When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to be in my 20’s. The future glistened in my imagination like an indestructible pot of gold; it was freedom, it was success, it was happiness. I was always told that if I worked hard at school, I’d be sailing in an ocean of success later. So I kept my head down, being cautious not to have it turned by tempting distractions. My mouth remained shut, because I’d be talking later. My eyes remained focused, for they’d be opened further down the line.
My life would be the ultimate demonstration of delayed gratification. I’d beat the tide of struggles and swim to the top, climb on to my float and drift over my mini empire. It wasn’t my overactive imagination: it was promised to me. My future sure did glisten in my mind like a pot of gold, and it was the same pot of gold you find at the end of the rainbow: a mythical one.
I imagined the world would open my eyes, but it was my eyes that opened to the world. Out of my certain, simple childhood fantasy, I crashed into the chaos and uncertainty of reality.
How the world is an upside-down version of our imagined constructions! That’s the first bitter lesson I learned in my 20’s. It’s a world of impossibility within possibility; a world of rejection masked as promise. It’s like being shown a palette of choices while you’re chained to a post; like entering a bakery of mouthwatering cakes while you’re on a strict diet.
When we were younger, our lives were figured out. We’d be soaring through our 20’s, rocking our perfect careers, sporting the fanciest car, and mastering our impeccable house we once designed on the Sims. How our 20-something year old selves are quietly smirking at our innocent naïvety!
The reality of being in your 20’s is the crazy mission of navigating through an impossible maze. A million trails; a million blocked.
We have the freedom of flying the nest and inhabiting independently, but with what money? We have the option of whatever career tickles our passion, but where are the opportunities? We have the liberty of deciding the exact path we wish to take, and never has the expression, ‘but I really don’t know what it is I want’ been more relatable.
So we stand at the start of a maze: we haven’t even begun and we’re already lost. The trails are all there in front of us, but we can’t see where they lead to. Their entrances are visible, although many of them are bordered up so high, we wonder whether we’re tall enough to climb over it. Some of them don’t even seem wide enough to accommodate us, which means we may be forced to retrace our steps back. It seems our best strategy would be to wait at the start and ponder each one for a while, maybe peep inside each passage and see how far we can see ahead.
The problem is that this maze is a race, and we’re blown forward by the pressures of society. It feels like we’re being forced to decide on a passage before it’s too late to reach the trophy. What if we pick the wrong one? What if it takes us to a dead end that we’re too afraid to escape? What if it’s too late to turn back? Oh, how we wish we had more time to decide!
Just when we thought that was a dilemma enough, we’ve simultaneously been thrown into a battle of contending against misconceptions and disappointing unrealistic expectations.
Never before has society seemed more contradicting than it is now. We’re presented with the glittering prospect of exploring the world; the freedom of discovering ourselves without the weight of responsibilities on our shoulders. Immediately after, we’re subjected to rants about the laziness and carelessness of millennials today.
If we’ve taken the opportunity to travel, we’re scrutinised for failing to nail down a sustainable career. If we’ve rooted ourselves within our work, we’re lectured on how we’ve missed our best opportunity to widen our horizons.
If we attempt to save for a house deposit while living at home, we’re leaning too dependently on our parents’ accommodation. If we rent our own place independently, we were too hasty and have thrown away our chances of stepping on to the property ladder.
If we have children in our early 20’s, we’re plain careless and have wasted our future prospects. If we decide we don’t want to have children, we’re selfish and will surely change our minds shortly.
It seems that all of a sudden, without any recognisable transition, we’re tossed into an abyss of adulthood. One where largely unrealistic expectations are abruptly hit into us; owning a house when prices are spiralling out of control; earning impressive money when such opportunities are extremely competitive to obtain; whizzing expertly around household dilemmas when we never had a lesson of DIY at school.
Logically and realistically, it is virtually impossible to satisfy this fictional agenda. Nevertheless, we’re desperate to satisfy it anyway.
Because above all, we’re starving for the most basic affirmation; a warming smile and a push of positive encouragement. For someone to finally put their arms around our lost, weighted shoulders and utter our most craved words, ‘hey, you’re doing just fine!’
Most of all because we’re tired of being compared to fabricated stories of careless individuals over the news. Or we’ve battered our self-esteem by comparing ourselves to fake, filtered success stories plastered over social media.
Because our heart sinks every time we are forced to admit that we really don’t know where our lives are heading after a beady-eyed relative interrogates us. Or we’re truly sick of being beaten to the ground with every rejection that’s nailed into us.
Questions remain unanswered. Our nails dig deeper into our skin at the heighten of every worry; our eyes redden over each restless night we lose over our fearful ruminations. Confused and disorientated: we’re living through our prime years, yet sometimes we dread every moment of it.
No-one has it figured out. Despite the fact it often looks like others do, they most likely don’t either. It’s okay to be lost. It’s okay to not know where you’re heading. And hey, you’re doing just fine!