How To Get Through Your 20s Without Internally Combusting

Although it may be “uncouth” for women to talk about their age, I’m proud to say I’m 29.

I don’t quite know how it happened, and I won’t say that I necessarily feel 29… but I’m comfortable with it. But let me tell you, it took a while for me to get to this point.

You see, I’ve always been quite an anxious person. Not that I think this is a bad thing, per se — there’s something to be said for looking forward and thinking ahead in this Instant Gratification age, after all. But this is the point where I’d like to blame society, but I can’t really just do that either. It’s complicated, you see.

As early as I can remember, I’ve had a sense of time running out. I should probably warn you: if you have issues with time passing or ageing and whatnot, avert your eyes now! Anyway, even when I was 15 I was acutely aware of the fact that I was “halfway to 30” (my exact words)… lol. As someone who is actually going to turn 30 in the next year, I can assure you that this can sound a lot scarier than it actually feels. Because, in reality, I just feel like a grown-up kid (still), and one that is no longer concerned with that fact.

I think our generation — Gen Y or Millennials or whatever you may wish to call us — has an odd preoccupation with getting as much done in as little time as possible (and preferably telling a whole lot of people about it). Or maybe this is every young generation, and ours isn’t particularly different from any others that have past? Either way, it’s hard being a young person sometimes.

Yes, I know it may sound ridic to whinge about this — what with the supple, collagen-filled skin and the bright, unlined eyes, but honestly… youth doesn’t come without its own pressures.

So with this in mind, I wanted to parlay my “words of wisdom” (and some throwback photos) for those of you going through your twenties, about to go through your twenties, or those who have wrapped them up and may find themselves nodding in agreement.

This is the sort of stuff I wish I would have heard at 23 — instead of constantly feeling I was cray cray to want something different.

1. You don’t have to go to university.

Okay, this may seem a little scandalous, but hear me out. After school, especially in Australia, it’s pretty much expected that you’ll hop on over to uni as soon as you’re done with high school. Schooling is sort of like an elastic band: it seems like it’s done, but it can keep stretching out for 3 years, 4, 7 or 8. It’s elastic — and this can be a dangerous temptation.

The idea of “evergreen students” sort of makes me cringe, and it’s not because I’ve never been there. After year 12, I was obsessed about getting into law (lol), and although I got high marks for my last year, it wasn’t quite enough to “make the cut”. I got really upset about this for a while… but now, it seems like a lifetime ago.

Looking back, it was definitely about proving myself — to my peers, my family, myself — that I was as smart as I knew I was. Having always been a quite advanced kid, it came as some surprise that I was excluded from something. Yes, as a scholarship kid who admittedly never really had to work that hard to get good grades (although I’d still stress myself out about it), you could say I rested on my laurels and expected the world to come to me.

Little did I know that, when it didn’t, it would open up a whole world of possibilities.

Yes, after I had sat for the LSAT during my arts degree (and not made the cut… although I hadn’t really prepared for it at all), I did my honours year in psychology… and then vowed never again to go to university. I was done. I am actually really thankful for that fourth year because, although it was hard, annoying, lonely, frustrating, and tiring, it also catalysed a strong feeling within me which allowed me to finally stray from the beaten path.

The irony isn’t lost on me that, over my random Apple music playlist just now, Digable Planet’s “What Cool Breezes Do” just came on, with the line, “you gotta do what you feel, do what you feel, do what you feel… if it’s real” being repeated throughout.

Please note: I’ve never heard this song before (I’m not that cool) but it’s weirdly apt. Just do what you feel (not what you think you should feel).

How To Get Through Your 20s Without Internally Combusting

2. No one has it figured out – no one.

A funny thing happens when people are insecure: they clam up and try to present a picture-perfect facade to the world. This makes perfect sense — vulnerability is difficult, especially when you’re not exactly sure who you are yet. Thinking about my 19-year-old self (and I think I was a pretty mature 19-year-old in many ways), I can see that I just wasn’t 100% sure of my decisions.

I would say this carried on into my twenties… until I finally started DGAFing.

The thing is, once you know who you are, and you’re comfortable with that, you can make any decision and you’ll be fine — because you trust yourself. This sounds like such rhetoric, I know, but it actually is true.

In terms of actionable steps for younger peeps, I would say: don’t be afraid to spend time with yourself, find out what you do and don’t like, accept that, and communicate it to those around you. This doesn’t even have to be an active, screaming-to-the-world announcement that you’re dropping out of engineering to study performance art, or that you don’t really want to go to that Ivy League college and would rather start working to get experience instead.

I don’t think you owe it to anyone to explain yourself or your plans — those are for you — but feeling comfortable defending them is a simple test of how accepting you are of your own desires, and how that relates (if at all) to other people. And always keep in mind (even if it’s just in the very far, far back corner of your mind) that no one has their shizz together, no matter what they tell you.

Another way to look at this is: don’t compare yourself to anyone. Just keep trying to make yourself better, day by day, and surround yourself with people who are rooting for you. Eventually, you’ll realise that you had the answers for yourself all along.

How To Get Through Your 20s Without Internally Combusting

3. Do what you like — consistently.

This may seem like a funny piece of advice, but it’s something that keeps coming back to me. As a ~creative~ person, it can sometimes be difficult for me to sit my a$$ down in one place and focus on getting the job done. Particularly for writers, the temptation of procrastination can sometimes be too sweet to resist. We wait for inspiration to hit, take each word as it comes, and feel out the vibes of the moment.

Of course, this is an incredible luxury that makes for a peaceful life — but sometimes, a deadline or two can really help a sister out.

Looking back on my (slightly) younger years, I always felt this unspoken pressure to get things done, quickly, and keep doing them. But the ironic thing is, this mounting pressure would stack to gargantuan heights, so much so that it would overwhelm me and lead to… nothing. Well, nothing except thoughts about how I’m still not achieving enough and how I needed to break out of that funk.

Don’t do this. Instead, understand that life is long — and even if it isn’t, why would you want to waste precious time ruminating about things you can’t change, instead of taking moves toward the thing you want, or love?

For those who aren’t ruminators, kudos to you. For those of you who can relate to this, take it from me: you’ve got enough time to do what you want, and then some. If you are patient, and know that each step you take may not have immediate results, but will inexplicably set off a chain of events which may just change your life… well, you’ll be just fine.

I’m going to leave it here for now — although I really could go on about this for a good long while. I hope these small snapshots of my life story was helpful for you, even if just a little bit. And of course, I’d love to hear from you — what advice would you give your twentysomething (or younger) self? We could all use a bit of honest wisdom, so do let me know in the comments!

Steph x