Meeting My 20s 

Your 20s are supposedly the best years of your life. So many of our parents’ favourite dinner party anecdotes originated during this carefree decade, maybe those rose tinted memories are coloured by nostalgia or maybe your 20s really are your fondest years. I am barely a foot in the door of what is apparently the rest of my life and I already feel like I’m wasting time, like I’m running in a rigged race, stagnant in a city on 2X speed. I am sure I will look back in hindsight with my bad hip (it’s already started hurting from too much dancing) and lurking student debt and envy the 22 year old me whose only question was, what next?

“I thought I would have more of an idea of what I want to do with the rest of my life”

Erin Seaman

As I am approaching graduation it is easy to prematurely miss the structure of university and even school. If you are lucky, education can feel like a social hub in which you are able to try on different versions of yourself within the comfort of a campus. For me it has been a stepping stone to ‘real life,’ a stepping stone which I am scared to leap from. The intimidation that so many of us face in our early 20s is the solitary nature of it all. School and university have provided me with a sense of community and structure which can be hard to find entirely on your own. My life, up until this point, has had many ghostwriters and suddenly the blank pages ahead look very daunting. As someone who drowns herself in to-do lists, calendars and colour coded planners, life after university looks simultaneously hazy yet abundant with opportunities and endless lives I could lead. Discomfort is the catalyst to growth. This philosophy has annoyingly proved itself to be true throughout my life; challenges allow us to blossom as individuals and as hard as they are to face, with each uncomfortable step I have grown more and more into myself. Whilst I am anticipating the graduation blues as my TikTok For You page likes to remind me, graduation also signifies the end of a beautiful season in my life, which must close to make room for the next.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination”

Mary Oliver

My year abroad has already felt like an adventurous step into this new chapter and it’s something my 18 year old self would never have foreseen. Recently I discussed the idea of expectations and this journey into adulthood with the friends I have made since moving to Amsterdam. Speaking with Erin she admitted, “I thought I would have more of an idea of what I want to do with the rest of my life”, a sentiment which many people relate to far beyond their 20s. Whether enforced by society, pressured by film or even our peers, having high expectations for our 20s is hard to avoid. Already I have begun to notice my friends veering off in different directions, moving into different professions and even to different countries. Comparison creeps in and it can feel lonely at times. My friend Holly highlighted the impact of outside pressure, “it’s drilled into us from a young age that your overall success is based on working really hard” to achieve academically or professionally, “but life is not just about that,” achievements can come from elsewhere. As I have been reflecting on my conflicting emotions about imminent adulthood, I have found solace in poetry and music. As Mary Oliver writes, “whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination”. An attitude we were forced to adopt during the pandemic. Not only did Covid-19 have a devastating effect world-wide but it also stole crucial years of our lives, plunging my peers and I into adulthood without the experiences to show for it. In 2021 the EU Science Hub survey reported one in four 18-25 year olds claimed they felt lonely during the initial months of the pandemic and many reports have cited recent spikes in anxiety and depression for young people. Feelings of isolation are often overlooked when people discuss their 20s but for many loneliness may become more prevalent in their lives than they let on.

Facing my 20s also feels like facing the contradictions of my generation. From cancelling influencers who sell fast fashion, to supporting those who resell clothes for triple their price; from challenging the climate crisis to bringing back disposable vapes; from being feminists who support working women, to watching TikToks about divine femininity and stay at home girlfriends; from platforming the conversation about mental health to watching mental illness rates rise; from promoting gender equality to allowing Andrew Tate to become an online sensation; from supporting friends engagements to questioning the institution of marriage. Gen Z is full of contradictions.

 “I’m terrified that I might never have met me”

Noah Kahan “Growing Sideways”

Attempting to find yourself amongst the noise of twitter, filters of Instagram and seemingly endless success stories of LinkedIn is no easy feat. Navigating the social world of our 20s on and offline can be a difficult process. As we change our friendships change too and many are lost to our teen years. Speaking with my good friend Julia, she acknowledged how her growth in confidence has translated into her friendships stating, “I used to be very influenced by other people but not anymore” . She emphasised the importance of saying “no and setting boundaries” when deciding who you surround yourself with. While my teenage years felt like a competition to accumulate as many friends as possible, entering my 20s has felt like nurturing the important few. This has plunged me headfirst into unavoidable independence. Flying abroad and visiting a museum alone have been impressive achievements for me over the past year, even at my age. Whilst Iris Law was deciding which designer to wear to the BRIT Awards, I nervously handed my coat in at the museum cloakroom and tried not to lose the ticket number. But every 22 year old is different. Adulthood also appears to be a period of unlearning, whether that’s unlearning societal expectations or our own limiting self-perception. Sometimes how we view ourselves doesn’t align with who we are and during this decade of change, doubt is a persistent voice. My friend Erin noted this disconnection, “I still think of myself as someone who doesn’t like change, I like my routine, and that is true but then I have also done a lot of things that have been a big change”. Growing up means accepting these contradictions, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”

Uncertainty is the only certainty I can predict for the next decade of my life. Change, rejection, success, failure…lots of failure, embarrassment, friendship, love and loss cannot be avoided and are an inevitable part of growing up. Whilst worrying about my 20s feels productive, I know ultimately that it is not. In the best way possible none of it really matters, if I trip over at my graduation (touch wood) I will be fine, with a bruised ankle at worst and a funny story to tell. It is difficult to draw conclusions from a topic which remains clouded by question marks in my mind, the future looks foggier than I would like, but I am realising that is exactly as it should be.

Written by Amy Larsen

Work cited: “New Report: Loneliness Doubles in Europe during the Pandemic,” July 21, 2021. loneliness-doubles-europe-during-pandemic-2021-07-26_en.

Oliver, Michael. Dream Work. Grove Press, 1994.

Kahan, Noah. Growing Sideways. Streamed. Noah Kahan & Gabe Simon, 2022.


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