If You Always Feel Bored In Your 20s, Science Says You're Not Alone

by Alexia LaFata

Your early 20s are an important time in your life. They mark the ripe beginning of your adolescent years, a treacherous time in which you try (and probably fail repeatedly) to figure out your purpose and what you "want" out of your time on earth.

As a 22-year-old recent college graduate, I can tell you first hand that finding answers to those two questions is exhausting and leaves you with even more questions than answers.

The search has led me to experience the greatest paradox of my life: I have more freedom than I've ever had before to figure out who I am, but I feel trapped by my complete and total inability to do so.

This freedom-trapped paradox also plays itself out in the seemingly mundane aspects of my newfound adult life. In order to actually have the freedom to do what I want to do, I have to do things I don't want to do, like go to work, shop for groceries or pay bills.

All of these paradoxes have made me feel, well, bored. I'm bored of not finding my purpose yet, and I'm bored of having to fulfill obligations in order to survive at the bare minimum to even begin to find my purpose.

And according to Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D, a psychologist and author of 15 books on parenting, I'm not alone.

Many adolescents between the ages of 18 and 23, a time period that Dr. Pickhardt calls "Trial Independence," experience these same feelings of restlessness and boredom.

In his Psychology Today article, Dr. Pickhardt describes two types of boredom: Type One boredom, which is "emptiness of purpose and not knowing what one would like to do with oneself," and Type Two boredom, which is "entrapment in disliked or disinteresting activities that one is obliged to do."

Desperate adolescents might do anything to cope with these boredoms. They might turn to drugs or other forms of intoxication. Or, on a more innocuous level, they might entertain themselves with mindless TV shows, movies or websites.

These solutions might seem effective in the moment, but they're merely quick fixes to larger, long-term problems. And they don't address the specific kind of boredom.

If you feel purposeless, you have to allow yourself to soul search.

Having no idea what you want to do with your life is scary. But it's not a unique experience. Dr. Pickhardt says that only a very lucky few have always known their passion and have actually been able to turn that passion into a career.

Perhaps someone you know has always been into playing guitar who now teaches at a conservatory. Or maybe you know someone who used to makes collages of fashion magazine clippings who now works as an editor at Vogue.

Those people are the exception, not the rule.

For the rest of us, we have to experiment, take risks and jump from one job to the next -- things that our parents are quick to scold us for, but that Dr. Pickhardt encourages highly.

This uncertainty might seem daunting, but there is a silver lining to it. Dr. Pickhardt writes:

Boredom from feeling empty of interest to define one’s life can be treated as a positive. To feel empty of interest, purpose and direction in life can mean you are full of opportunity to create this definition. Use boredom as an incentive to explore possibilities.  Engage yourself in some activity, and the way will open up before you – either because you like what you are getting to do and want to do more of it, or because you don’t like what you are doing and are ready to move on and try something else.

If you feel like you always have to do things you don't want to do, you have to change your mindset.

Nobody likes to spend his or her weeks waking up at the crack of ass to do a job they only mildly tolerate.

Nobody especially likes the exhaustion he or she feels after that long week that limits his or her ability to have any semblance of a social life, except maybe on Saturdays, which is always followed by Sunday, which is always followed by another week of hell.

Young, bright-eyed people who enter the workforce with hopes and dreams of feeling fulfilled and happy all the time quickly learn that not every day will be rainbows and butterflies. In fact, most days probably won't be rainbows and butterflies.

Dr. Pickhardt recognizes that, for young adolescents who are told to dream big and that they have the freedom to do anything, this realization is incredibly harrowing.

It's surprisingly possible, however, to enjoy a job that you hate. He writes:

Find ways to take interest in it. How you do the job, how well you want to do it, how you relate to those you work with, how you develop self-discipline to get the job done, how you observe the ways of organizational life, how you gain experience and skills that can sell you into a better position, how you appreciate the good fortune of simply having a job to make a living -- these are all interest-bearing choices a young person can take responsibility for making.

All in all, if you're bored in your early 20s, you're not alone. There are ways to deal with it that will benefit you in the long run that don't include binge-watching "Keeping Up With The Kardashians."