Karla, I’m really glad that you wrote and shared this. It takes a lot of insight to do this self-reflection, and guts to post it. 24 is hard.
So first, you are doing great. Far better than you realize. People used to tell me I was doing great when I was 24 too and I didn’t really listen. Yeah I had a good job (one I now realize was actually quite challenging — just like someone I know), generally managed to pay my bills on time, and had friends. But, at 24, I wondered where the handbook was too. A couple years removed from the construct of academic achievement, a couple years into the professional world and its construct of achievement … it was an intense and anxiety-filled time.
I can tell you what I did at 24: I dated the wrong guys and took too long to call it off. I doubted myself constantly, doubling down on my work for the constant pats of “good job.” I ignored my health, even though I had a lifelong chronic physical condition that needed tending to. Oops. (That’s one thing I admire about you and your compadres — you get to the gym and understand the value of taking care of yourself now, whereas I was like, “Oh hey, I need to get some cigarettes and a Hot Pocket!”)
What helped me get through? I wrote in my journal a lot, a lot, a lot. I asked questions of women (and men) I respected. One mentor held my hand a lot and assured me that everything would be fine and (this is the part I didn’t want to hear) that I needed time and more life experience. I was like “But I’m really smart and have been through some major stuff already and I don’t need time or life experience!” 16 years later, I see she was right.
I came to understand that no one, not the most respected mentor, not the bestselling author, beloved family member — no one — had all the answers for me. That was a biggie and made me sad at first. Later I realized that it was part of the beautiful process of surrendering to a force far greater than myself.
What helped me through 24: countless nights with my friends commiserating over life in our 20s. The support of family, who reminded me of my earliest dreams and my core identity, and also brought me paper towels and reminded me to contribute to my 401K. Also: a good therapist, a pug puppy, a library membership. Some but not always Sunday mornings in church even when I didn’t totally believe.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t still look for a handbook from time to time. Instead, I call on my tribe of women (and men) who have gone before, and my badass friends walking through similar stages. I write and read from a few legendary books every day, ask for help often, pray a lot. And dance. Dancing got me through that 24 thing too, and 34 thing, and … you get the drift.
It gets better, it really does. And as you continue to tell the truth, the truth of your evolution, lovely things ensue. Trust me.
— A Former 24 year old and Fan