Dear Carolyn: Did you ever feel like you weren't doing what you were supposed to be doing? I've found myself in a career that I'm fine at, but I'm not in love with. And now I'm having anxiety that I'll live the rest of my life in a state of "fine." What I REALLY want to do is be an interior designer. But I can't afford to go back to school. And what if it's not for me?! ACK! Why is being in my 20s SO HARD?!
— Mid-20s Crisis
Mid-20s Crisis: I spent my entire 20s doing what I wasn’t supposed to be doing.
And I’m so grateful for that I can’t do it justice in words.
This time of your life is SO HARD because you are figuring out who you are, where you belong, what is necessary, what is realistic to ask. If you treat this as a nuisance homework assignment and just scribble down answers on the bus ride in, then you’ll pay for it later as your “Is this all there is?” terror mounts.
Not that “winning” at your 20s guarantees you’ll never have doubts; if you aren’t questioning, then you aren’t paying attention.
But it is possible to get into a sustainably satisfying, relatively untormented groove. That’s what your current unhappiness is for, to force you to figure out what that groove does and doesn’t look like — a lifelong process for us all, really, just with periods of greater urgency. It means figuring out what you do and don’t look like, what you are good at, what animates you, what you want to contribute, what a well-lived life would entail, and how much of that you control.
And how much openness you can bring to what life delivers vs. what you actively work to obtain. I needed concurrent, life-altering crises to slap me hard enough to see how much that matters. If you can get to a point of flexibility and acceptance without the divorce and shattering grief, then that’s a win in itself.
Your having an idea of what you want puts you at a significant advantage (I had no inkling till I was 30, and in hindsight that even seems young). You don’t have to go to school for it, either. Ask around. Ask everyone. Buy a cup of coffee for anyone in the field who will give you 15 minutes. Find out Plan B’s and C’s that allow you to earn while learning.
And if it’s not for you? Okay then. Back at it. No one says this has to be linear, no one says you have to pick a vocation now for the rest of your life, no one says reinvention at various points isn’t the right way to live, no one says there’s a right way, period. No one worth listening to, at least.
Persistent negative emotions are useful signals that we have some work to do. Sometimes that work rises to a clinical level, in which case it’s important to get the appropriate help. But, short of that, a lingering malaise usually means we need to go right at the one thing, the one fear, the one risk, we’re working so hard not to face.
Best wishes for a curve that isn’t as steep as you think.