I'm Scared I'm Not Taking Full Advantage of My 20s

Last Saturday, my wild evening pre-game was centered around sticking my paw into a bag of kale chips and licking the crumbs off my fist like a bear as my friends did shots.
Publish date:
October 25, 2012
thought catalog, twentysomethings, FOMO

Drinking on a work night? How DELICIOUSLY IRRESPONSIBLE.

I honestly hope that this is the last thing I feel compelled to write about being a 20-something for at least the next six months. Seriously, every time I hear the phrase “quarter-life crisis,” I want to lie down on a pile of Bret Easton Ellis novels and methodically chew on each page until I give myself wood poisoning.

Therefore, I promise this post only discusses the fear that I am letting life slip through my fingers like so much un-Instagrammed sand like, twice. Maybe three times. Bear with me.

Because of course, I do have that fear. The digital age has a lot to answer for. It’s given us access to a ton of mind-blowing opportunities, but it’s also doomed people my age to be more or less surrounded by a threefold magnification of their peers’ seemingly way more awesome lives, spinning away without them in Technicolor. It’s hard to feel content with whiling away the tiny hours with the latest Cory Booker and a glass of wine when you are simultaneously burdened with the ever-present knowledge that somewhere, somehow, people are having more adventures than you are.

There’s definitely a reason why professionals ages 18 to 34 are three times more likely to take a pay cut to have a more flexible work schedule. Why spend your salad days in a cubicle like a square when you could be ditching to go to Bonnaroo, man?

“I’m in my twenties,” I keep hearing my peers saying, like they're reminding themselves of the fact. “I’m in my twenties.”

This fear of missing out (hello, FOMO, my old friend) tends to be exacerbated by sites like Thought Catalog or Hipster Runoff, which delight in kitschily ruminating upon every facet of 20-something life until its readers are driven to preemptively set fire to the late 1980s.

Browse around these sites for too long, and you, too, could start believing that you’re the hero of a Nice Guy indie comedy whose every one-night-stand reminds you of a different Pokemon. Even some parts of Cracked aren’t immune. They all drive me to acute existential despair.

Thanks in large part to the current economic climate, most narratives about life as a 20-something seem to rely on the assumption that one’s twenties will be dogged by disaster: personal, professional, familial, you name it. Many articles, therefore, expend a lot of space and energy on reassurances that even though a 20-something's resume may only be good for building tiny paper dog-hats, there are plenty of upsides to their third decade of life as well, promise!

The near-fetishization of youthful physicality as a resilient entity also tends to emerge in these articles. Our bodies are still pretty new, so why not abuse them in the most creative ways possible? Same thing goes for our emotions. According to new media, many 20-somethings, as yet unjaded by the drone of endless OKCupid dates, apparently devote endless hours to the search for “The One."

All of these messages are undercut with the idea that no matter what ill-advised shenanigans we crazy 20-somethings will get up to, we’ll somehow claw our way back to the top! Because we’re a little dumb, but we sure are resourceful! And also privileged.

Take this particular Thought Catalog article, “21 Ways You Should Take Advantage of Your 20s,” which currently has 22,000 Facebook shares. This list, which includes such gems as, “Do something wacky with your hair!” and, “Take road trips,” reads half like my rejected high school valedictory speech and half like my deep-seated inadequacy-related insecurities trotted out for the Internet to see. It’s all about seizing the moment, not letting fear get in the way, and embracing the fact that you’re a human sinkhole -- because the moment you turn 30, apparently all that goes right out the window.

The thing is, though, that I’m already kind of a humorless stick-in-the-mud. Last Saturday, since I wanted to get up for a workout the next day, my wild evening pre-game was centered around sticking my paw into a bag of kale chips and licking the crumbs off my fist like a bear as my friends did shots.

And despite my hippie-dippy vegan writer-type persona, I’m a compulsive planner. I’m probably never going to be able to flit off to live in New York or Thailand or Antarctica without at least a semblance of an agenda (also: many piles of money).

My room may be a cave furnished by piles of dirty clothes, but I don’t have any unframed posters on the walls. The boldest move I could think of for October was bleaching my head, for god’s sake. I'm certainly not put-together by any means, but I'm also kind of a lame-ass.

The thing is, though, that this failure to “live it up” is at least partially motivated by a desire for credibility. As someone who graduated from college and went into the workforce when I was 20, I’m used to trying to disguise my own shitshow tendencies for fear of reminding people that I’m actually a layer of freckled skin stretched over a gaping pit of anxiety and attention-whoring. Overcompensating with grandma tendencies just seems to be my natural way of trying to seem professionally competent.

I fear that if I don’t get my shit together, now, I’ll wake up in 20 years still trying to eke a terrible poem out of yet another bout of sad feelings. It’s enough to make anyone a little Type A.

By contrast, the automatic assumption that my thirties will usher in a new decade of tranquility and meaningful relationships also scares the crap out of me. Every time I express the least bit of uncertainty about my life to an older person, I’m always met with a clap on the shoulder and a reassurance that I’ll eventually stop trying to gnaw my own fingers off.

And though I’m grateful for the hope, I have to wonder: if I’m trying my best to be so goddamned responsible in my twenties and I’m still not anywhere close to being content with my life, what the fuck are my thirties going to be like? Or my forties, for that matter?

I may like to go to bed on time and eat a decent amount of veggies, but I also like wearing Forever 21 paper-dresses and sneaking six-packs away from open bars. Apparently, the line between those activities being cutely spontaneous and just evidence that I’m a sad sack will fall right around my last minute as a 29-year-old, so might as well live it up while I can, right?

Automatically framing one’s twenties as a sun-dappled decade full of boxed wine and bad decisions just leads to a hell of a lot more anxiety than any of these lists are worth. Like most of my older friends, I fully expect to be fun as hell when I'm 32 or 47. But I'm still pretty sure I'll still be figuring my shit out. The sooner I accept that, the better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a 25-and-under sex train to get to. We have to live it up before all of us contract super-crabs.

Kate is documenting her ca-raaazy 20-something life at @katchatters.