High up on the list of things I dislike is a first day of work. Don’t get me wrong, I think starting a new position is a great thing. It usually means that you’re moving on to new opportunities and challenges, new chances to prove yourself, and learn valuable skills.
But the downside of that first day is the anxiety that comes before it, the nervousness that keeps you from remembering your new co-workers names right off the bat, and the helpless feeling when you don’t know where to eat lunch (hello, flashback to the first day of middle school).
Starting a new job throws your life into a state of upheaval. Your routine is no longer the same, you have to find the best places to get coffee, you aren’t used to the office culture yet, and aren’t quite sure who’s joking and who’s serious. You’re extra tired because you haven’t been sleeping well, and your lack of proper sleep is pulling you into a downward spiral of silly mistakes and fruitless first impressions. It’s a vicious cycle.
But after a few weeks, you slowly ease back into a comfortable routine. You’ve learned your way around the office, you know who to call when you aren’t sure what to do, you have someone to eat lunch with, and you’ve timed to minute exactly when you need to leave work to get home for the new episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
I think your twenties are a lot like the first day on the job. You don’t need to imagine a decade-long first day of work because you’re already living in that perpetual cycle.
We were at the top of our game in college. We finally knew exactly when we could go to class and when we could skip. We knew exactly what we had to do to earn an A on an assignment and exactly how many hours it would take to achieve the desired effect. But that ended when we flipped our tassels and our diplomas came in the mail. We were comfortable, and then our lives were uprooted. What we had been striving for for so many years finally arrived and then it was time for something new.
Twenty-something college graduates dove into a world that was shallower than anticipated. We’re trapped in a cycle where we find ourselves both unable to find a job and disgustingly nervous to start the job when we do find one.
We’re anxious to make good impressions, we’re anxious to stay true to ourselves and our interests, we’re loathe to be a coffee mule, but we’ll do it if we have to. We try to make our own opportunities, and pretend it doesn’t hurt when we’re rejected.
Just like the first day on a new job, everyone is watching us closely, just waiting for us to make a mistake so they can swoop in, correct us, and let us know who still runs this place.
Once we make it past the first day, the first week, and the first six months and settle into our new routines, we start wondering if this is the place for us.
Are we doing enough to ensure success down the road?
Are we happy?
Is this what we want to be doing?
Are we making enough money?
Is this everything we thought it would be?
We become frantic again because we are no longer satisfied with the job, and we’re not sure if this is the path we’re supposed to be on. We’re not even sure if we’d recognize the right path if we were on it.
Being a twenty-something means you’re in a constant state of confusion. It means seeking validation but not really wanting it. It’s desperately wishing for that gut feeling that tells us this is where we are supposed to be. It’s tiny apartments. It’s living with your parents. It’s blindly putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that each step is in the right direction. It’s crying on your best friend’s shoulder. It’s growing apart from that same friend in the blink of an eye. It’s 30 seconds of insane bravery followed by the intense vulnerability the comes with laying it all out on the line.
It’s realizing you’re stronger than you think you are.
What it really means to be a twenty-something has less to do with your numerical age and is more about your mindset.
You learn to forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made. You quit the job that treats you like shit and refuse to look back. You suffer through it when you know you need the paycheck. You learn that you won’t always be good enough, but strangely, that’s okay. You learn to give your best, even when it falls short. We learn that we don’t have to be good at everything. We remind ourselves that just because we aren’t good at it, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it.
You let go of the years you spent going down the wrong road. You stop trying to get back the years your mental illness took from you. You stop thinking about what you would change if you could and instead live the change you wish to see in the world. You stop living inside the confines of other people’s ideas. You start living your own life.
Being a twenty-something means being true to your values, and trusting that freedom and a strong sense of self will follow.
It’s getting knocked off your feet after you finally find solid ground. Life becomes easier when you realize that everything is temporary. You discover that awkward moments are fleeting, joy can be found in the mundane, and resentment looks good on no one.
Just like that first day of work, we’re all just doing the best we can. We’re trying to find out place and our footing. We’re pretending we know what we’re doing even when we haven’t the slightest clue. But somehow everyday gets a little bit easier, we get a little more confident, a little more sure of ourselves… and then the cycle starts all over again.
Thriving in your twenties is no small feat.
Be proud of yourself everyday for everything you’ve done for yourself.
Be proud of who you are even if other people aren’t.
Be your own biggest cheerleader and don’t be afraid to toot your own horn every once in awhile.
We believe in you.