I have become an unofficial life advisor to the 20 something generation. My daughters are in their twenties, as are my best friend’s children. I have nieces and nephews in their twenties. I’ve spent a significant part of my career as a college professor- teaching and advising those in their twenties. For better or worse, I am surrounded by 20 somethings.
Having spent so much time with people of this age group, I understand their issues. Twenty somethings are in transition- college, new careers, relationships, marriage, and babies. They carry the expectations, hopes and dreams of their families and friends on their backs. It is a time of massive change and uncertainty. I remember clearly the difficulty of living with big questions and making decisions that would change my life.
I am old enough to have gained some perspective and wisdom. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t seek me out for advice. They ask good questions. How do I know which job is the best one for me? Should I take a teaching job in Taiwan? What if I never get offered a job in my profession? Should we get married now, or is it better to wait? Is now the time to have a baby? How do I handle being a new mom and be good at my profession at the same time? What if we buy a house and can’t afford it?
They are important questions and deserve real answers. My job is not to answer their questions, or tell them what to do. My role is to help them to figure out the answers for themselves. Most of the time, they already know what they want to do, but are struggling with validation. They are not yet old enough to trust their gut. They have listened to their parents, whose advice is filled with love- but also self interest. They have talked to friends, who are equally unsure about the best path forward. And then they ask me, someone who has been around the block and mostly has her act together.
My best advice is really asking questions. Why do you think you might want to do that? What made you apply for that job and not a different one? What skills do you have that show that you can be successful in this venture? What is your heart telling you to do? What would stop you from choosing that? What is the worst thing that could happen? If you chose and realize you have made a mistake- what could you do?
When I listen to people talk about the things that are right for them, their eyes become wide open and bright. They talk with energy and exhilaration. Their face literally lights up. When they talk about something they are not convinced is right, their energy is lower, their eyes look down, and they sigh. I see a perceptible difference. What we call a gut feeling is a physical reaction. We need to listen to this inner wisdom.
I have learned that most choices we make when we really listen to our intuition are right. Very few of our choices are irrecoverable. In your youth, you should go. Experience new things. Try out what you believe is right for you. This is the time to be daring, to go for a dream, to show the world who you are and what you can do. Playing it safe is easier now, but potentially more costly if it results in life that is different than the one you ultimately want.
Everything won’t turn out perfectly. You will scramble to pay rent. You will find and lose love. You will fail at a job or a task. Each experience will bring you closer to the life that is right for you. Don’t compare yourself to others, or try to live up to everyone else’s expectations. Don’t obsess over things you can’t control. Discard the things that aren’t working for you.
What I know is that you will make right decisions, and wrong ones. You will learn and you will grow from your choices. Your life is going to be different from anyone else’s and that is the way it is supposed to be. No one has ever lived the perfect life. Just get on with your life, living it the best you can.
I have every confidence that you’re going to be OK.