Through the gilded lens of social media, it can seem that some people’s twenties fall neatly into place. Our feeds are full of moves to the big city, endless holidays, and Instagram-ready apartments complete with a significant other and the engagement ring to match. In contrast, it may feel that your own twenties are sprawling out in a glorious and beautiful mess — a decade of uncertainty, regular quarter-life crises, questionable fashion choices, and bad decisions that just sometimes lead you to the right place.
My own early-to-mid-twenties were drenched in self-doubt. At twenty-two, I moved to a small town as many of my friends migrated to the same (much more happening) city. I took up a job that I wasn’t sure of and proceeded to fall in and out of a series of relationships that were never quite right. I struggled in a new place where I didn’t know anyone, I questioned whether the choices I had made that got me there were the right ones, and I constantly held out for a future version of my life where my twenties, my real twenties, would begin.
Whilst I worried about where these formative years had taken me I forgot to take stock of what I already had. I neglected to celebrate the incredible opportunities my work offered me, the flood of new and wonderful people who entered my life, and the amazing life experiences I accumulated. As I’ve progressed from Prosecco-fuelled nights out to staying in with a good book, and swapped spot treatments for early-protection anti-ageing creams (and learned that in spite of good intentions it’s always best to have a bottle of Prosecco on standby, just in case you change your mind), I’ve discovered that sometimes you gain the most when you let expectations go. Here are a few other things that I learned to let go of along the way:
I consider myself a connoisseur of breakups. I’ve heard the fateful “we need to talk” enough times that Bumble should probably bestow on me a best returning customer award. In spite of this, I’ve found that some of the most meaningful relationships I’ve lost in early adulthood have been strictly platonic.
Our twenties are a time for discovery; for working on our goals and rearranging our priorities. As our lives change so do our friendships. Some of them will stick, whilst others will melt away slowly until you find yourself catching up on a former bestie’s Insta story and wondering what happened.
Although it’s easy to get caught up in the friendships you lose in your twenties, it’s also important to accept that people can be your soul sister at one point in your life and someone you have nothing in common with at others. Wish them well, and remember that you have grown apart because you have grown as individuals — and that’s never a bad thing.
It’s a Wednesday night and you’re months deep into a stranger’s social media feed, blindsided by glamorous work events and jealousy-inducing interiors as you wonder how many times you can get away with eating instant ramen in your PJs.
Sound familiar? As easy as it is to compare your life unfavorably to others, it’s essential to remember that we are all the best versions of ourselves online. And so what if someone really is raking it in and rubbing shoulders with the well-heeled? As Baz Luhrmann once told us, “Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.” Turns out he was right (he was right about the wearing sunscreen stuff too, as it goes).
Even when you feel in last place remember that you have years to get to where you want to be. Focus on yourself, celebrate your own achievements (even if it’s more mastering that brownie recipe your colleague shared with you than industry awards and homeownership), and have enough belief in your abilities to trust that you’ll get on track in the end.
Fear of Missing Out
Ah, the dreaded FOMO. I lose count of the hours of my early twenties I spent sweating on the dancefloor of a trendy new bar in shoes that made my feet hurt because I couldn’t stand the thought of maybe missing out on the best night of my life.
The secret? There will be very few events that will change your life. There will be other parties and other dinners. There will be no in-jokes you can’t catch up on, no judgment for you politely declining an invite worth worrying about, and no eventful twist that will truly cut you to the core to miss. Frankly, Bradley Cooper could turn up at a club night and suggest an afterparty back at his place and I’m still not sure it’d be worth the lines and the ten dollar vodka cokes.
Although becoming a hermit isn’t strictly advised, it’s much more important to make the events and social occasions you spend your time on valuable. Plan a weekend getaway with friends, throw a really special dinner, or catch up for coffee in the day if you can’t face a night out. Prioritizing the events and the people that are really important mean that you’ll be energized and excited about your social plans instead of drained by a succession of events you felt obligated to go to.
Asking “What If”
Things don’t always work out the way that we want them to — and even when they do we often still find ourselves agonizing over whether we really should have moved across the country for that job, broken up with that guy, or chosen that major.
Wondering “what if” is as integral to us wanderlust-fuelled millennials as is a fervent love of avocado on toast. Many of us have been fortunate enough to have reached adulthood with a plethora of possibilities that will leave us constantly questioning our choices and imagining how things could have been different. But that’s all it is — our imagination.
Although it’s fine (frankly I would say encouraged) to daydream about what might have been if you’d have flirted back with that hot barista that one time, anything more than a wistful musing is a waste of time and energy. Enjoy the hard-earned pay-offs of the choices that you’ve made; shut down the nagging voice in your head and for goodness sake flirt with the hot barista if you feel like it.
Dressing For Anyone But Yourself
With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the rediscovery of old MySpace photos from the years when you thought backcombed hair, shorts over leggings, and concealer coated lips were a good look.
Trends may come and go, but your sense of self only grows stronger with time. Who cares if feather eyebrows are the must-have look in 2018? Growing older means feeling less tied to trends and having a better understanding of the styles that suit you and the clothes you feel most comfortable wearing — and you’ll give less of a damn if anyone thinks otherwise.
Taking Setbacks Personally
Setbacks are an integral part of growing up. Perhaps you were ditched by the love of your life, got passed over for that promotion you were sure was yours, or missed out on a place in your perfect college course. As hard as these disappointments might be to stomach, the motivational posters were right: for every success you see, there were a hundred failures you didn’t. And after all, if it took Thomas Edison 10,000 attempts to create a light bulb then it might just take you a few knock-downs to get to your goals too.
Although it can be tough to spot the silver lining when you’re reeling from a setback, remember that each rebuff will only make you more resilient. If you can pick yourself up once then you can do it again, and having faith that you can recover from heartbreak will mean that you’ll be less afraid to put yourself out there a second time — and that’s an incredible power to have.
Sometimes our twenties can feel like a tick list. By the time we hit our late-teens, we can probably neatly box a lot of our life goals into bi-yearly checkpoints. Graduation at twenty-one. Do your dream round-the-world backpacking trip by twenty-three. Be in the perfect career by twenty-five. Meet The One by twenty-seven. Homeownership by twenty-nine.
Although it’s great to have goals, we should acknowledge that good things take time. Keep in mind that there are few real deadlines for success or happiness. Plenty of people spend their twenties and beyond testing the water before finding a career, partner, or lifestyle that they are genuinely passionate about further down the line. Take stock of what you’ve achieved so far, and appreciate the stage of life that you’re at. Your first foray into adulthood is an unparalleled time of freedom and choice. Enjoy it for as long as it lasts.