Being in your early twenties is a time without any guarantees. There is a slackline you must walk and a foundation you must build for yourself from next to nothing. It is Limbo.
Millions of twenty-somethings, myself included, navigate our way through this age of Limbo tentatively, scared we might trip over our new-born responsibilities and fall flat on our face. So many of us don’t know what our next move will be, what it should be. We don’t know who we are or who we will become or who we even want to become. Nobody warned us it was going to be this difficult. Nobody armed us with patience and resilience. Our past naivety is all too evident – the now-disillusioned, adolescent belief that once we hit adulthood everything will fall neatly into place and we will live inside a Kurt Vonnegut quote: ‘Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.’
Well, things are still ugly and things still hurt.
Every day, we make it on our own as adult-babies, working jobs we pretend to like; studying a course we pretend to like; dating people we pretend to like; living in a city we pretend to like. And the reason we’re pretending isn’t out of fakery or malice, it’s because we’re not sure how we feel or what we’re doing. Maybe we’re not pretending at all or maybe that’s all we’re doing. There is so much uncertainty. So much anxiety
Not knowing is something that can be tricky to come to terms with. While I am learning that you design your own destiny, and ultimately there is so much more in life that you can control over what you cannot, the acknowledgement and implementation of this still does not grant you a crystal ball. Taking the reins on your aspirations and responsibilities cannot make you a fortune teller of anyone’s life, not even your own – there will always be some level of unknowing.
So maybe it’s okay not to know.
Just in the past couple of months my goal careers have changed as sporadically as my hair (seriously, I’ve been doing some stupid shit with my hair). I’ve “wanted” to be a:
• Music Journalist
• Interior Designer
• Documentary Filmmaker
• Crime Reporter
• Freelance Writer (something I’m actually pursuing)
• Person Who Has Their Shit Together
I even gave some consideration to a career as a Teacher. Me! Working with kids! Don’t know what I was smoking when I thought of that.
The truth is most of us don’t really know what we want beyond the vague, ubiquitous milestones life lays ahead to hit. Specifics are scary. I can’t decide what I want for breakfast half the time, let alone what I want a long-term career in. I can’t tell you with conviction what my “passions” are. Nor can I assure myself or anyone else that I’ll be able to figure it out soon. The most terrifying bit is I can’t promise myself that by the time I hit 25, when I’m finally out of this godforsaken early-twenties mini-era and into my romanticised mid-twenties, everything will have come together: financial stability; healthy relationships; enviably glowing skin; career progression in something I love; a daily yoga practice; a great work-life balance; a great social circle; 3 litres of water a day and kale salad for lunch. Though I’d love to think I’ll be set, I might not be. And that’s okay too.
Not knowing is not not caring. You do not need to know exactly what it is you want out of the next few decades to work towards something. You are not apathetic.
It’s overwhelming when the world asks you overnight who you are, tells you to have a plan and bring everything together, especially when just recently that same world regarded you as a kid. But to be fair the world wasn’t wrong; only in hindsight can we recognise how young we were before, in every sense of the word. We can scrutinise the flaws in our old opinions, dress sense, attitude, and laugh knowingly at the nature of adolescence which embodies such contradictions – forming, both grown and un-grown; sure and unsure; pugnacious and meek. The only difference between then and now is that back then we thought we knew everything but knew nothing, whilst now we’ve simply acknowledged the fact that we were clueless all along, and still are. Either way, the cluelessness doesn’t go away. We’re still figuring out: What do I like? What don’t I like? What matters to me as individual? What speaks to me? Who do I want in my bubble?
Nowadays, I’m trying to remind myself not to expect to have the answers right away. I’m not even convinced there are answers anymore.
There is a temptation to get fixated on the beautiful anomalies, a temptation which anyone with any form of social media can understand all too well. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible not to fall down that rabbit hole once in a while – past the 19-year-old Instagram Influencer whose every photo is taken in some gorgeous, exotic location (reminding you not only of your genetic shortfalls but that the last place you travelled to was the pavement to take out the bins); past that ex-friend who has a first class degree in Astrophysics and sometimes pays with a fifty. Fall too far and you come to find that this rabbit hole looks suspiciously similar to the dark pits of depression. There seems to be no end, it only gets darker.
But this is inevitable: There are always going to be people who, by your age or younger, have achieved goals you can yet only dream of. And while we should be happy for those people and their accomplishments, it’s also important to note that they are the minority. Not all of us can be Billie Eilish. Only Billie Eilish can be Billie Eilish. (Put that on a t-shirt.)
(P.S. Not to mention, you often don’t know the backstory of the person you compare yourself to – they could’ve been dealt much better cards… Or they could be an orphan from a war-torn country turned child-prodigy-philanthropist-billionaire, but let’s sidestep that.)
I’m still yet to work to save endangered emus, and again, that’s okay. While I’m not an advocate for wasting time (despite being a pro at it), I’m even less of an advocate for dwelling on where all the time has gone.
It’s okay to go at your own pace.
It’s okay to wonder why you still haven’t found your thing, or wonder why you’re not as excited about something as you were before. It’s okay to ask if this is as good as it gets – and might even be worth asking, if only to experience the excitement when life begins to show you that it’s not. It’s okay to change paths, change goals, even change friends. You might wish sometimes that you could rewind back time to those spotty high-school years when you took everything for granted and do it better this time round. But where you are right now is somewhere just as malleable; you can shape it however you want.
Give your nearest 20 to 24-year-old a hug. They’re doing the best they can.