Do you remember when you were little, and seeing all those cool college kids in the movies getting their life together, getting jobs, getting married and getting exactly what they want? It was the ease with which they moved in the world, the careers they constantly strived for– if not reached, at least aimed for. And they never had one damn hair out of place (as I type with a massive coffee stain on my shirt).
Albeit the actors were more likely to be in their awkwardly placed thirties than their actual twenties, but I digress.
We were told since we were in kindergarten overalls that people in their twenties were supposed to either be in the process of achieving all of their dreams, or already having achieved them. As senior year and my last semester as a full-time student reaches its fourth week, I feel a dull but distinct panic and think back to those moments. Am I supposed to know what I’m doing? Short answer: Only kinda, but not really. Let me explain.
When I entered my freshman year of high school, I was set along the track that led resolutely and absolutely to higher education. No one mentioned trade schools and no one considered other vocations, especially not one that led to uncertain forms of payment. It was a privileged, private and religious school, and no one ever thought to consider the repercussions to those less equipped to handle prep schooling. All tracks pointed to financial success, and my peers and I were peppered with toxic thoughts throughout: Do you want to work at this *insert less esteemed job here?* How about this *service industry job here?*] The idea was to never stop working, and getting to the highest place you could reach garnered instant payoff, complete with semester ranking of class (one that stopped due to too many complaints).
It was under this literal hierarchy that we were taught to always be better than everyone else. It didn’t even matter what you did, as long as you won. It wasn’t even until my freshman year of college that I realized you should try doing what you enjoy as opposed to what will earn the most per year.
Of all things, I thought I was going to major in psychology due to my vague interest in the way people worked (and who isn’t interested in something like that?). Much to my dismay, I found myself losing interest, eyes glazing over whenever a TA or professor would speak of volunteering, the dreaded phrase “lab experience” only briefly passing through one ear on its way out the other. I thought this was what I was ready for: Several more years of school, several more years of practice or shadowing and then on to the part where you actually started making money. I was ready, until I had a meeting with a school counselor for a writing certificate. It was when I was in the middle of saying I just wanted the certificate to try it, because I knew writing would never make me money, when he stopped me mid-sentence. He asked me, pointedly: Is writing something you want to do? A hesitant yes later, he only said, then you should do it.
And I won’t sugarcoat it—that’s terrifying. It’s incredibly frightening to live in a culture where your big identifier is your occupation. And I suppose, in part, it does make sense: What do you do? How do you spend at least five days of your week, each week, your entire life? But it’s absolutely terrible that we should be expected to figure that out when we’ve just barely breached the two-decade mark. Some people I know have changed their major a minimum of three times over the course of their college career. Others didn’t find their true passion until they were far out of college. And some don’t even start college until they’re far past their twenties. Why should we have to enforce this idea that our twenties fall in the golden age of when we decide what we’re going to do with the rest our life? That sounds kind of boring, if you ask me.
Although something to note here: I’m not saying necessarily that you shouldn’t try to excel in your major or in your occupation or whatnot. It’s wonderful to pursue something and succeed, especially when it’s a big passion of yours. However, you don’t have to make up your mind right away. After I graduate, I have the possibility of finding the job I want to settle down in for an indefinite amount of time. Or, I can find a job I’ll only want for a year or two. Or I can find odd jobs to work while I go to Europe or something crazy like that (it’s possible, I’m pretty sure). You don’t have to figure out what the rest of your life will be like in your twenties. It’s a confusing, wonderful time to live. For now, it’s alright to enjoy yourself.