Your twenties are the time to screw up. I can’t really say it any differently. Your twenties will be filled with mistakes, mistakes fuelled by alcohol, insecurities, over-confidence, ambition and more. But out of these mistakes, there are only seven that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, seven that have the potential to last. These are common mistakes that you make in your twenties, but the ones that actually impact your growth. Your twenties don’t have to be the best years of your life, but they are the best years for getting to know yourself now that you’ve escaped the confines of high school.
I’m still particularly close to a group of friends from my university, where we all did different bachelor studies, and we’re all at such divergent points now. I left university and went straight into an internship and then a job. Two of them took a year off before doing a Master’s, and one is now working in a completely different field whilst the other is working out what they want to do. Another one went straight into a Master’s, then another one, and is now considering a third. And finally, one of them moved to London and got a job in a field she had never considered before, where she is a complete #girlboss.
My point is that we were all at the starting line, and yet our routes took utterly turns. My point is that you don’t need to know what you’re doing or what you’ll always be doing; you just need to work out what you want to do. You need to try things, fail and succeed, and narrow down what actually interests and engages you.
A lot of people think they should have their act together in their twenties, but why? You have so much time ahead of you, so spend your twenties growing, learning, trying and failing. It’s okay to reach the end of your twenties and start a new study or career path. You don’t need to have all the answers as long as you’re willing to ask questions.
Growing up, parents were usually the authoritative figures that had the final say, so it’s tempting to continue this pattern into young adulthood. It feels habitual by now, and I understand many people struggle to say no to their parents or have parents who don’t accept that. But you cannot make life decisions based on what your parents want. You have to craft a life that you want to live, as at the end of the day, you’ll be the one living it, not them. You have to get up every day and put time into the study you chose, not them. You have to go to that job day after day, not them. So why let them dictate a life that they won’t be living?
As difficult as it is, you need to separate what you want from what they want. This goes for your education and job, but also other opinions. Growing up, it’s so easy to adopt our parents political and social ideologies, but now you can choose your own. They can offer opinions, but you don’t have to take them. This is your life that you’re creating, so make sure you’re happy in it, as otherwise, you’ll end your twenties with a bucketload of regrets and no idea what you actually want.
My four-year relationship ended in May, and we both acknowledged that it had actually ended a while before that, but we were both too scared to admit it. I wouldn’t change what happened, as I loved them, and I got to feel loved for that little bit longer. I don’t regret my choices, but I have definitely learned from this experience. I’ve learned that I need to be honest with myself, I need to take scary leaps, and I need to stop accepting less than I deserve.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who had similar experiences. They feel like their time was wasted, that they missed opportunities and chances to prioritise themselves. They leave the relationship feeling like their twenties passed them by.
A relationship ending doesn’t mean that it was the wrong choice or a mistake, but staying in something that you know is wrong, is the real mistake. If it isn’t a “Hell yeah!”, then it’s a “Hell no”. This goes for friendships too, recognise when you’re no longer benefitting each other, appreciate the time you shared. Or decide the space you have for this friend now, and communicate that.
Men tend to apply for jobs that they’re only 60% qualified for, whilst women will only do so if they’re 100% qualified. Many take that statistic to mean that men should check qualifications further, but I think that women need to start checking them less.
You need to apply for the job that you’re not entirely qualified for. You need to ask out the person you’re not sure likes you. You need to tell the person on the street that you love their outfit. You need to submit your article to that publication. You need to query your manuscript with the top agents. You need to take risks.
In the words of one of my favourite films, 2004’s A Cinderella Story:
“Never let the fear of striking out, keep you from playing the game.”
Or in a more recent example, from The Office and originally said by Wayne Gretzky:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
If you don’t try, you’ll never know what could’ve happened. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed. That goes for everything, every small decision that you put off or convince yourself that you can’t do. You can miss so many opportunities and potential memories because you’re scared. But who cares if you get rejected? Yeah, it sucks for a few hours, maybe a few days, and then you move on. A few months later, and you couldn’t care less. Life moves on, so make sure to move with it, and don’t let your twenties be infected by a fear of rejection.
