The first brutal hint of what my twenties were going to be like came when I was seventeen years old. At the beginning of middle school, my history teacher made us all write letters to ourselves that she would send us after high school graduation, and the day I received mine I remember taking it up to my room, sitting down on my bed, and reading a hundred ways I had failed myself. I wasn't going to my dream school. I didn't want to be a teacher anymore. I, in fact, had no idea what I wanted to be. I hadn't improved my mile time, or stuck with Science Olympiad, or married Drew Fuller from Charmed (although I guess the jury is still out on that.) In other words, all the things that I had bullheadedly believed I was capable of at the age of 13 turned out to be things I couldn't accomplish, and suddenly all the things I had done seemed a lot less impressive compared to the person I once thought I could be.
I've become familiar with this cycle of expectation and disappointment in the years since that day, and I know I'm not alone in this. As we head into our twenties, the timelines for all our plans are interrupted, we compromise and bargain, and the opportunities that used to look like they were just out of arm's reach feel like they're further away than ever. We are navigating in a world and an economy our younger selves didn't anticipate and prepare for, one that the generations that came before us don't necessarily understand.
Deep down, we know that everything people say to comfort us has a grain of truth. We know we are not the only ones who are confused. But that doesn't make it any less exhausting to hear the condescending things people tell us on a near daily basis:
"Just be patient."
Hearing those words makes my skin crawl. "Be patient" sounds like just another way of saying "accept the shitty way that things are." I'm aware, of course, that all good things require hard work, and that I shouldn't expect major life successes overnight. But when did it become wrong to expect to see our hard work go somewhere? We're not expecting the moon. But the ability to support ourselves on what we earn shouldn't be something we're told to be "patient" about – it shouldn't be this hard in the first place.
Every 20-something has had more than one "Oh my god, what am I doing with my life? How did I get here?" moment (and more likely, they have one every month.) We send our resumes out into the black hole of the internet and never see them again; We are suddenly separated from all the support system of friends we were so close to in college; We are steadily consumed by this overwhelming panic that only gets more intense as the months after graduation go by and still nothing has happened according to plan. Yeah. Every now and then we're going to cry about it. And then last thing any of us want is someone telling us we're "overreacting".
"Why don't you just apply to more jobs?"
Wow, I hadn't thought of that. In fact, that's genius. Here – let me hand you my computer so you can try to find a single goddamn thing that I haven't already applied for.
"You're going to laugh about this someday."
Will we, though? People who turn out to be successful might look back on their misguided twenties and laugh, but we can't all assume that we are part of that lucky number of people. We have to live with the constant fear that our career prospects might never improve no matter how hard we push, and that we might come out of this however many years long struggle giving up and settling for something we don't even like. And if that happens I promise you, I won't be laughing about it.
"Your friends are all going through this, too."
We know that. And we are in no way comforted by the fact that our friends are also miserable. We can't even commiserate now that we've all gone back to our hometowns and never see each other anymore.
"Why did you major in that, anyway?"
Because I didn't know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at 18, or 19, or even 23. The fact that you have to state your intentions for the rest of your life with barely any hands-on experience in college is kind of ridiculous, when you think about it. I, for instance, am one of the many students who majored in psychology because I had no idea what else to do with myself. (let me be clear: NO REGRETS.)
But really, we all learned almost the second we graduated that not only did it not matter what you majored in, it didn't necessarily matter that you went to college at all. These days half of "entry level" jobs are asking for a Master's. And if I wasn't already entirely certain about what I studied in college, how could I possibly justify sinking more into an education and pigeon holing myself forever?
"[Insert famous person here] was also confused at your age."
[Famous person] is usually an exception to the rule. We know that, they know that, the people telling us about them know that. I have no reason to believe that I could someday be wildly successful just because Tina Fey worked at the YMCA when she was my age.
"Everything is going to be fine."
Any time I hear this, there is a 7-year-old girl inside of me that whines, "But what if it isn't?" And she's got a point. Telling someone everything is going to be fine is dismissive, insulting, and quite possibly untrue. We're not fine. Right now we're not fine. Can we address the issue at hand instead of the magical fairy land place that we're supposedly headed where everything is?
Images: HBO; Giphy(7)