Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reflections on Being a Quintessential Twenty-Something

I stumbled across an article a few weeks ago that I knew I must read – and comment on – but until now hadn't found the time to do so.

The article, entitled Semi-Charmed Life, was published in the New Yorker by Nathan Heller.  Take the time to read it if you have a chance.*  It's amazing.

Ok, you back (or still here)?  Good.

The article looks at twenty-something-ness as a unique phase in everyone’s lives.  It talks about how this phase in our life is special because it is so varied – all of us are doing so many different things, someone of us are doing it all at once, and somehow that draws us together.  Parts of the article stuck out to me as hitting a proverbial nail on the head.

As I draw much closer to the end of my 20s than the beginning, I've spent a lot of time thinking about where I’ve come from and where I’ll be in a few years. 

  • I entered my 20s a college student – over worked, over tired, over partied, over committed, overly single, and probably with a checking account nearly over drawn. 
  • My early-mid 20s were spent slaving away at a job I hated in order to pay the bills. 
  • I quit said job in my still early-mid-20s to go back to being overly broke and started grad school – I was again a full time student, working two full time jobs, and in a truly terrible relationship.
  • I spent most of my mid-20s focusing on my career.  My checking account was still over drawn half the time but I was working my ass off at something I loved and - too be honest - having way to good of a time.
  • With the recent move (and the entry into the definite late-20s of my life), I’ve refocused a little.  I’m still working hard, doing something I love, but I’m also focusing on my relationships more, building up that bank account, and losing the weight that comes along with having a good time.

It’s hard to think that all of that can happen in less than 7 years.  Harder yet to believe that all of my best friends could describe very different paths in their 20s and yet all of our experiences resonate with one another – we are all drawn together even if nothing about our lives appears to meld well.

At one point, Heller says that one of the most interesting part of everyone’s 20s is that “Where you start out—rich or poor, rustic or urbane—won’t determine where you end up, perhaps, but it will determine how you get there.”  This could not be more true. 

The article also mentions a clinical psychologist who observes that – contrary to the carefree attitude that people see in 20-somethings – as a whole we are horribly unsatisfied.  We feel that our lives are not what we hoped for.  I think my meandering path above demonstrates that I have felt the same way.  There are defining moments in that story – literal “wake up in the morning and realize something has to change” moments – where I was so unsatisfied that I was willing to give everything up to make a change.  And I did.  Multiple times.

So where am I going with all of this?  That is the ultimate question, isn’t it?  I may have almost 2 years left to my 20s but I’m already feeling the pressure to figure it out.  Thankfully, these days, the 30s are the new 20s so I have a few years to get there.  The article even addresses that fact.  In the 90s, the "it-girls" on TV were like Ally McBeal - late 20-something, desperate, single women.  Today, the "freak out timeline" focuses more on the Liz Lemon's of the world - late 30s.  As the article states: "There’s no shame now in being a twentysomething without imminent family plans, and there may even be extra power."

Near the end of the article, Heller makes this observation.

Twentysomething culture is intimate and exclusive on the one hand, and eternal on the other. We tout this stage of life, in retrospect, as free, although we ogle the far shores of adulthood while we’re there.

When I read those sentences, it suddenly all made sense to me.  Why this stage in my life is so special.  Why I feel the need to write about it on the blog that so few people read.  Why I strive to improve with each new step I take.

We live in a world where almost everything about it is readily available to virtual strangers.  At the same time,  we know more than ever about how to shape that intimacy.  That's what this blog is all about, isn't it?  Putting my thoughts out into the world in a way that truly expresses what is on my heart.  I am able to express myself - no one can take that away.  

I have the freedom every day to do what I want still.  I have no husband, no children, at home to answer to.  And yet, as I near the end of the 20s, I've come to realize that that "far shore of adulthood" isn't so far away afterall.  That maybe it's ok to be anchored down a little.


*Did you miss the post on my Facebook page with the link last week?  Make sure you like the page so you don't miss anything in the future!


  1. Great post and article; thanks for sharing! I'm smack dab in the middle of my twenties and I feel it. I often feel that 'unsatisfied' feeling and the need to rush things. I think the fact that Taylor is going to be 30 in a year really makes me feel like I need to get my shit together. It really is crazy how many different stages you can be in during your 20s. Who would've thought I would leave my job (where some people consider it to be their career) and go back to school? Thank goodness I still have several years to figure it all out. haha! Lord willin' (miss Kentucky yet?)!

  2. I agree with everything on here. My 20s have definitely been a time where I've tried to feel care free but completely stressed all at once. I still can't believe I turn 28 this year. Better make these last two years count!

  3. I love this! The 20's have definitely been a time for self-discovery. Great post :)


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