Many people assume that one’s early 20s is the most freeing and fun part of life. No kids to take care of, and all of the world is at your fingertips! Sounds great in theory, but I have found in my personal experiences as well as through many of my young clients that the early to mid 20s is actually one of the most difficult, stressful, and lonely times in one’s life.
I have dubbed it a quarter life crisis: “Career and/or school decisions following college will dictate your future, and will either ensure happiness or disaster.” This is a lot of pressure to put on oneself when learning all there is to learn about life as an adult in the real world. Whether the pressure on your decisions at this time on your life are exaggerated by stress or not, the expectation that it should be a carefree time in one’s life is detrimental. If society was more open and honest about how horrible first jobs can be, or how the first choices when beginning one’s career can be learned from with a career change or going back to school, then I believe this first step into the real world would be a more enjoyable experience for young adults.
Instead, we try to believe we should be happy living paycheck to paycheck while doing a job narrowly related to a major we picked when we were 18 years old. I feel that by accepting that this is a difficult and stressful transition, we can eliminate some of the power that these feelings have over us, and can clear our minds to make better decisions. I felt so pressured to get a job in television (since it was my major), that I didn’t even consider taking some other route that could be a successful career path for me. I thought it would have been a waste of my time and energy if I decided to go into any other field after college graduation.
While I appreciate what I learned through those few years after college, I do wish I would have known that everything was going to be alright in the long run. I felt hopeless, lost, and confused about how I was choosing to live my life. It took me three years to realize that I could go back to school to pursue a career in counseling. I had to conquer the anxious thoughts that I shouldn’t even have bothered going to college when I was 18, and that I had wasted time, money and energy on my way to this decision now that I was already 24 years old. When I look back now, I try to focus on the fact that I needed those three years to learn who I was as an adult, and that I was so blessed that my life circumstances allowed me to go back to school to pursue my dream that took so long to become known.
By focusing on the positive, it helps me to communicate to my clients at this time in their life that it is OK if you don’t know exactly what you want to do. For now, try to support yourself as an adult and explore what it is you enjoy and don’t enjoy about your daily tasks. As you focus on the positive, you can come to a conclusion about who and what you want to be. Overwhelming yourself with the infinite possibilities can stifle your growth and progress, and close your mind from the realistic options available to you. I enjoy helping my young adult clients in this process, and encourage all new college graduates to do their best to not beat themselves up if they don’t have all the answers right now.