In a mere matter of months, my early twenties will be over. And, I won’t lie: the thought of finally diving into my mid-twenties is TERRIFYING. To say that the past four years have been turbulent would be just a slight understatement. I’ve fallen in love, had my heart broken, moved back and forth between 3 different countries, met incredible people, worked 6 different jobs, finished my studies FOREVER, and come to terms with my own anxiety – to name a few key moments. But, more than anything, I’ve learnt that we’re all a lot stronger than we think we are.
This time last year, I went through what I often refer to as my ‘pre-life crisis’ (long-time followers will remember my article from last August). I found myself in a mental space I never expected to be in; so to think that only one year later I am living in a country I barely knew and working as a freelancer is almost incomprehensible. But I guess this just sums up the twists and turns of your twenties: you literally never know what’s around the corner.
Watching the different ways my friends’ lives are unfolding has made me sit back and consider everything I’ve learned about myself over the past few years – both good and bad – and the way that life can be so unpredictable. So, for anyone feeling lost or overwhelmed as they navigate their way through the ages of 20-23, this little list is for you. I can’t claim to be an expert, here, but what I can claim to be is normal (sometimes). It’s taken me a while to realise that everyone is going through the same problems; that no one’s plan for their life has quite gone the way they expected. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
8 THINGS I’VE LEARNT OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS
1. IT’S OKAY NOT TO HAVE A PLAN
For me, leaving university was a long-awaited wake-up-call. I was spat out into the real world, told to make my own decisions and choose my own path; the safety net of education was ripped out from under my feet (to be dramatic about it). What the hell was I supposed to do with all this freedom?
Most people’s final year of university revolved almost exclusively around the horrendous question of: ‘what’s your plan for next year?’ Cue hot sweats and hyperventilating.
At the time, I thought I had it all sorted: but I’m starting to realise that this plan was born of a fear at not having a plan. Which sounds silly when you write it down. Every conversation I had seemed to be shrouded in a constant cloud of grad schemes, assessment days and job interviews. But what I learnt is that it’s also perfectly okay not to have an answer to that panic-inducing question. Because, truthfully, no one really knows. And chances are that the idea of your ‘dream job’ will have changed within a matter of years: this is perfectly fine. Take your time to work out what it is that will really make you happy, and it will be worth the wait.
2. EVERYONE MOVES AT A DIFFERENT PACE
Being 23 is odd. Some of my friends are still at university, whilst others have moved in with partners. Some are being promoted at jobs they’ve been in for only a few months, while others are travelling the world before ‘settling into reality’ (whatever that reality may be). But each person’s path is the right one for them. You are under no obligation to rush towards ‘proper adulthood’: you know, where you morph into the kind of person who always has clean underwear available, or whose fridge is always fully-stocked with things like fruit and vegetables.
Never measure yourself against someone else, or question the pace of your own life in comparison to theirs. Remember to be happy for your friends when things go right, instead of questioning why you’re not yet at that point. Your turn will come, I promise!
3. YOUR TWENTIES DON’T HAVE TO BE THE BEST YEARS OF YOUR LIFE
I’ve heard this sentence so many times over the course of my 23 years on Earth. When I was at university, I would often be told to “make the most of it”, because it was supposedly “the best time of my life”.
Now, I won’t deny that there were, of course, good moments. My university experience had countless ups and countless downs, just the same as everyone’s. But somewhere in the back of my head was that sentence, telling me that I wasn’t enjoying it enough, or that everyone else seemed to be having a better time than me. This is not true. Remember that no one’s experience is perfect, and that you’re allowed to feel like it’s all a little too much, sometimes.
4. IT’S EASY TO BE KIND
Social media has made us believe that, when we decide to stay in on a Saturday night, we’re the only ones: everyone else seems to be in bars or clubs, surrounded by smiling groups of people and having fun. But remember that everyone is going through something that we can’t see. Sometimes, a kind word or a smile will go such a long way in making someone’s day that little bit better. Treat others the way you would want to be treated yourself.
5. TALKING IS THE BEST MEDICINE. BUT MAKE SURE TO LISTEN, TOO
In recent years, the conversation around mental health has been opened up in ways we could never have imagined previously. People now feel more comfortable speaking to their loved ones about their problems, and seeking the help that they need. If you feel that you’re in over your head, then make sure you talk to the people around you. I know I could never have got through my own issues without the support of my friends and family. They always say that a problem shared is a problem halved.
It’s true that talking is important; but it’s equally as important to be the one who listens. Check in on your friends, even the ones who seem like they have it all together. They’re often the ones who find it hardest to open up in the first place.
6. “SELF-CARE, HENNY!”
For those of you who don’t watch Queer Eye, you’ll think I’ve lost the plot (by the way: WATCH QUEER EYE. IT WILL WARM YOUR HEART). But self-care queen Jonathan Van Ness is right, as always: you have to be your own cheerleader. Make sure to look after yourself, if you ever feel a little run-down. Learn to say ‘no’ to the things you don’t want to do. Run yourself a bath, use a fancy face-mask, watch your favourite film. Take some time for you, and you’ll feel good as new in no time. There’s nothing wrong with taking the kindness and the effort you put into other people and putting it into yourself sometimes, too.
7. BROKEN HEARTS HEAL
Although, at the time, it feels like things will never get better. When you experience your first heartbreak, it’s almost as if you’re in mourning; as if the love you felt has died, and you’ll never find love like that again. But the people around you will be there to pick up the pieces, and, slowly, you learn to be by yourself – and to enjoy it. Making it through to the other end of a heartbreak shows you your own strength, and proves to you that life goes on. Take the love that you’d invested into that one person, and give it to your friends and family instead. Often, it’s way more rewarding.
Recommended break-up listening:
‘Truth Hurts‘ by Lizzo
‘Thank U, Next‘ by Ariana Grande
8. TREASURE YOUR FRIENDS
Starting a new job/going to university/moving to a new city can be unbelievably daunting – but your friends will be feeling this, too. There’s so much comfort to be found in the fact that you’re all wading through the unknown territory of your twenties together. No matter what changes in your life, the people you love are a constant. Appreciate them. Lean on them. Send them postcards.