In theory, our early 20s should be full of endless possibilities. We've escaped our parents' watchful eyes (or are working toward it!); we're earning an income or a degree; and we have more freedom, independence, and—let's be real—fun than ever before.
But in reality, the years from age 20 to age 25 or so consist of a whole lot of confusion, panic, and pretending to have it all figured out. We worry over and question decisions, both large and small—about jobs, dating, friends, apartments, the list goes on. The bright side? You're far from alone. Keep calm, carry on, and know these eight seemingly major worries are totally normal.
1. “What the hell am I doing with my life?”
Here I am, living on my own, earning an income, and making choices about my future—but do I feel like an "adult"? Hardly! For the first time in my life, the next step isn't clear, which is both amazing and terrifying. Where do I want to live? What do I really want to do? Who do I want to be—and who do I want to be with? Although no one’s asking you to figure out the answers to these questions all at once, it definitely feels that way sometimes.
And if you feel like you're somehow faking this whole "real life" thing, know you're not the only one. Imposter syndrome—or feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing and that you're somehow fooling everyone into thinking you're actually capable while assuming others have it all figured out—is something an estimated 70 percent of people experience at some point in their lives. Welcome to adulthood!
2. “Everyone else is so much happier than I am. What’s wrong with me?”
As 20-somethings in 2016, we Snapchat moments, Instagram the highlights, and Tweet (most) of the thoughts running through our heads. We know social media doesn't represent the whole picture of someone's entire life, but it's easy to forget. Research even confirms social media users tend to present themselves in favorable ways and suggests that constant scrolling can affect self-perception and happiness levels.
Remembering how we all carefully curate and select our images is comforting.
Of course, I'm not against social media completely: It does help us keep up with friends we don't see regularly, and I’m personally guilty of demanding that friends wait to eat so I can get a good Insta pic of our food. But remembering how we all carefully curate and select our images is comforting. No one really lives the life you see broadcasted online.
3. "Am I ever going to meet someone I like?"
Being single is not a curse—or even out of the ordinary. Research has found that not only are fewer of us getting married, but the percentage of adults in their 20s and 30s who are single and not living with a partner rose from 52 to 64 percent in the past decade. We’ve known for a while that there are benefits to being single, but it seems like our generation is finally catching on.
Don’t get me wrong, relationships are great (I'm in one myself), but these stats are telling. The encouraging part is that we seem to be more careful about choosing a serious partner (research suggests we’re just getting to know each other better first by living together before marriage, for example).
Remember: There’s no “right” age to settle down, so instead of feeling like you won’t find someone “in time,” focus on loving yourself every day so that when you do find that person, you truly know who you are alone first. As one wise friend of mine says, relationships are not a race.
4. “Soo, my dream job actually sucks.”
Newsflash: Not many (if any) people truly love their job. In fact, research shows 21 percent of millennials report changing jobs within the last year, while 36 percent say that they’ll look for a new job next year—and a whopping 60 percent are open to new job opportunities.
No job will ever make your whole life awesome—not even if you’re 'following your passion.'
But if you’re switching courses because you’re always searching for complete fulfillment, know that no job will ever make your whole life awesome—not even if you’re “following your passion.” Some days you'll get bored, feel tired, or just want to quit and go live on a private island. What makes you a good employee (and probably a happier person) is pushing through those moments of disappointment and doubt. If you expect to be fueled by passion every minute of every day, you’re going to be pretty disappointed in life (though there are definite benefits to pursuing your passions outside of work!).
5. “I’m going to be broke forever. HELP.”
OK, it'll be a good few years before you’re going to build up a savings account you're proud of. But let's be real: Money can be a huge stressor, especially when everything else is in flux, and can even negatively impact physical and mental health.
Two weeks after my college graduation, I moved to New York with nothing left over after paying my first month's rent, even though I’d been working at least one job at all times since I was 17. Thankfully, I’d gotten pretty good at budgeting, which I like to think of as kind of a game: making a money plan and seeing how close you can stick to it.
Still, I admit I've been secretly annoyed with friends who didn’t have financial concerns, thanks to families who could afford to help with the bills. In retrospect, this wasn’t a reflection on them but on my fears. Now, instead of focusing on what I don’t have (extra money), I think about what I do have (my job, the ability to relocate after school, my family and friends). What's also helped: Whenever my friends order drinks at some fancy rooftop bar, I'll wander away for a few minutes to take in the views of the city I've worked so hard to make my way in—which is way more rewarding than a $14 cocktail.
6. "Um, where are all of my friends?"
#NoNewFriends is real. Many of us make at least one or two moves in our early 20s, whether for work, family, or school, which means our friends can be scattered across the country.
And it can be kind of terrifying—sitting in your apartment with approximately zero people to call. It turned out, though, that making friends in a new city was a lot easier than I thought. (Here are 14 awesome ideas that really help!) Shared interests helped me form different types of bonds, so for the first time I have friends that are equally as passionate about powerlifting and talking a lot about journalism and media—which is pretty cool.
7. “Am I going out too much? Am I not going out enough?”
As a college freshman, blacking out at a bar was still stupid, but it was also kind of funny. (Ahem: Here’s what actually happens to your brain when you black out.) But as a 20-something? Being late to work because you were too hungover or showing up late to an important meeting in last night’s clothes because you didn’t have time to go home is a bit less funny—and a lot more embarrassing.
Even the most responsible of us spend a fair amount of nights out. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of happy hours and can drink like it’s NBD, or maybe, like me, you’re introverted and need some time and space to hang out at home. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance and focusing on yourself, which can be harder than it sounds. As long as you’re doing you and not what others expect of you, you’re doing alright, whether that means you're spending four nights out per week or none. Oh, and if your friends aren't down with that, it might be time to reconsider who you spend your time with.
8. “I feel like a total failure.”
A lot of us were brought up in the age of "participation trophies" and motivational speeches: “You can do anything in life if you try hard enough!” we were told. Well, confidence is great and all, but never getting acquainted with failure isn't much help.
I value doing the best that I can, but sometimes that’s going to result in failure too—at least at first.
Personally, I thought of "failure" as something to be avoided at all costs. But now I’ve learned the hard way. In the past few months, I’ve probably failed more times than I have in my entire life—really, I have. My writing often has more of my editors’ words than my own. I had to retake a personal training certification test because I was so overwhelmed with trying to find a full-time job that I couldn’t fit in all my studying. I decided, after committing, not to go to grad school and to get a full-time job instead (this might not necessarily be a failure, but in a way, it felt like one).
Sure, failing sucks, but now I’m no longer terrified of it. I value doing the best that I can, but sometimes that’s going to result in failure too—at least at first. When you stop being so scared of it, you realize you actually have nothing to lose but your own pride (and take it from someone who's now put it all out there—it's really not that scary.)