20’s: The In-Between phase

The closer I get to my 30’s, and the more I counsel college students, the more I realize that your 20’s can be summed up as an awkward, uncomfortable, in between phase. It’s funny. Growing up I always thought that once you were in your 20’s you had “arrived” at being an adult. I mean, you get to have your own place and make your own decisions! Can’t get more “adult” than that. I look back at this younger version of myself and laugh. Your 20’s can be amazing, full of adventure, and full of growth. But…it can also be this in-between phase.

The reason I call this the in-between place is because everything you go through in your 20’s feels like you are in the middle of a bridge–neither here, nor there. You might have goals in mind, but you aren’t quite there yet. You start to figure out who you want to be, but you are still trying to make sense of who you have been up until this point in your life. Then, there is the obvious things that we all go through in our 20’s. Feeling like the one who isn’t in the younger 20’s phase of partying, fun, and associated events of immaturity, but not necessarily a full blown adult complete with a spouse, family, and home of our own. It’s weird. We all have this idea of what we should be by the time we reach a certain age: finish college by 22, married by 25, or kids by 30. And yet, does it really ever pan out that way? My guess is that more often than not, that is the exception rather than the rule.

Your 20’s are all about finding yourself. Figuring out who you have been, who you want to be, and where you want to go in this life. You begin to let go of the child you once were and begin to embrace your newfound freedom to beat to your own drum. You begin to figure out what feels right for you in relationships, friendships, lifestyles, careers, political beliefs, and anything else you can think of. So, if this is the norm…why do we feel so unstable, unsure, anxious, and confused through a lot of it?

Well…I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers. I haven’t even reviewed research to see what literature might be out there on this topic. But, I can offer observations.

One observation I have is that we spend our childhood’s thinking that we are supposed to be a certain way. This “certain way” is dictated by society values and beliefs, also cultural implications such as family, local culture, and the culture at large where you live. This is why friendships and relationships are such a huge impact (problem?) in teenage years. We have to be a certain way, and if we feel as if we don’t measure up, then there HAS to be something wrong with us. There is still this childlike belief that if something goes wrong, it’s because we weren’t good enough. I’ve noticed this in myself, from my teenage years, as well as other young adults in their 20’s. By the time we go to college, or go to work, we are just beginning to see that there is another perspective, another way of living, another way of being. It’s entirely new to majority of us because…let’s face it…most of us aren’t raised by parents who enthusiastically support being an individual growing up. We are raised to believe that something is expected of us and if we don’t measure up, we are punished, shamed, and guilt tripped. This belief often sticks with us throughout our early 20’s and, for some of us unlucky ones, even further into our lives.

Another observation I have is that we don’t exactly live in a world that normalizes feeling uncomfortable. We live in a world full of feeling happy, perfectionism, and acting as if things don’t bother us. Showing our raw, unfiltered, struggling selves isn’t the norm. So, when we do struggle, we believe that we are inadequate. This is unfortunate because struggling is universal. Literally everyone experiences it. You’d think that since everyone experiences it, it would be the norm. But, for whatever reason, acting as if you’ve got everything handled is the norm. So, when us 20-somethings feel like we are struggling, we automatically feel as if we are failing at this adulting thing.

So, why am I writing a blog about this? Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure. It was a topic on my mind, but I also think it’s a topic worth discussing. Depending on the circles your in, struggling may be normalized and empathized. But I think more discussion needs to happen around struggling in general, but also for us 20-somethings. Going to college is hard. Working is hard. Moving out and away from our family is hard. Figuring out how to be successful is hard. Learning how to properly manage finances is hard. Creating partnerships and families are hard. And, if we are lucky, this will be the only things we struggle with. But for the silent majority of us, we are dealing with our inner wounds that resulted from hard childhood and adolescent years.

The one thing I want you to take away from reading this blog? Learn to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learn to embrace it. Learn to recognize it as growth opportunities. One of my favorite quotes is “if we’re uncomfortable, we’re growing.” I think this is so true! I treat feeling uncomfortable as if it is a messenger. What is the message? What does this mean? How does that effect who I am? How will I utilize this, or heal from this, moving forward?

Decipher the message.

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