The message in my inbox appeared to be innocent enough. “Don’t stress about this decade,” the heading urged. “Your thirties are like your twenties but with more money.”
Don’t look now, but I’m far from stressed about my thirties. Two weeks from my twenty-fifth birthday, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this decade, thank you. As the sender of the newsletter correctly assumed, I’m not rolling in financial riches, but that’s not really the core of my concern. My concern is with this constant sense of searching that I find in myself and among my friends: it’s having a million questions to which we can’t foresee answers. Sure, we know in a heady way that everything in our lives—money, careers, friends, relationships, apartments—will work out just fine. The bigger question is: How?
I have a job, but will I start a career? Will I find roommates/an apartment that I love? I assume I’ll make money, but will I be able to save and budget? Will I learn French/backpack South America/write music, and achieve a slew of other lofty goals? This is all excluding the question of marriage and family life, which would be another article entirely…
It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that our twenties really are exactly as confusing for all of us as we think. And yet, though none of us is immune to the confusion, maybe this time isn’t so bad, after all.
Until now, our lives have been outlined by a clear trajectory. Elementary school led to middle school, middle to high school, high school to college. Each phase had a beginning and an end: a test to pass, a ceremony to attend. Goals were clear and predefined. By comparison, life post graduation couldn’t be muddier. We’re on our own to set and then meet career goals, pursue hobbies (and figure out what extent to do so), and, well, create a rich and fulfilling life. We’re on our own to figure out how our job/relationship/lifestyle fits into some bigger picture of the future, even when we can’t see the bigger picture at all.
No doubt, this time is defined by searching and insecurity. But it’s also filled with freedom. There’s an openness to a decade that’s benchmarked by question marks: you can take chances. Decisions have consequences, of course, but there’s lots of room to make mistakes.
Even when I’ve felt confident in my decisions, they’ve often been made with logic a little too close to “I’m doing this because it’s awesome” or “I’m taking a shot in the dark.” I’ve moved abroad, traveled the world, studied post-grad, and even dated people because I found all of these things “cool” or “exciting.”
Somehow, my guesswork hasn’t led me astray thus far. I might not see where things are going in the big picture, but that doesn’t mean that I’m disenchanted with life right now. As it is, having the freedom to live a life that you find awesome—and knowing that you’re learning with every step of the way—is pretty sweet.
In five years, when it’s time to move on beyond twenty-nine, I hope that I’ll look back on my twenties and say, “That was a hell of a time.” I hope that I won’t mourn my twenties, want to repeat them, or fear the decade ahead. Rather, with my thirties sprawled out before me promising a whole new series of challenges and successes, I hope I feel ready to embark on an entirely new adventure.