The Ugly Twenties
For months prior to my 22nd birthday, all I looked forward to was waking up in the morning and playing Taylor Swift’s ‘22’. I know, so lame… and unexciting. But to me that was heaven… and I didn’t want or need anything more. I was at my zenith. I was physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. I was surrounded by great friends whom I love and love me too. I was in my 3rd year, studying a course I absolutely love, on a campus that wasn’t the best (students always complain) but somehow was the best place for me at that moment in time. And most importantly I was no longer homesick. I no longer felt like being so far away from home meant I was out of the loop or that I was no longer an immediate member of the family. I guess the only thing missing was that whirlwind romance that blows you senseless - but that’s up for debate ;).
My 22nd birthday seems like a lifetime ago. Today, I am 23 years old and unfortunately, I have to say I am going through a quarter-life-crisis. I can’t exactly pinpoint when things started to go south, and for a while that was hell. I was unable to figure out what thought, choice or action led me to this place of uncertainty. A place where nothing feels right and nothing seems to be going the way I expected it to be. My only solace is that I now know I am not the only one going through this.
The truth is, the initial years after college are very different from what we expect. We are thrust into the ‘real’ world and for most parts are left to fend for ourselves- alone and singular. We aren’t just left to fend on our own, we are left to do so with so many unanswered questions. And at the same time questions like, have I lost my way? Could I ever be the happy and content person I once was? Why am I so sad/empty despite not lacking in what matters? begin to pop up. The friendships, relationships, family dynamics, spiritual beliefs, professional aspirations etc. that once came to us so effortlessly stop being as easy-going and natural as they once were. Years of eye-opening personal and second-hand experiences (in university) leave you raw, new and altered. You find yourself in this endless cycle of breaking down the choices and actions you’ve taken till date. All that uncertainty and vagueness leaves you off balance and desperately looking for a new equilibrium. One that you make for yourself, instead of the teachings and views coerced, pushed and drilled on to you by parents, teachers, priests or any other influence in your life. It is this search for balance in a foreign environment that inevitably results in the so-called “quarter-life crisis”.
The first and most important dilemma for me was about ‘self’. My identity. Who I was vs. who I am becoming vs. who I want to be. This is also the same thing as weighing in on your past, present and future. We romanticize the way things were, question the things that are and fear the things that will be if we stick to the path that we are currently on. I came to realize this was because of the exploring and experimenting of ideologies and philosophies that we did in the past few years. Thinking for yourself and being responsible for the person you will be is overwhelming and scary. More so when you start to believe differently from the people that made you who you were. In doing so you’ve detached yourself from them and tethered yourself to something that even you don’t know where it leads.
If I could give a title to our twenties, it would be ‘it’s all about YOUR DREAMS’. All our efforts during this decade are put into achieving (or at the very least seeding) our professional, romantic, travel, spiritual, health (physical) and even closet dreams. This period in our life is exciting and mysterious; and full of hope and possibility. And despite that, for almost everyone, the path to accomplishing these dreams is foggy at best. That is if you even know what to drive towards. A large population of people in their 20s are lost and aimless because they don’t know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Others, find themselves in an internal conflict of whether to go after what they want for themselves or what others want for them. As if that isn’t hard enough, some of those who dive straight into their dreams have to learn to accept that dreams change. And that it is okay to start afresh. That the time and energy you’ve spent pursuing something you once wanted but don’t want anymore is not a waste. This usually happens in jobs or romantic relationships. You realize that those dreams don’t give you the satisfaction you thought they would. Or, they aren’t enough and you want more or different for yourself.
Lastly, the third dread of anyone in their twenties or going through a quarter-life crisis is, Adequacy. It starts off with the simple question ‘am I doing enough’. Time seems to fly at an unprecedented rate, and here we are unable to accomplish anything. Our enough seems to not be enough. And the worst part of it all is the way it looks like you are alone in this struggle. Like you are the only one who doesn’t seem to have their –ish together. This is because we compare ourselves to every other twenty or younger person we know. We convince ourselves that we have to achieve what they have, whether that is something we truly want for ourselves or not. And in the age of social media, we are subjected to watching people achieve dream upon dream. Every new photo or post shoved into our face seems like proof that we are not doing enough with the 24hrs we are given. We are blinded by their achievements (momentary happy pictures) and feel sad. We forget that there are hours/days/years of hard work and pain behind that one picture. And in our fear of not having enough time or not being enough, we are restricting ourselves from enjoying the journey.
The years prior to our teens we are in a bubble. A bubble of naivety and silly weightless joy. During our teenage years, we are at the mercy of our biology and its new needs/urges. Our bodies change, opening our eyes and mind, past the silly delusions that kept us oblivious. Our twenties are the years of sowing. And like every farmer knows, the real work is done before the plant germinates and takes root. The unforeseen future of the plant leaves you at bay and regardless of that, you keep going. You keep working- watering, fertilizing and nurturing-until the day to harvest. This blind faith and rigorous work is what I call the twenties. We are taught to think of our youthful years (pre-thirties) as the best and in some accounts they are but the truth is, there are better days ahead. It is in the future when maturity sets in and things fall into place that we truly enjoy the sweet juicy nectar of life.
In the end, I’ve learned that there is only one path past my crisis (mental and emotional puberty), and that is to keep my head high and move forward. Some days are hard, believe me, but some days are worth the struggle. And as long as you aren’t stagnant, as long as you don’t let fear and indecisiveness cripple you, as long as you keep trying and leave yourself open to new experiences you will be fine. You will see the end of this confused state…your Twenties.