The one thing that really makes our twenties so super stressful is that we're trying to prove ourselves to ourselves — basically the entire time. The whole 'being a responsible individual' thing is brand new, and nobody knows whether or not they're doing it right, and it's the first time that it matters whether or not we're doing it right. We search for jobs and partners to affirm that we're worthwhile beings, though the desire for affirmation is usually subconscious, which is why the lack or loss of those things stings so badly.
We're in a generation that more or less sees independence as the greatest achievement, and love/romance as the second. The thing that makes this difficult to balance is that a few generations ago, you didn't have to do it all. You worked on your career or you got married. You had a successful job or a nice house. It's wonderful that we're extending ourselves past these singular (usually unfulfilling, and not self-imposed) life goals, but at the same time, you do not have to have it all together, and really, nobody expects you to.
A story that's gotten me through a lot in my life is this little thing my grandma always told me about — how my grandpa would come home with a check from work on Christmas Eve and she'd run out and get the toys and wrap them until 5 a.m., and the moral of the story was how wonderful it was to have gotten those gifts — she tells it with a smile on her face. She doesn't ruminate on not having money; she made it work, and the point that it always reminds me of is that you are not expected to have it all together, now, later or ever. And more importantly: having it "all" paints a pretty picture, but it doesn't make for a happy life. To break it down a little more, here are all the things that nobody expects of you in your twenties (so you should probably, maybe, seriously stop stressing yourself out to achieve):
A Luxury (Looking) Home
A space that's a mirror of something you saw on Pinterest is a house, not a home. What makes something special and wonderful to be in is how much it's you — and all your un-tailored, imperfect glory. Aspirational interiors are nice, but they're not a replacement for a comforting, inspiring space that's yours, and more importantly perhaps, is that you're not a failure if you don't have them, whether you want them or not.
A Perfect Credit Score
You do not need to be financially infallible. You don't have to have an extravagant amount of disposable income, or await the day you don't have to check how much things cost before you put them at the cart at your grocery store. And you don't need to feel bad if sometimes, you go off track. You spend too much for no good reason. You get yourself into debt with nothing to show for it. These things are not ideal, but they're usually an unavoidable part of being human. Hating yourself for them brings you no closer to being better. Admitting that sometimes you veer off track for not any great reason, that is.
In the words of Cheryl Strayed:
You don't have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as success. You don't have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don't have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don't have to maintain a perfect credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all.
Certainty – About Anything
You do not have to know who you are, not entirely. You don't have to adhere so closely to an idea of who you once were that you don't let yourself grow. You don't have to know, without doubt, that the person you are with is the person you want to marry, or even be with for long. You don't have to know what your dream job is. You don't have to know what you truly want. It's not about who gets to the finish line first.
A Job You Adore
You need a job that pays the bills, and that makes you feel like a somewhat fulfilled human, even by sheer virtue of doing something you're good at, knowing you're supporting yourself, or working your way somewhere. The "dream job" does not exist, in the same way that the dream partner and life doesn't either. The sooner you let go of the idea that people are judging you for not having those things, the sooner you can let yourself be grateful for what you do have, and realize that things will always be good and bad in proportion, it just depends where you're looking from.
Wild Dreams And Outlandish Goals
You don't need to have aspirations to be a CEO, or the refusal to settle for what you don't immediately perceive to be "love." Your dreams can be to enjoy your life a bit more or to spend a little less this month or to learn to love an imperfect person as much as you humanly can. You don't need to only chase things that are so wildly out-of-reach that other people would perceive them to be "good." You'll cause yourself an unimaginable amount of suffering chasing things you never really wanted — and you were never going to have — in the first place.
A Lot Of Money
You're not just "successful" when you have the monetary means to exemplify it. Good things aren't always paid well — in fact, some of the most noble and world-changing things that happen each day are paid pennies, or not at all. Money is not a measure of how well you're doing, unless what you're doing doesn't have any other measure for it at all.
A Huge Group Of Friends
If you don't have a raging nightlife and a group of Monicas and Chandlers who sit around your refurbished loft peppering their jokes with pop culture references, you're not alone. Most people don't. Because most people want, and have, something more, which is a few really good friends who are there no matter what. And if you don't have that, no worries. Not everyone has one set of friends for a lifetime. Just know that how many people you have in your life — or the lack-there-of — is always a transitory thing.
A Perfect Body That You "Worked" For
Consumerist-fueled marketing tells us that if we work hard enough for the bodies we want, we can have them. That the reason we're unhappy with them is because we think we're lazy or gross or genetically inept, but we think we can change those things, with surgery or near-starvation or some psychotic workout plan. The truth is that there are some things about your body you will never be able to change. There are a lot more you probably don't actually want to. The size you are or the number on the scale is yet another arbitrary, transitory thing. A snapshot of how you are at any one given time does not make a statement about you as a whole, and you are so much more than the sum of someone else's "ideal" parts.
To Be Sane All The Time
Something that we, as humans, have a Big Issue with are Mistakes Other People Are Making. It's the crux of our entertainment (gossip) and our seemingly biggest social issue. Do we stay acquaintances with people who are making mistakes or no? How bad is the mistake, and are they going to recover from it? It's what makes up so much of our interactions with people and even more of our mind space. At the end of the day, we need to learn how to give people space to grow, and to feel, and to falter and then get back on track. No life in the history of, you know, ever, was completely sane, and to impose the idea that we must be unfailingly composed only really makes it worse. (Most anguish is a product of not being able to fully express your feelings, JUST SAYING.)
To Be Happy Always (Or Need An Intervention When You're Not)
The thing that will make you unhappiest the fastest is believing that you must be happy all the time. It's nothing but a formula for more discontent. Nobody expects you to have a happy life, unconditionally. They do, however, hope that you'll have a meaningful one, one that's worth the ups and downs.
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