As a bright-eyed 19-year-old, I couldn't wait to turn 20. It seemed as if the only thing standing between me and real adulthood was that one numerical milestone. I believed (foolishly) that once I put my teenage years behind me I would be taken more seriously, my opinions sought out and respected. Of course, turning 20 also meant I was only one year away from the legal drinking age too!
For the first two years of your twenties, you are still wrapped in the protective yoke of college. In school you are well provided for: you have your group of friends, an institutional support system, a cafeteria with freshly prepared foods, and a laundry room in your dorm building (all of which I did not adequately appreciate). You are surrounded by loads of people your age, and share the same timeline: go to class, study, get degree (probably with a healthy dose of partying thrown in). Little do you realize a seismic change is about to occur — for once you receive that diploma, little butterfly, you are ousted from the academic cocoon that you have inhabited since kindergarten.
On your own you have to set entirely new goals and make even more choices. There are new stresses and pressures, new expectations, and higher stakes. Life is essentially like: BOOM real world. Throughout the turbulence and transition, it is difficult not to question every single choice you make, and beat yourself up if things don't turn out as planned. It is easy to feel "less-than" every time you scroll down your Facebook feed. Heck, one time a friend’s Instagram photo of a really tasty cookie made me feel like I had done something drastically wrong with my life.
But it is important that as we wind our way through this tumultuous, experimental decade we also cut ourselves some serious slack. The 20s are all about growth — launching into your career, finding new passions and interests, perfecting talents, opening up emotionally to new people, and ultimately learning how to care for ourselves. We are testing boundaries for how we want to live our lives, and there are no training wheels. Looking back on my 20s I wish I went a tad easier on myself— at least about these things:
1. Not Being Totally Happy All The Time
Despite the smiling photos on our carefully curated social media profiles and the pithy Twitter posts, we do not always feel happy or smart 100 percent of the time. It’s easy to get the impression from the internet that all your friends do is party, rack up promotions, stick their toes in the sand, and get engaged — but real life is much messier. Like mascara-streaking-down-your-face messy. What we don't project in our internet presence is the daily stress, anxiety, and depression. Twentysomethings should never beat themselves up about feeling down. Reaching out and talking these feelings through is way more effective.
2. Feeling Irresponsible
Sometimes doing your laundry regularly and paying bills on time seem like impossible feats. Sometimes you have to wear the same underwear two days in a row. We are developing some serious life skills in our 20s, and time management is a big one. Try and go easy on yourself if you fall behind on chores now and then (and set those pesky bills to auto-pay).
3. Not Eating Healthy
Grocery shopping, food prep, and washing dishes takes up a surprising amount of valuable time. You might be hitting the frozen aisle or ordering takeout more than is recommended, but there is no use stressing about it. Learning to cook comes with time and practice, but until then you are part of the time-honored tradition of people storing shoes in their untouched oven.
4. Not Having Sh*t Figured Out
Sometimes popcorn is dinner — and that's OK. Sometimes you're not going to know what the heck you're doing — that's also OK.
5. Not Being Successful "Fast Enough"
Obviously it would be awesome to have the first thing we do out of school rocket us to success, but for most of us, it takes a bit longer. Of course there is happiness that comes with achieving goals, but you may also become a more well-rounded person by struggling a bit. Have faith that if you stick to what you love, you will one day achieve the success you seek. With age your priorities may change and success may take on a different meaning.
6. Having A Strained Relationship with The Fam
The stresses of striking out on your own can strain bonds with family. You want to be independent and responsible for yourself, maybe try living somewhere far from where you grew up. That is not always easy for parents to accept. Your relationship with your family will definitely change over this decade (their little baby is growing up!), and by your 30s that closeness will most likely come back.
7. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is sacred, but with the crazy work schedules and unique living situations we suffer through in our 20s, a perfect eight hours is not always a reality. If you are feeling run down, try not to beat yourself up about it. Worrying about how little you are getting can just stress you out more, and make it harder to fall asleep when time allows. Instead, try turning off screens before bed and make time for a relaxing activity that winds you down before hitting the hay.
8. Not Being In A Long-Term Relationship
If you glean all your dating info from Facebook, it may seem that throughout your 20s everyone around you is getting engaged. But according to a Gallup poll, marriage rates are down among 18 through 29-year-olds. Not only are fewer Millennials choosing to put off saying "I do," but respondents also reported a decrease in long-term relationships. If the popularity and proliferation of dating apps signals anything, it's that young people are enjoying being single. As a single person you can focus on yourself, and discover your independent voice. So just remember next time someone posts an engagement ring photo, there are plenty of Netflix and chills in the sea.
9. Not Exercising Enough
Too sleepy to wake up for a jog before work? Too tired after a day in the office to hit the elliptical? Balancing a career and a full social life rarely leaves time for hours of cardio, so don't feel bad if you let your gym membership lapse. If you find a fun aerobic activity or class that you can do with friends, or go to brunch and yoga with buddy, it can change the way you think about getting your heart rate up.
10. Sleeping Around
Only you know how much sex is too much, and don't let anyone tell you differently. Most people don't even keep track of their "number" anymore (that's so early 2000s). As long as the romance is safe and consensual (and hopefully enjoyable?), then go for it! With phones that can serve as tiny pocket matchmakers, the options are limitless.
11. Partying Too Hard
We all get a little too drunk sometimes and probably say or do things we later regret (like crying and throwing up at the same time, for example). It's embarrassing but it's also part of growing up. We are learning where are limits are and gaining useful tricks — like always eat dinner before going out. If we beat ourselves up for a night of one too many cocktails, then we won't take the time to actually learn from the experience.
12. Being Dependent On Parents
Feeling bad about living with mom and dad? According to 2014 census data, the Pew Research center reports that Millennials are more likely to live in their parents' household than with a spouse, roommates, or alone. We all know that rent is damn expensive, and in most cities, a starting salary just doesn't cover it. Just because you are out of college does not mean that you are ready to be financially independent. So whether you live with your folks or your phone is still on the family plan, being thankful is way better than ashamed.
13. Not Being On A Clear Career Path
It is infinitely better to explore what you are passionate about instead of feeling bad that you do not yet have a 401k.
14. Stress And Anxiety
Remember: deep breaths.