Becca Rose
November 11, 2014 9:25 am

I’m about to turn twenty-three in a matter of weeks. I’ve gone from feeling ambivalent to feeling a bit of despair about it. Before, when things turned screwy in my life, I could cry for a little bit and then shrug it off with “I’m only twenty-two, life is supposed to be screwy right now, right?” The mantra was, essentially, I’ve got time. Time to figure it all out, to be more grown-up, to turn into a better person who flosses morning and night and never cries looking at the Christmas lights in Target.

But twenty-three feels different. It’s not far enough out that I can start expecting things to get better, as they have for many of my friends approaching the golden gate of thirty. And I’m not so young, anymore, that I can use my youth as an excuse for whatever I haven’t gotten right yet. In my mind, twenty-three means I can’t relate to teens like I once did, I can’t toss my cares to the wind, and I have to start being serious about what I’m Doing With My Life.

The problem is a mix of a few things. Part of it is what I feel to be my friend’s and family’s expectations of me, heralded anew every time someone curiously inquires “So, when are you planning on going to grad school?” (answer: I cannot even plan out my meals for a week, do you really expect me to have an answer to that while I’m chowing down on pretzel sticks at nine pm like some sort of human rodent in the pantry? Don’t even look at me right now!). The rest of it is my own vast array of insecurities.

I have a habit of comparing myself to this idea I have, this monolith of Other People who are more successful, more happy, who have it all figured out. Other People are better at everything; they’re better at love, at life, at picking out perfectly ripe avocados. Other People sometimes looks like my friends, already finishing up their grad programs and embarking on adult careers, or engagements, or buying houses. It sometimes looks like the magazine articles I read fretting over the fate of millennials. Whatever the face, I’ve become convinced that Other People are looking down on me, frowning, while I’m struggling with budgets and my barista job and the amorphous idea of finding myself.

So I have developed a list of affirmations for myself whenever the specter of Other People begins looming in my brain. My friends are not the enemy, and my family’s expectations aren’t either. The biggest beast I have to slay is the ever-flowing font of my own insecurities. These are affirmations for my insecure, on-the-cusp-of-twenty-three self, and for the insecure twenty-something in all of us.

Careers. Why are we still hanging on so tightly to the idea that we have to find the one perfect occupation, the one job that will satisfy us for the rest of our lives? There’s nothing wrong with selecting a field you love and dedicating yourself to that. But very often that field can still contain a multitude of interests and avenues of employment. We’re not living in the kind of world where you have one job, with one company, for sixty years. Our generation is in an environment of swift change, and we’ve adapted to that. There is nothing wrong with being a barista who writes on the side. There’s nothing wrong with being a writer who babysits to make ends meet. There’s nothing wrong with getting that perfect job for that perfect company, and then discovering it’s not for you. In my life, I’ll probably hold twenty jobs or more (I’ve already had at least seven). The idea that I need to find my perfect career, now, barely a year out of college, is a lie that puts the pressure on me to keep up with everyone else. The truth is, we’re all just in stages of flux, and there’s no need to have a path set in concrete in front of you just because it feels like everyone else does.

Love. I’ve entered the post-college marriage/moving in/engagement season, and my friends are pairing off one by one. I’m happy for them, but content in my singleness. Mostly. But there are moments when the need to love and be loved feels so powerful that I think it might burn me up. Everyone wants to be loved, to be in love, and I’m almost twenty-three and it hasn’t happened for me. What’s wrong with me? Why is everyone else so much better at falling in love than I am? The most exciting development in my dating life in the last six months was a cute coffee stand employee giving me a free bendy straw (he does not know my name).

This is when I need to remember that, most of the time, I don’t even want to be in love. I don’t want anyone else’s last name (but no shade to those of us who do). I don’t have the time to be consistently in contact with a boyfriend, or to go out to new places and hunt for one. Most of all, I need to remember that I don’t want to detract from my focus on nurturing myself by putting someone else’s needs above my own. I know that a healthy relationship requires a give and take, and I barely have enough to give to myself. There’s nothing wrong with not being in love. Love is a magical and wondrous thing, and it’ll come when you’re ready for it, maybe (probably) more often/sooner than you’d think. There’s not a timetable to love, and that’s a good thing.

Money. This one is the most tricky of all areas to give myself a pep-talk in when things are looking rough. I supported myself through school, and then added the debt of a major surgery less than a year after graduation. Add that to my minimum wage job and the current employment market, and my money situation feels like it’ll never get better. The important thing for me to remember is that everyone’s been there a time or two, and it’s part of the process of living to be knocked down. Hopefully there will be a day when things look brighter, but just because I can’t afford the vacations my friends are taking doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. Not having money is not a reflection of my worth, my character, or my determination. It’s just a reflection of where I am, right now, in this flexible stage of life. And one day, it’ll change.

Confidence. This really means confidence in myself, in knowing what I’m doing is the right thing for me, in figuring out who I am now and who I want to be one day. I get stuck with the idea that one day, I’ll arrive at peak adult capacity, and from then on I will know the answers to the worries that keep me up at night. I will speak my mind, but with grace, and I will know when I’m doing the right thing and when I need to apologize. I’ll be able to tell right away when someone isn’t treating me the way I deserve.

Reality, however, has a different idea. It says that we’re always changing, growing, and learning new things about ourselves. The person I was a year and a half ago was not nearly as confident as the person I am today, and hopefully that will be true in the future. I will never have a time where I know all the answers and can quiet my fears. But the worries will be different. All it takes to prove that is remember all the time I spent in high school worrying about what people thought of my hair, and what a waste it seems to me now. Confidence will come as we grow deeper into who we really are, and it can’t be rushed by wishing hard enough.

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