I never even considered taking a gap year before starting university and looking back, I wish I had. It was never portrayed as an option, so I’m really impressed whenever I hear of people who did it anyways. I think I could’ve used that time and space, and I think I needed a moment to breathe before diving into university, where my issues would only spiral. As I reached the end of my bachelor’s degree, everyone started talking about a Master’s, and I realised I needed to listen to myself this time. My mental health was the worst it had ever been. I was no longer in love with my study, and I couldn’t keep ignoring my ambitions to become a writer. So I decided to get a job instead of studying further, and everyone was shocked and disappointed in me. I got a lot of judgement for it, even from friends, and I know they equate it to my intelligence and ambition. But it was the right decision for me.
We need to stop thinking that education is everything. Education is a privilege, I recognise that, and it can be really helpful and necessary for certain professions, but not for all of them. Sometimes work experience is more valuable than studying. Sometimes taking the time to travel and get to know yourself is more valuable than studying.
I have several friends with Masters degrees who can’t get a job now and instead keep being offered internships, like the one I took after just a Bachelor degree. We make it seem like with the right education and grades, you’ll be hired anywhere, but it just isn’t the case. Work experience and people skills are just as valuable, so we need to stop thinking of further education as a ‘must’ and instead recognise it as one route of many.
Don’t study because you have to; study because you want to.
I’ll be completely honest: I am not good with money.
I’d love to write it off as a symptom of my BPD or something I didn’t learn growing up, but I am also simply bad with money. I spend to feel better, and I spend on other people, I just spend.
I’d love to say that the biggest mistake of your twenties is not saving up for a rainy day, something a friend expressed to me as her biggest error as high costs for health issues highlighted this error to her. It is a mistake not to try to save, not to focus on the bigger picture rather than buying another coat or another bottle of wine.
But another mistake is to focus only on saving, and miss life in the meantime. Life is for the living, so make sure you don’t miss opportunities because you’re so focused on tomorrow’s that could very well not come. Save, but don’t just save for a future mortgage or pension, also save for that trip you really want to take, save for that course you’d love to do. Make sure that saving and spending is balanced.
So the real mistake is letting money control you and your happiness, whether that’s by saving too much or spending too much.
Nowadays, it is easier than ever to look at what everyone else is up to. You can start your day scrolling through their Instagram, spend your lunch break looking at engagement and pregnancy announcements on Facebook and have an evening filled with them boasting over cocktails. It’s so easy to focus on what everyone else is doing, but it is genuinely one of the biggest mistakes you could make in your twenties.
In Dutch, we have a great saying that basically translates to “eyes on your own plate”. Don’t focus on what everyone else is eating or doing, just on your own plate.
Don’t get distracted by everyone else; focus on your own lane. Focus on working out what you want instead of trying to mirror what they’re doing. For example, instead of assuming that you should like late nights in clubs, ask yourself whether you do. Work out how you enjoy spending an evening, whether that’s with friends, at a party or curled up with a book. Work out what you want to do with your life instead of feeling ‘behind’ other people because they’ve graduated or have a great job.
Take the time to get to know yourself, because this is who you’re spending your entire life with. Take the time to like yourself because you’re incredible, and you deserve to be loved for that.
Focusing on other people in your twenties is so tempting but a massive waste of time. This is your decade, so make the most of it.
Your twenties are a time for mistakes, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that these are the only good years you’ve got ahead of you. Because your thirties can be just as great, just slightly different. Any mistakes made in your twenties are a part of your journey, a chapter in your story, and you can iron them out in your thirties and write a new way forward. So don’t regret the things you do, regret the things you didn’t do, because at least if you try, then you know how it works out, and you’re not left wondering. Dignity heals, friendships prevail, and there’s always tomorrow to do better.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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