17 Millennials On What Being A 20-Something Means To Them

Having a plan for after graduation definitely helps, and so does a stable and serious relationship, an apartment, a job and a steady income.

I have most of those things to varying degrees. I must say this is better than most, but it still doesn’t prepare me for adult life.

Graduating from college has this odd way of suddenly making us feel like we need to be a productive member of society.

Some grads have great job offers, fabulous apartments and seemingly endless incomes, which leaves you wondering what you did with the past four years of your life.

But that’s not most; most are stuck in this limbo between real person and college student. We are still in the mindset of partying too hard every weekend, buying a ton of clothes instead of saving and mourning the loss of naps, your metabolism and built-in best friends.

I'm a year out, and I'm just starting to get better at “adulting.”

Adulting is hard for us post-grad Millennials to do.

We cling to the safety of our parents' homes, and we consider it budgeting when we allot money for our Friday nights out and much too expensive travel plans with our besties.

This limbo-land exists for all of us.

Maybe you moved out, but I can guarantee you’re almost always scrounging up rent money when the time comes.

And let’s be honest: Seamless and Netflix are two of the most well-maintained and stable relationships in your life, aren’t they?

I’ve tried to narrow down the only consistencies of your early 20s, and in doing so, I realized what makes these years unique from others are the people you suddenly find yourself surrounded by.

Making friends is significantly harder when you don’t share a bathroom or high-five as you see each other walk-of-shaming home every Sunday morning.

You may no longer socialize with your coworkers, and often, you are the youngest one in the office.

Your college friends have moved back home.

Your friends from high school are still there, but how weird is the “OMG do you remember when you dated Andrew for three days, and then you told everyone he was a bad kisser in ninth grade? He’s coming to the city tonight!”

You're so over that. Let’s leave the past in the past, shall we?

Your parents have slowly started to edge you out. (This may start slowly at first, but trust me; it happens.)

And the dating scene is an absolute sh*tshow. (Full disclosure: I am in a happy, long-term and serious relationship, but I really feel for my friends who are trying to navigate the fratty, post-grad bar scene for simply tolerable dates.)

So, rather than list “10 Things All 20-Somethings Know To Be True,” I want to highlight the (mostly) brilliant thoughts, feelings, musings and ruminations of the ones I’ve chosen to surround myself with.

At the end of the day, it’s the people we spend the most time with who make us who we are.

What does being a 20-something mean to you?

The never-ending search

Identity crisis, new responsibilities, job search, being viewed simultaneously as an adult and also a moron in different contexts, maintaining longer-distance relationships as friends move and whatever, and sort of solidifying your values as a human who is greater than 3 feet tall and needs to get her sh*t together. Also, finding time to party and do other fun activities while you still don’t have kids, but I mean, I don’t know if that’s something to mention…

— Melissa, 23, graduate student


Trying to figure sh*t out.

— Bri, 24, special education teacher

Yin and yang

A lot of bittersweet, and the ability to embrace change.

— Craig, 23, strength and conditioning coach

Me, me, me

I feel like I can’t be of assistance, seeing as I’ve been 20-something for only six days. But, it’s a time when everything you do has to benefit you first.

— Ian, 20 and six days, college junior

Always in a day dream

Twenty-something is that period of time where you were psyched to have the freedom of being an adult, but also anxious about what your future would be like. If you weren’t careful, before you knew it, you were in your late 20s, with that college-party mentality and no real plan for the future.

— BJ, 42, physical therapist and mother of three

Happy hour!

And of course, if it had to be one word, I would have to go with ‘tequila.’

— Theresa, 26, special education math teacher (original posting from Tumblr)


Thinking we should have everything figured out, yet no one has. And it’s okay because we live the dilemma between adulthood and responsibilities, yet our heart still bumps like a teenager who just wants to enjoy life to the fullest.

— Sara, 23, Hilton NYC front office supervisor

Make it rain

Reckless exploration and self-development with some money in your pocket. Old enough to know better, but not necessarily expected to know better.

— Jen, 37, high school English teacher

Do you

Something about doing things at your own pace when you’re ready. So many people have opinions about everything.

— Colleen, 26, high school physical education teacher

Who the f*ck am I?

