When I was young, it was easy for me to fantasize about the future. The options were limitless and I could let my mind wander.
The time of my life I fantasized about the most were my twenty-something years. I would live in a huge loft in NYC (this was before I ever had to think about things like rent) and I would have an amazing job working in the entertainment business.
There I was dashing across the New York City streets with my hair blowing in the light breeze, tall suede rich brown boots elegantly jumping over a puddle, my cashmere coat wrapped tightly around my waist. This is what I thought the twenty-something years would look like.
Boy was I wrong.
My 20s were less than fabulous. Don’t get me wrong. They were fun and I learned a lot about myself, but they were also overwhelming times. I spent more days than I care to remember feeling confused and lost.
What was it about the twenty-something years that got me daydreaming when I was a kid? I think it was that in my 20s, I would be an “adult” but not old. I would be out of college and living on my own and making all my own decisions. I would have control over myself, my life and it was my chance to create the life I choose.
As a therapist and coach, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to hundreds of twenty-somethings describe what they also thought these years would look like. I learned, (unfortunately 20 years too late) that I wasn’t alone in my thinking.
My twenty-something clients were constantly telling me how they also thought that these were supposed to be “the best years of their lives” but somehow their present lives were not matching their fantasies.
It occurred to me that there is a real myth out there of what “successful twenty-something years” should look like and then there is the reality of what these years are really like. The myth is that once you graduate from college or leave home for the first time that you should have a very clear idea of who you are and what you want from life.
With your “crystal clear” idea and plan of action for the next decade, there should be nothing stopping you from having an amazing career, a loving partner, a huge circle of friends, plans to travel all over the world and a regular yoga routine that keeps you in terrific shape but also extremely zen.
The problem I recognized (again 20 years too late) was that it’s impossible to “have it all together” and know exactly who you are when you’ve hadn’t had much of chance to really figure it out.
This is why my twenty-something clients beat themselves up, they’ve bought into this fantasy (the same one I bought into) of what they should be achieving during this time and then blame themselves when their lives look really different.
I’m here to tell you, you’re not doing anything wrong. What I teach my twenty-something clients is to let go of the fantasy of what they thought these years would look like and start allowing themselves to think about these years in a different way.
Imagine if you could redefine what success looks like in your 20s. What if you could let go of this notion that you will “have it all together” by age 30?
It’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out right now. True success in your 20s is about being able to create a solid foundation for yourself. It’s learning to like yourself in order to understand what’s important to you and what you value. It’s about building a foundation in order to have a healthy and happy life in the future. It’s about experimenting and trying new things, new jobs, new cities, and new relationships.
If you’re in your 20s, and you’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself to live up to this fantasy, please let it go. Allow yourself to fall down (a lot) and allow yourself to make mistakes. Go out and try that career, hairstyle, city, country that excites you. Success right now means that you’re trying, doing, experimenting and growing.