In Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade (thank you, Aunt Kim, for this gem of a book), she describes twenty-somethings in a way that every twenty-something can intimately recognize:
“I feel like I’m in the middle of the ocean. Like I could swim in any direction but I can’t see land on any side so I don’t know which way to go.”
We’re told that in our twenties we can be wild. We can do anything. In fact, what we do right now hardly even matters for the rest of our lives, right? Right? But with every option available, the bar rises. When you can do anything, you aren’t simply looking to find land. It has to be the best land. What if you swim all that way, with every option in the world in your wake, and you find you’ve landed on something that isn’t the best? And you’re stuck there forever?
You won’t and you’re not.
I’ve been struggling with this mentality lately. Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in the middle of the ocean, my head barely above water, wondering what way is the right way. I don’t know what’s to the north, south, east or west. I want someone to tell me that going north will lead me to land, or that going west will take me to shark-infested waters. I want someone to give me direction. Honestly? I just really want answers.
The more I talk about this feeling of ‘treading water’, the more I realize that almost every twenty-something I know is experiencing the same mentality. It’s comical when you reflect on how once you finish up sixteen (or in my case, eighteen) years of school, you’re supposed to have all the answers. You’re supposed to know immediately what type of job you want, where you want to live and who you want to spend the rest of your life with.
Or at least, this is how it seems.
Social media shows everyone living their ‘best’ life, but it never shows the struggles. It never shows the doubt that reaches into your mind in the middle of the night as you wonder if all your decisions have been the right ones. I’m a firm believer of no regrets, but sometimes I wonder how life would be if [fill the blank in]. I’m sure we all do.
Since graduating from Curry College in 2016, let’s reflect on what I’ve done:
- Moved to London
- Was a professional Mary Poppins for two years
- Interned at a lifestyle PR agency
- Dated a lot of British guys
- Moved home
- Worked at my favorite retail job for a year
- Found a big kid job
- Ran two 5Ks
- Drove my sister to prom
- Went to Canada (aye)
- Bought a car
- Three of my favorite people got engaged (and I’m in all three weddings)
- Moved into my own apartment (PJ is a part-time roommate?)
- Saw two amazing Broadway performances
- Started paying student loans (yay?)
- Started therapy
- Bought Jonas Brother’s tickets
- Learned how to make the best banana bread muffins
To most, that’s an impressive list. I’m especially proud of my banana bread muffin recipe, as are most of my coworkers. But I can’t help but want more of something. I don’t know what though. If I knew what I wanted, I would go get it. But I don’t, which makes being a lost twenty-something much more…relevant.
You want to know the most valuable lesson I’ve learned though?
No one truly knows what they’re doing. Isn’t that crazy?! NOBODY KNOWS. Some may know more than others, but no one is a master of their own life. In fact, I’ve learned that if you say you’re a master at something, it usually means you’re not. I don’t care if you’re Bill Nye the Science Guy – you don’t know everything. I don’t say this to mock you if you think you’re an expert, I say this to remind you that we’re all swimming in the middle of the ocean wondering which direction to go. (See what I did? I brought my analogy back!) Everyone is faking it to a certain degree, and while they feel like they’re drowning on the inside, they’re wondering why everyone else seems to be doing fine when they can barely hold their head above water. God only knows how many times I’ve burst into tears in the middle of the highway because I just don’t know what I’m doing. We’re all just trying to survive, and sometimes the biggest accomplishment of the day is that your bed is made.
The most relevant piece of advice I’ve gotten regarding decision-making was from my therapist:
One big decision won’t define your life, so please calm down and stop crying. You’re going to give yourself a migraine.
We all wake up and make decisions. It can be so easy to get caught up in making one decision that we think will lead us to the next ‘big thing’, that we forget to live for the moment. Fuck it. Do you hear me? FUCK IT. If we keep thinking each step we take will alter our entire lives, then we’re stuck planning for things that will never happen. If you’re working a job you hate (I like mine, in case anyone from work is reading) you have two options: suck it up or quit. Now pick a direction. Now do it. Swim towards it. The land you find is the land you’re supposed to be on, and if you decide you hate that land, well jump back in the water and keep swimming. Just keep swimming.
When I get overwhelmed, I try to remind myself that I have time. I remind myself to take a breath. Everything, and I mean everything, will work out the way it is meant to. If I can do it, I know you can too. Push through the doubt. Push. And push. And when it feels like nothing’s moving, push one more time. Say yes. Inspire, and be inspired. Believe in others, and let them believe in you. Choose your happiness above all else, and stay contagiously optimistic.
Be wild. Be free. Be stupid. We have all the time in the world, so why are we rushing it?
Listening to: Upside Down by Jack Johnson