A tumultuous time to learn about yourself and what it takes to be 100 percent yourself and genuinely happy.

— Tara, 23, Titan NYC sales coordinator and executive assistant

Guessing game

Finding out who you really are, and for as much as you may think you have it all figured out, you really don’t.

— Natalie, 25, Driven Local client success specialist

The corporate ladder

Being 20-something is like being on the bottom of the train tracks; you have to figure out how to do anything to survive. You come out of school hoping to get the job you want, but you ultimately take any job you can so you can pay bills. It’s figuring out what is important to you, what type of an adult you are going to be and what type of career you are going to pursue. Just like being on the train tracks, you can’t just panic. You have to find out what you need to do to survive.

— Spres, 24, NYPD at Port Authority

Young and wild and free

Hmm. Wild? Unpredictable?

— Sabrina, 23, Mets sales associate

Blank space

Not knowing sh*t.

— Natalie, 25, Link NYC Project manager

Is it easy yet?

Experiencing the soul-crushing reality that adult life is not what we expected it would be, while holding on to that internal childhood voice that tells us every day is beautiful, magic happens and that voice will still be there when we’re finally in a better place to enjoy that adulthood we always associated with freedom.

— Kate, 24, sales and marketing specialist

Don't make plans

Can I give you another quote? Everyone else’s is good, and I was just being an ass. 'You realize the plan you had in your head may not happen. It’s about living in the moment and having fun.'

— Bri, 24, special education teacher (again)

A study done at Duke University observed human reactions to broken patterns and participants’ pattern recognition. The study yielded, “the human brain really looks for structure in the world. We are set up to find patterns... It allows us to extract regularity from the world.”

Here’s a fun word I managed to remember from my undergrad days: phenomenology. A phenomenology is a study of experiences from a first-person point of view; it is the study of the structures of experience.

In this case, it is the experience of being a 20-something.

In analyzing this data, the commonalities between varying answers point to the truth about the plethora of these perspectives, perceptions and understandings.

In a very simple and small way, this is what I’ve done here. (And now, I promise I'm done with the psychology talk.)

I want — we all want — to find patterns in things because patterns create meaning.

What is undeniably true about being a 20-something is we do seek structure from the world; we do attempt to extract regularity in order to live up to this idealized version of adulthood that we hold in our heads.

Yet, what almost all 20-somethings seem to overlook is the fact this is not only impossible, but it can actually serve to turn your 20s into a time of stress, forced obedience and compliance and worry, when it should be the exact opposite.

Reread the quotes above.

Sure, there are many mentions of not knowing who you are or what career you will choose and that “soul-crushing reality adulthood isn’t what we expected.”

But, the patterns that emerge to me — another 20-something attempting to navigate the real world and subsequently struggling — are those of unpredictability, self-discovery, exploration, and the ability to be selfish and find what makes you happy before anyone else.

Your 20s are a time to be unapologetic, passionate, spontaneous, unabashedly open to new experiences and a little irresponsible.

Your 20s are for happy hours that turn into nights out, and having to buy new work clothes when stores open in the morning because you never made it home.

They’re for realizing it’s worth taking that cross-country road trip rather than saving for your future.

They’re for following your heart, living in the moment and holding on to that part of you that still hopes for lives like the ones that exist in the TV shows you inevitably spend too much time binge-watching.

It’s okay if you’re “trying to figure sh*t out.” Everyone is, even the adults we thought we would be by now.

The only pattern to emerge from the most random and uncertain time of your life is the constant change.

We don’t know what will happen in the future  and we no longer have adults telling us what the next steps are. But, we do have the choice of who we spend our time with.

In a time characterized by truly discovering who you are as a person, a friend, an employee and a spouse, your friends will be your reminder it’s really okay to not have all the answers right now.

You can rely on them for constant reminders of how much they love you (whether or not it's during those extended happy hours), advice (whether or not it's asked for) and support and encouragement in everything you choose to tackle (whether or not they agree with you).

And finally, I will end with my contribution to the varying, yet entertaining and all very true definitions of being a 20-something:

Just got home. Oh, you know, eating cold leftover pizza, watching Netflix, avoiding my responsibilities.

— Riley, 23, high school English teacher