Popular culture leads us to believe that our 20s are the “throw-away” decade.
We are surrounded by explicit and subliminal messages that urge us to use our 20s to make memories, take risks, carpe diem and most dangerously, tell us it is acceptable to float aimlessly around from job to job like a head without a body.
During the course of my work as a career coach, I’ve noticed there are two times in our lives when we consider ourselves to be 0 years old: the day of our biological birth and the day we graduate from college.
After graduation, our identities shift from personal and academic “me,” to professional “me.” During the birth of our professional selves, it seems as if we erase the hard drive of data we built up over the course of the first two decades.
We think of both our childhood and teenage years as younger, less relevant versions of our now seemingly “mature,” professional selves. It’s as if we break up with our past to be with some undefined, idealized future version of ourselves.
We're attracted to the mysterious unknown that is somehow more appealing than our present.
Where did the previous 22 years of our lives go? Why are we so quick to dismiss the majority of our time on this Earth, deeming it irrelevant to who we are in our 20s?
The hard truth is that we make our 20s more difficult on ourselves than they need to be. They are a period of transition, development and potential growth.
To treat them as a purely experimental decade does our past, present and future a disservice. If we shun and suppress who we’ve been, we are merely playing adults, not truly being adults.
“Adult” is, itself, a word that derives a negative connotation during our youth. It implies responsibility, commitment and the end of the “carefree” era.
However, even the “adults” that make our pantheon of high-regard don’t have things figured out anymore than we do. They’ve simply been alive longer and have learned how to play the game better. They’ve had more time to reconcile who they’ve been and who they are.
We must understand that time does not make one wise. Time alone won’t open doors, nor will it give us answers.
During our 20s we tend to think we have unlimited time, but using our resources wisely during our early years is even more essential than it will be later on.
It is during our 20s and 30s that we have the opportunity to build positive habits that will help ensure our own fulfillment. Our 20s are the decade during which we should learn how to be intentional, and take control of our awesome selves.
Being intentional about the decisions that affect our daily lives means taking responsibility for what doesn’t make us happy or what is not living up to our expectations.
It means trusting that we have the capacity and experience to make decisions for ourselves, rather than floating through time and letting circumstance dictate our lives for us.
Being intentional sometimes means going against the grain of friends or family. Being intentional means attributing both our successes and our failures not to chance, but to our own efforts.
The consequences of our decisions fall squarely on us.
It’s scary when we decide to be intentional about how we live our lives. We’re always battling against our perception of what others may think of us, rather than prioritizing what we think of ourselves.
Our 20s are about us, not about others. Don’t we, in turn, deserve to be responsible to ourselves? Don’t we deserve to be committed to our own improvement? Don’t we deserve to not regard a full 10 years as "throw-away"?
Youth is not an advantage or a disadvantage, it’s just a marker of how long we’ve been alive. Everything that those who are older “know” is already present and available for us to also grasp.
We must stop believing that age is somehow a determinant of what we can’t know, and be open to the idea that all wisdom is accessible to us as soon as we deem ourselves worthy enough.
Wisdom is a no-invite party. You just have to show up.
Each year will bring its challenges, and no year provides any guarantees. In 2015, be intentional, be brave, be kind to yourself, and above all, strive to be the best version of yourself you can possibly be.