The Pressure to ‘Live’ in Your 20s is Toxic
A while ago, I heard about a man in his 80’s who had decided to take up skydiving. My reaction to this news was a curious mix of disbelief and awe. On the one hand, I had to wonder if the man had utterly lost his marbles, but on the other hand he immediately became my octogenarian hero. Here was a man 4 times my age still grabbing life by the short and curlies at every turn, quiet retirement be damned.
Our intrepid hero didn't just give me something to smile about when he plunged through the troposphere, he also got me to thinking.
Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to ‘live’ while we’re in our 20’s?
Obviously, there are perks to being young. The world is new, your mind is open (hopefully), and your body is about as resilient as it will ever be. The freedom of being an adult and of being out of education is still fresh and exciting. The world, as they say, is your oyster.
That's all great, and you definitely should make the most of those early years of untethered adventure and excitement. It's truly a great time of life.
But shall I tell you something else?
So are all the other times.
The end of the good times
Your life of discovery and experience doesn't stop on your 30th birthday. The world doesn't suddenly close in around as your body begins to become fragile before your very eyes. The end of your 20’s is not the end of your life. For most of us, we won't even be at the halfway mark by that point.
So why the obsession about being in your 20’s?
It probably has something to do with ideas of responsibility. The longer we stick around through day-to-day life, the more responsibilities we are likely to pick up. Partners, jobs, kids, etc. The 24 hours of the day are no longer yours to do with as you please. Your time is required by others for purposes that are often non-negotiable.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure most people in their 20s have responsibilities too. Family, education, jobs… last time I checked, I didn't know a single person in their 20s who was truly in control of every second of their lives. Yeah, they have more time than middle-aged adults, but they probably also have less money, less stability, and fewer contacts.
We always talk about ‘once in a lifetime experiences’. Well, some of those experiences aren't even accessible to most people in their 20s. There are entire chapters of life that are still left to be opened come that fateful 30th birthday. Why don't we talk about that more often?
My worry is that our fixation on ‘living’ in your 20s means that we enter the next decade of our lives, and every decade thereafter, expecting… boredom.
Perhaps, if we didn’t always hammer on about the idyllic 20’s as if the rest of life is a chore, more people would turn out like our 80-year-old skydiver. If we tell ourselves that adventure stops at a certain age, then we will believe it and act like it. We are walking, talking, self-fulfilling prophecies.
So let's break that cycle. Age is no barrier to experiences and discovery. Indiana Jones is 37.
Let’s be more like Indiana.
Let the good times roll, don't force them
Now for the other side of the problem, the pressure we put on young people to ‘live’ in their 20s. Over and over again we hear that we have to ‘make the most of it’ because ‘you’re only in your 20s once’. Not only does this subconsciously cause us to discount the rest of our lives as a time for adventure, but it also makes being in your 20s into a kind of competition. You find yourself trying to prove to people that you are ‘living’, that you are ‘experiencing the world’.
There are some people who can’t afford to go on adventures, or who are emotionally unable, or who just don’t want to take risks and ‘live’ in that way. People, including people in their 20s, are all different. They have different aims, different desires, different characters. Why, then, do we expect them all to act in similar ways during one particular decade of their lives?
Those who do not want to fulfil that usual image of a person in their 20s shouldn't be made to feel that they are missing out or wasting their lives. They’re not. They have a whole life ahead of them to see things and experience things on their terms and in their own time.
Why try to cram life into a 10 year window?
Besides, when people are constantly getting at you to do something, it somehow takes the wind out of your sails. It’s like when you’re about to do the washing up, completely of your own accord, and then someone tells you that you have to do it. Suddenly, your good intentions turn to frustrated stubbornness and doing the washing up becomes the last thing on earth you want to do.
Let's not turn ‘living’ into washing up.
Age is no barrier
There are benefits to being in your 20s that lend themselves to new experiences and risky adventures. Of course there are. But the world doesn't close its doors to you as soon as you hit your third decade. Even if you spend all of your 20s ‘living’ like everyone thinks you should, you’d still barely make a dent in the cornucopia of wonder the world has to offer.
Everyone should have adventures and new experiences. Cheesy though it may sound, those things are how we find ourselves. Characters and personalities are forged in the fires of discovery.
But people change throughout their lives. Nobody is the same decade on decade. Your development as a person doesn't stop after your 20s, so why should your spirit for ‘living’?
Human lives are long. The world changes around us. Even if you could see it all by the time you turned 30, it would all be different by the time you hit 35. Whatever age you are, you always have the rest of your life ahead of you. So let's stop with the ‘living in your 20s’ stuff and let’s go for living life instead.
There are about 42,048,000 minutes in an average human life.
Only 5,256,000 of them are in your 20s.
That leaves 36,792,000 minutes of life to spend.
So spend them. Make the most of them. All of them.
Start ‘living’ in your 20s and then don't stop.
Be an 80-year-old skydiver.
I’ll see you up there.
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