Articles giving advice to twenty-somethings are not difficult to come by. However despite the sheer volume of information, most seem to agree on certain pieces of advice – and they give this advice over and over. As a twenty-something who’s prone to critical thinking, I believe I have the right to proclaim most of this advice inaccurate. Here are the life hacks that “they” proclaim to be tried and true, followed by my “corrections.”
1. If you fix all your emotional problems now (rather than later) then everything will be perfect.
Addressing emotional and psychological issues is always a good idea since you should be taking care of your mental health just as attentively as you take care of your physical health. Your twenties is an excellent time to do this since you are mature enough to have grown out of teenage angst, you’ve developed greater self-awareness so you can see what may be interfering with your quality of life, and you might even have an insurance plan that can pay for therapy.
That being said, addressing emotional issues in your twenties is not a one-time deal. It’s not like you schedule six months of counseling when you’re 25, then from there on out your life is hunky-dory. You will have problems afterwards. You may need to go back to a counselor. You may need to take harmful foods out of your diet – permanently. Self-improvement and emotional healing are enormously important aspects of your health, and it does you a disservice to treat them as nuisances to be checked off a list.
2. Be grateful and everything will be perfect.
I’ll never forget the time I was told that all my problems existed because I wasn’t grateful. Aside from the sheer ignorance of a comment like that, it echoes a misconception commonly delivered via Hallmark cards and commencement speeches: Gratefulness cancels out suffering. But hear me out when I say: That. is. not. true. Being grateful means seeing the goodness and beauty around and within you despite your struggles.
Having problems doesn’t mean you’re a self-centered wretch, and being grateful will not whitewash your life with happiness and joy. But focusing on gratitude will make a world of difference for your interior life. If you had a rough day at work and you need to cry it out, being grateful won’t change that. But after your sobs subside, I challenge you to think about one or two things in your life that make you smile. A compliment from an elderly lady in McDonald’s, the change of season, your mom’s chicken noodle soup – It doesn’t matter how small it is. Just dwell on that for one second and I promise your heart will swell a whole size larger.
3. Get rid of “toxic people” in your life and everything will be perfect.
Dear Internet: People are not disposable. Not you, not your boss, not your little sister, and not even that really nasty, negative co-worker. Can we stop fueling this idea that the second a friend or acquaintance has a bad day they suddenly deserve to be cut out of your life? Not to mention that this piece of “advice” comes dangerously close to suggesting that you must snub friends with mental illness. Rather than dumping anyone who has problems or an off-day, you should be learning boundaries and how to maintain healthy relationships. There are always going to be negative people in your life. Always. No amount of unfriending or shunning is going to change that. So why not learn to deal with the situation instead of avoiding it?
4. Travel, travel, travel… and everything will be perfect.
I hate to be the one to break it to you: traveling in real life is nothing like traveling in the movies. Spontaneous trips cost money. Two weeks in a new place can be scary – even overwhelming. I’m not trying to be negative Nancy. At Gentwenty we recognize the value of traveling! But it’s not the traveling per se that you need to experience. The bottom line is that travel improves you as a person because it exposes you to new experiences and new people, it forces you to become more self-assured, and it’s exciting! But what happens when you can’t afford backpacking trips, guided tours, and transatlantic flights? What if you *gasp* don’t like the idea of leaving your native land or you’re afraid of planes? Well, just reap the benefits of traveling by taking a different course of action! Go WWOOFing in your own state. Ask a bilingual friend to speak to you in her second language for an entire coffee date (free immersion course!). Purchase a day pass for a zoo of exotic animals. Local adventuring on a budget? Now that will change you. The sky’s the limit and you don’t even need to leave the ground!
5. Do what scares you and everything will be perfect.
You know what scares me? Eating cat food. Walking through a dangerous neighborhood late at night. But doing either of those things won’t make me braver – just stupid. “Does it scare you?” is a dreadfully misleading standard for action. Please, let’s start asking ourselves more reasonable questions. Next time you’re doubting yourself, try, “Will the payoff be worth it?” or “Does it inspire me?”
Life isn’t a one-size-fits-all package. Do what works for you, not what works for a Pinterest board!