A quarter-life crisis of sorts

How our 20s are a distinct and turbulent chapter in our lives…for better not worse.

So, perhaps I am merely a product of my generation (a millennial since I was reaching adulthood in the 2000s — as demographers like to label it), but why is it that no one warned me about my 20s?! Have previous generations reflected on their 20s as being a testing and existential decade as well? That this time is marked with uncertainty and incredible risks? That “playing” for most of this decade (aka partying and traveling constantly) doesn’t prepare us to become good adults — it just postpones the fact that we will eventually need to become one. I thought that the teenage years full of angst and hormones gave us thirty or more years until the next, harsh decade. This one beginning with some sort of card reading, “Over the Hill”.

But, to quote Abraham Lincoln,

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years”

To be realistic, any year and any decade can be testing and full of growth. It is personal and circumstantial. So, I write from a white, Westernized female body which is closer to 30 than 20. I write from a place where I am cognizant that this decade I am living in is defining habits that I may have for the next couple of decades. I am learning to be an adult, discovering where I want to live and travel to, creating routines for eating, drinking and sleeping, imagining what is needed emotionally and physically to be a mother someday, experimenting with work in its many forms, and embracing what I want from a partner and a relationship. This is all for better, not for worse.

“Our twenties are when we have to start creating our own sense of time, our own plans about how the years ahead will unfold. It is difficult to know how to start our careers or when to start our families.”

Meg Jay’s book (see above) first introduced me to this theory that our 20s are this incredibly defining decade. I do have my criticisms about the over-generalizations that she makes, but I agree with her that this decade has more hurdles for an individual than we like to talk about as a society. And, that reaching the age of 30 shouldn’t feel like an alarm going off saying, “What are YOU doing with your life?!”

It’s easy to feel that these years are shaped by a checklist; a checklist that needs to be finished by 35, or 30 if you are super ambitious. Some of the checklist items include:

  • Go to university and get some sort of degree
  • Learn how to pay bills and student loans
  • Experiment with love and have an idea of who you want to marry…or commit to, at least
  • Start planning when/how/why you are having children
  • Start a career that either makes you money or that you love…hopefully both

Well, you get the picture. For me, it’s really that last bullet point that is burning up my post-its and keeping me awake at night.

There are stories of how people work for years in a job they really don’t like and so they take the risk (a huge one in a myriad of ways) to quit their job and follow their true passion. The success stories that make it into an opinion article or on our newsfeeds are celebrated and inspiring. The people appear happier, richer, and more fulfilled.

But, what if you don’t even have that boring job to begin with? What if you are waiting for some sort of career to start? In early generations, a career meant a job that you work decades in and a workplace where you have the ability to climb up the ladder. Now, I like to think of a career as another word for being passionate about something that makes you money. Subtract the passionate part and you just have a job.

So, which passion do we act on if we aren’t working in the first place? By work, I am referring to activities (paid and unpaid) that takes up the majority of your week hours. A full schedule doesn’t always mean we are being passionate and true to ourselves, but it is highly likely that we are already doing activities that we would like to do in a work setting.

Career-wise, our 20s require a fine-tuning of our strengths and a consideration of our weaknesses. It requires reading and writing more and adding variety to what we read and write. It means remembering and recording the things you loved doing when you were 5, 10 and even 15 years old. It’s about making the list of the things you hypothetically dreamed of being — even if they were a standard job title— and deciphering which qualities or aspects of these jobs are still interesting to you now.

Chances are that the things you loved doing at 10 and 15 years old are still something you are passionate about. Things like caring for people when they are sick, drawing portraits, repairing a computer, or organizing a room. Your political views or favorite movies and songs may have changed, but your preferred, everyday tasks and problem-solving activities probably haven’t. What are mine…what are yours?

It’s time to work out a new equation:

An activity of our younger selves + an interest of our current selves= a career opportunity.

Reconnect with that younger you. Ask your siblings, your parents, you childhood friends. Find out what was important and what came easy to you.

Ignore the ticking clock and transform time for your own passionate purposes.

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