I turned 24 today. I celebrated at my government job and there was cake. During cake, I chatted with my coworkers.
Most seemed to be 50+ years old. So working alongside them I couldn’t help but wonder, what the hell am I doing here? At my age, one of them had been working on capitol hill. Another, rallying for child care reform in Sacramento. Another, off traveling the world. They admitted that their twenties were difficult, unstable and they worked too hard. Ultimately, they too questioned life and their role in it. What a relief! I question life every single day!
As I started to see that age 24 wasn’t going to be promising, I began to question why it’s such a nutzo time. Here are my thoughts:
Your friends, for the most part, are doing cool shit. It’s hard not to feel jealous scrolling through Facebook and seeing all those smiling faces. I don’t want babies but somehow I’m jealous of my friends with babies. I don’t necessarily want to travel again but damn it am I envious of the friends that are. Or maybe I’m just jealous of the way their smiles seem to have everything figured out. And the spectrum of what everyone is up to – it’s all over the map, both figuratively and literally! People are getting married and having babies (not necessarily in that order). Others are climbing the metaphorical corporate ladder. Some are joining Peace Corp, others off doing who-knows-what in the Middle East. It all looks exciting, and scary, and the choices lead to no clear path.
Twenty-year-olds are trying to figure out who they are, what their brand is, what bar they’re going to drink at tonight, what their life purpose is and how they’re going to pay rent (or get out of their parents house). The decision making comes out of nowhere and it hits full-on. The twenties are confusing, and sometimes I wish I had someone to tell me what to do and which direction to go.
And I think that’s the problem. Most of our early lives we have other people controlling it for us. Go to school. Go to practice. Wear this. Eat that. Parents spend more time telling kids what to do and not do, and not enough time explaining why. Teachers tell us to be quiet and do our work, coaches tell us to run faster and harder, moms tell us to clean up our room and dads tell us not to talk when they’re watching TV. Get in line and follow suit. When we finally turn 18 and have the legal ability to think for our own, so much creativity and passion has been zapped that we don’t even know what to think. For me, it was when I graduated college a year ago and for the first time in my life had the freedom to do whatever I wanted – but what did I want? And how do I figure that out when no answer comes to mind?
My best friend growing up had a similar problem. She was a Catholic girl who’s parents sheltered her. Her youthful, wild side was suppressed by hymns and Friday night family time. Every chance she could she would sneak out to join me in partying and other fun. Her parents wouldn’t let her choose which college she went to until she turned 18, which not-so-ironically was the day that college officially started. Therefore she fell into a school and a life that wasn’t her own and when she became an “adult” she snapped. She ended up dropping all her classes, got into heavy drugs, an abusive relationship, got pregnant and I haven’t heard from her since. If only her parents would’ve let her make some of her own decisions, she would’ve had the tools and preparation to make good ones…
How do we break this cycle? Perhaps we should foster the beautiful minds inside children to reach higher levels. We don’t let them make their own decisions. And then when they turn 24, they flip out trying to figure out what to do with their new found sense of decisionness. Children are so incredibly intelligent. I teach three-year-olds how to recycle and compost within thirty minutes… I’ve been trying to teach my 22-year-old roommate for eight months. But when we limit their creativity and exploration and command them into a life that society too easily dictates, well then what encouragement does that lead for them to follow their true passions once they get older?
As for my own passions, I’m trying to re-find them. And that pesky and terrifying question of “what do I do with my life”, I’m still asking myself every day.