious of, and we both love and are annoyed by their constant social media reminders of how great married life is (refer to #1). I will write another piece on this point in the near future, and it will likely be longer than this entire article. Here’s a preview of what my main point will be: Be intentional.

5. Poor Finances

You need to have a budget, and you need to follow it to at least some degree. If you don’t know how to make a budget, there are a lot of great sites and apps that make it really easy (Mint.com, you know I’m looking at you!). If the thought of following a strict budget makes you squirm, I’m telling you it’s not as bad as it sounds. I am also telling you that you don’t have to follow your budget legalistically. I go over on my food and drinks category almost every month because that is the most time I get to spend with friends.

The one other main point I want to raise here is that there is no shame in living with your parents well into your 20s. None. I moved out when I went to grad school, had a fully self­ sufficient life in my own apartment and then living in a creepy, old house with roommates I found through the most questionable means possible (Craigslist). Yet, after I finished grad school, I swallowed my pride and moved home with my family while I was job searching. Then, unexpectedly, although I applied to 100+ jobs all across the country, I wound up with a job 30 minutes from home. After honestly assessing my finances, I realized it made the most sense to live at home for at least another year. The home life some people have, whether that be the physical living space or relationships with parents, will make this not viable, but you have to be entirely honest with yourself about this. If you can live at home for free, it is in almost all cases irresponsible to not do so (imho); even if you have to pay for your own food or a small amount for rent, it might still be smarter to live at home. If for some reason though, you can truly say this just will not work, regardless of the financial perks, then own that decision and move out. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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