I always knew that college was going to be more difficult than high school, for obvious reasons. But there was a stress factor I didn’t consider when I was imagining my life in college, which often mirrored what I had seen in the movies, which did not turn out to be very true. Now, after recently turning 20 the pressures that I hadn’t expected seem heightened — that is, the pressure of having life figured out in one’s 20s.
What are the pressures I speak of? Our 20s are when everything seems to happen, both in our personal and social lives. With all these stressors, it’s hard to feel as though one should know everything in their 20s, such as what to look for in their career or in a partner. And yet in our time, these things have become harder than ever. In our professional lives, we face uncertainty. Having a college degree is no longer a way to stand out; instead, it is often a requirement for many jobs. This change has made the college-to-career path more difficult with the job market being far more competitive and the need for a well-paying job, heightened by the loans students often take on, is becoming greater. Within our social lives, we often feel pressured to find our life partner in college despite the fact that the age at which many people are getting married is rising. Personally, at least, I am at a loss, so for my solution I look to what I often refer to: books. Specifically, I look to the novel ‘The Defining Decade,’ a novel that details the learnings of clinical psychologist Meg Jay in her many years aiding individuals in their 20s and 30s in finding a path they love.
Jay describes how, indeed, we should have goals and ambitions in our lives, but having everything planned out is not always in the cards or possible. What I learned is the key to a successful 20s is determining what you truly want — a want that is even sometimes hard to admit to yourself. By deciding this, you can make every decision according to what you truly want. And yes, that path can take you in many different directions, but you would end in a place that you were truly content in. For example, in Jay’s novel, she describes how many 20-somethings wanted surety in their relationships, but since they did not find that in themselves at the time, they fell into hookup culture for longer than they wished. In their careers, individuals often found themselves in a place they found no joy in, and instead of looking at what they knew they enjoyed they stayed in that place and felt adrift.
At 20, we have all the time in the world and yet feel like we have none at all to figure out what we would like to do with all that time — what career or which person we would like to spend our life with, if anyone. And society does not always seem to make it easier with nine-to-five and hookup culture, among other things. But if we align our decisions to our goals in our life — goals that align with who we wish our future selves to be — we can take a path as windy as they come and still get the opportunity to feel content in the path we have taken and content in knowing our future selves are striving towards or have reached their goals.
I highly recommend reading The Defining Decade. It’s a wonderful mix of scary, promising and a reality check.