How to Manage Your (Less-Than-Stellar) 20s

In your twenties, people are going to tell you lies.

As someone who is nearing the end of her third decade of life, I’ll let you in on a secret that no one wants to admit, let alone speak aloud: Sometimes, nothing works.

That’s right. Sometimes, you can do everything possible to make your job, your roommate situation, your leaky faucet, or your relationship work, and it just doesn’t.

See, I’m not attempting to be a pessimist, nor am I trying to bring you down. Think of me as that little nagging voice at the back of your mind that itches to climb free and manifest itself. Life isn’t always fair. Your career may not be the one you dreamed about as you took out that $40,000 loan to pay for your world-class college education. Maybe you didn’t get into the university your High School adviser suggested. Perhaps you were passed over for a promotion at work. Things don’t always go according to plan….

…And that’s okay.

This isn’t the movies, after all. When you walked out after a late showing of The Devil Wears Prada or shut off a re-run of Friends before heading to bed, you probably thought, “Alright. That’s not so bad. I’ll put up with a year of crappy work and it’ll all be okay because Stanley Tucci or Ralph Lauren will find me eventually and give me a better paying job and I’ll be able to afford nice hair and clothes or a bigger apartment!” Maybe it was that guy or girl from your graduating class that–Did you hear? “They got a HUUUUGE job offer with Apple/MGM/ [insert government agency here]/ The Washington Post and they’re already on the way up!” And you thought, “…That could be ME! I’ll just work here for a few more months and then I’ll be the one with the offers and I’ll leave my office in a dramatic exit of spilled coffee and witty comebacks!”

Then reality hit and you started to punch in the numbers and peruse the job vacancies and… zip. Nada. Not happening. Your 25th birthday is rounding the corner and you’re still in the same car you drove to your first day of class.

You know something? That’s just fine. So maybe you’re working at, oh–I don’t know, a hair salon and what you went to school for was Cultural and Linguistic Proficiency in Middle Eastern Relations (just an example off the top of my head). Say you trained to be a footballer and you ended up blowing out your knee in the first game and that was it. You gave up a social life to work overtime and your supervisor gave the bonus to your co-worker who came into work hungover no less than 8 different times. It’s okay. It’s all okay.

Here’s why.

– You know that saying, “You can’t always see the forest through the trees”? Think of that as your motto. Don’t get bogged down by the notion that you’ve failed. Because you haven’t. Thomas Edison was once asked about the numerous failures he encountered before successfully amending the light bulb, to which he replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Right now is your discovery period: your 20’s are a time of inspiration and introspection. I recall a conversation I had with a co-worker about nearly getting engaged during my second year of college; I related to her how lucky I was that my relationship ended before it ever reached that point. Some are lucky enough to know themselves early on. I was not one of those people. Take time to learn about yourself now while you have the chance.

Maybe you didn’t find love the first time. That’s okay. Take a step back and re-evaluate. Give yourself a ‘Bridesmaids’ moment. Date people you normally wouldn’t, just for the hell of it. Be open to that guy at the bookstore who is timid and can’t quite get out the words, “I’d love to have dinner sometime”. So you didn’t live “happily ever after” on your last go-around; congratulations, you just figured out the type of person you don’t need to be with. You didn’t miss out on that promotion, you got the chance to figure out where you really want to be working. You missed that sale. You learned not to opt-out of email coupons.

 Explore. I don’t mean this in a “Find Zen” or “Lie down and tell me your problems” way, I mean it in a literal sense. Save up a little money and take a trip when you have a few days. Spend a Sunday exploring a new neighborhood or a new museum or even a new coffee shop. Take a book to the beach, the park, or the campgrounds nearby. Hike a mountain, big or small. After a particularly taxing point in my life, I remember spending many weekends hiking up the waterfall near my college campus, packing flip-flops with me on hot days and sitting with my feet in the pooling mountain water at the bottom… and just people-watching. One weekend, I drove up to a nearby tourist village and window-shopped, walked through art galleries, and had lunch at a delicious cafe.

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to explore alone. If you’re headed somewhere where you’ll feel unsafe, take a friend. Share a new experience and take your mind off of the fact that things haven’t been going your way. Buy that pair of sunglasses you’ve been lusting after–the ones you’ve been saving up for for months– and eat a chocolate truffle in the shape of a bunny. This is your chance to be a little selfish, because, girl, you’ve worked hard for the money.

– Thomas Jefferson was once quoted as saying, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done”. So you want to be a rock-star. Pick up that guitar and start setting aside time to write and sing. Planning to be a business executive? Find a company that gives you opportunity for growth and give your boss your notice. Don’t let your nerves get the better of you. You may not be guaranteed a top-spot from the get-go, but if it’s even a little better than your current situation, do not– I repeat– DO NOT get sucked into the comfort zone. You know. That place between satisfied and burnt-out where goals go to die. You want to be an actor/comedian but you’re scared to fail? Do it. Go anyway. Get those head-shots and a Backstage subscription, pack your bags, and move. Don’t be afraid of looking a little silly. If you are, you’ll never get anywhere. Want to write for a big magazine or get your work published? Get yourself a portfolio. Apply with a fabulous online publication that will give you the chance to showcase your work… and thank the writing gods when they allow you to post articles about ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Deep-V Tees’, and Joss Whedon.

Whatever your situation, don’t let others talk you into giving up, giving in, or moving on to “greener pastures” if what you really want is a little off the beaten path. Irish comedian Dylan Moran observed the following:

Don’t resign yourself to “What should I do?” You have your entire life to worry about that. Instead, right now, in your twenties, ask yourself, “What do I want and how do I get it?” After all, most of us remember that scene in ‘Dead Poets Society’ where Oh-Captain-My-Captain spouts off Thoreau:

If your twenties have been feeling a bit lackluster of late, change that. Use this decade to be something, do something, learn something. We’ve been indoctrinated to think that anyone who hasn’t found their life’s calling by their 21st birthday is a failure. Anyone who doesn’t have a 9-5, a steady mid-level paycheck, or an overpriced lease on a four-door sedan isn’t contributing to society.

Challenge that. Be the person that others envy when they turn to you one day and say, “You’re one in a million, kid.”

(…And don’t forget to always wear clean underwear. Grandma was right on that one.)

Featured image via ShutterStock

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