For many of us, our 20s can be an era of utter confusion. Pressure from all angles of life including uncertainty towards our career path, unbalanced relationships, and financial struggles appear to be thrown at us faster than a 90-mph baseball pitch. It’s as though the world is grabbing us by the shoulders and shaking us to say, “wake up, your life is about to begin.”
Although this can be a very exhilarating time in our lives filled with new people, new experiences, and new opportunities, the daunting bits of the unknown can claim a strong hold over us. It seems harder than ever to enjoy the excitement of our lives in the present moment when all we are told to focus on is our future.
It’s easy to surrender to these anxieties and allow unconscious streams of thought to take over, especially in such a vulnerable stage of life. Although, as a young woman in her 20s, I assure you that you are not alone. Luckily, when you are up to bat and feeling like you are going to strike out there are ways to stay positive.
Accept that things may not go as planned
Remember when you were younger and had big dreams of being whoever it was you looked up to, like an actor, a professional athlete, or an astronaut? Some of us may still be pursuing these dreams, while others encountered life experiences that made them change their path, most likely more than once. As young adults we are growing and maturing every day into the person we are meant to be. This means that we may not get it right on the first try. As we continue our life journey, we will meet people and share experiences that may transform our view about everything we thought we once wanted.
Many of us enter young adulthood with a sort of tunnel vision, letting our eyes focus intensely on one road – the road we were trained to stay on. If this road doesn’t pave out the way we had planned, whether this may be because we didn’t get into the school we wanted or cannot get the job we wanted, it’s hard to envision our lives any other way.
On the other hand, even if we successfully follow this road, some of us only stay whether it may be because of money, time, or convenience. Stacy Udolph, a clinician at California State University Channel Islands, works with students every day to help manage these struggles. She encourages her students to “expect failure in their lives and not to run from it. Expect it and know that it’s going to mean change.” When all else fails, gather up the courage to take a turn down other roads that pique your interest because you just may find what you have been searching for when you least expect it.
A significant pressure that comes from entering young adulthood is feeling like there is a set timeline everyone needs to follow. We believe we should go to school, land a job, find a partner, and get married all within a specific time frame, but life isn’t linear. It is a crooked, jagged map with surprises waiting for you around every corner.
According to Dr. Mary Joyce Juan, a licensed psychologist at San Diego State University, “There is no set timeframe for how things should happen. I would want someone to feel firm in the decisions they are making for themselves and not get caught up in the pressure to do things by a certain time.” If you were on a path that did not work out for you, give yourself time to grieve this loss or this change. When you are ready, take small steps towards creating a new path.
“Taking time, even though everyone tells you that you need to make decisions right away, is actually really important,” Juan says. Everyone follows their own unique path, and we should embrace the specific path that was chosen for us.
Surround yourself with people who lift you up
According to Udolph, the environment and the people that you choose to surround yourself with influence your success. “It’s really important to surround yourself with people that support you,” she says. Sometimes you may discover later in life that people you believed to be healthy for you turn out to be quite negative and stray you farther away from your life goals. It’s necessary to have the tough conversations with these people and let them know how you are feeling. At the end of the day, you can work on yourself as much as possible, but if you’re still in a toxic environment it’s harder to lift yourself out.
“If you’re trying to make a huge decision about your life and there’s somebody who’s not supportive, I would want that person to somehow find some space away from the noise of that relationship, so that they can really tune in to what they need for themselves,” Juan says. Seek out therapy, friends, family, and mentors that will be an important support system for you on your journey.
The only opinion that matters is your own
With the number of thoughts and opinions running through our minds every second of the day it can be hard to decipher which ones are truly ours. Influence from our families, friends, and the media swarm our minds whether we are taking note of this happening or not. When we have people in our lives that we look up to and are very close to we want to make them happy. Their opinions of us matter to us as they should, but there must be a balance.
For the rest of your existence, you are going to have people coming in and out of your life telling you what they think is right for you. Take these thoughts into consideration, but it’s important not to let them cloud your own.
Stop comparing yourself
As Udolph puts it, “To tell people not to judge themselves or other people is unrealistic. The question is: Is your judgment interfering with your ability to be successful in your life?” People become so overwhelmed by the fear of not doing something the right way or not doing it the way everyone else is doing it, so instead they do nothing. They stay in their safe, perfect bubble and fail to take the risk from the fear of doing things differently than what others deem is right. “I think they miss a big chunk of what life’s about and they’re usually not very happy,” Udolph says.
Comparing ourselves to others is part of human nature and is more prevalent in today’s day in age more than ever. People’s successes and achievements are constantly being thrown in our faces on social media, while their failures are hidden behind closed doors. This gives us a false reality of how other people’s lives seem to be because we forget that people only reveal the best aspects of their lives. If these thoughts are going to occur naturally anyways, Juan asks the question: “How can we derive some benefit from it?” We can either use other people’s successes to encourage ourselves to work harder or it can make us grateful for where we are given where we see someone else.
Give yourself plenty of time to think
With all the noise that young adulthood brings, sometimes we forget to take a second to sit back and just think. Healthy distractions can be a good thing, but they can also draw us away from addressing important issues in our current lives. I find myself so swept up in the commotion of everyday life that I forget to take time out of my day to reflect. This reflection time is necessary for you to think about how you are feeling about yourself, your relationships, and your purpose during this time in your life. Ask the questions:
Am I on the path that I want to be on right now?
Am I surrounded by people who support me?
Am I working on becoming the best version of myself?
Take 15 minutes out of your day to let your mind wander. This may mean taking a walk or sitting outside in nature to give your thoughts a voice. Life can move so fast sometimes that we don’t take the time to focus on ourselves and what we really want out of life.