Thursday, November 15, 2012

10 Lessons I learned in my 20s: Part 1

What is it about being a 20-something? This question has truly plagued me for most of my 20s. I stumbled upon an article entitled “10 signs you are a 20 something,” a few months ago and it hit the nail on the head. I wanted to run far away and even clicked the X on the right corner of the screen but it was too late because I had already control + c’ed the link and of course read it.

10. You take the phrase "permanent residence" lightly. (Check)
9. You feel like you're in a second adolescence. (Check)
8.  7. You can practically recite the script at H.R. orientations. (Check)
6. You've considered moving home to live with your parents -- or currently do. (Check)
5. Sometimes you react, then think (Check)
3. You consider all your life options still open. (Check)

To say that my 20 something journey thus far has been intense is an understatement. Not only have I globe trotted for most of my twenties but I have also had too many jobs to count. Like most twenty something’s living, I suffered from what I call “failure to launch syndrome.” Personally, I have felt lost and in transition for most this decade. I was still a bright eyed undergraduate when I started my 20's and the world seemed so big, idealistic and ready for me to take on. College was a great time in my life and I look back on it with nostalgia. Not only did I meet some of the best friends I have but it really helped me find who I was and come to terms with my identity. Unfortunately, it also forced me to rethink the career I thought I wanted. At that time I envisioned becoming a foreign correspondent and exposing the social injustice of the world. I admit it was very Anderson Cooper like of me. After a few internships in the media industry pre and post graduation, I knew this career was not enough for me. I quickly opted for the more hands on approach and joined the Peace Corps as a 22 year old. It’s weird when you reach 22-23 because you are legally an adult and you start to really feel like it. This scared me terribly. The student loans started coming in and here you are at home still not on the path you envision before finishing your last semester. Now don’t get me wrong, I did not join Peace Corps for these reasons. I had been volunteering in development for years at that point.  On the other hand I was happy to actually leave the US. The pressure from my peers of “settling in to a career and life” really ate at me. Adult’s way past their 20's had no idea how awful it felt to hear ‘So, what’s next?’ a million times and look at you like you are lost. It was quite depressing.

Lesson 1 of the 20s: Figuring out life takes time and more than you thought it would

At the time I was trying to be patient with myself to step into my next move. I first applied to Peace Corps in 2006, as a 20-year-old undergraduate junior.  Then my 21st year started. I was on top of the world at graduation. It came and went, then fall came and finally winter started. I felt so lost as the possibility of Peace Corps seem to fade with time. Then I got a large envelope right before my 22nd. During my first 6 months of Peace Corps I had an epiphany that development was truly my calling after years of volunteering. After looking at job prospects and speaking to those in the field it dawned on me that I needed to further my knowledge. That is when I first thought of graduate school. Never in a million years did I even think I would pursue a master’s degree. For the first time I also felt ‘old.’ The village I served in had a marrying age of +/- 15 so when I met other 20 something’s they were married with at least 1 child.  Back home a few friends were in serious relationships but nothing close to kids. Still being around women my age with children really got my mind thinking in that direction and the idea of a biological clock entered my mind.

Lesson 2 of the 20s: Do not rush life’s big moments, especially when you are not ready for them
Lesson 3 of the 20s: It is okay to spend your life savings and be adventurous

These lessons complement each other. My child hood made me so nostalgicDuring the Peace Corps I came more obsessed with looking older. I swear I thought I was aging. It’s laughable I know. Looking back I even laugh at myself. During Peace Corps a girlfriend sent me an article saying that women needed to start using anti-aging cream at 24. Talk about being scared straight. I gave up after one tube of preventative aging cream without even noticing if my imaginary lines where gone and stuck to finding a good moisturizer. In your twenties you start to care slightly more about your health. A 20 something body starts to feel the all nighters and bad dieting habits. Eating all that college ramen an processed cafeteria catches up with you. I spent the better part of my free time in Peace Corps trying to learn to cook and without all the western specialty foods/gadgets.
A lost 20 something in Ireland
I had only been in one serious relationship up to that point, but whatever gave me the idea that I was ready for a family and marriage was really unrealistic. So I did what most 20's do when they have no idea what’s next. I used what savings I had, and a chunk of my PC readjustment allowance to travel with my best friend. I saw parts of Morocco I have never seen during my PC service, and then I went to London, Kenya and Ireland. I was very weary from all the travels but this truly was the most exciting few months of my life. I did not want to stop this trip but money got really tight.

Lesson 4 of the 20s: Believe your mom when she says everything will work out
Then I went home and reality set in. After deferring my loans during Peace Corps I was crippled with debt, living at home, and again almost close to giving up on grad school after a series of setbacks. I failed to get into my top school and I was waitlisted by my replacement top school that I discovered the same day I got the rejection letter. I tried for months to snag a job. My resume was not impressive to anyone in America or the world it seemed. I used the time to volunteer as I had done for most of my life anyway and get back into running. I excelled at both and they distracted me long enough. I also used this time to bond with family. I felt adultish because all they were using adult jokes and I was included in adult conversations.

Lesson 5 of the 20s: The fast track is not for everyone so try Plans C-Z
Then it all hit me. I was 25 and having a quarter life crisis. All my best friends were scattered all over the world, perhaps entering their version of phase II of the 20s. My facebook friends status updates read: engaged, married, and it’s a boy/girl. Here I was at home, no job, and no +1. The high of college and living abroad had well worn off. Nothing seemed to go the way I envisioned it. Then I finally got my chance. I had applied at 24 to graduate school and after 11 months of waiting someone finally gave me a chance. Then the acceptance letter came 4 months into my job. Telling your boss this is not the ideal situation. Part of me felt as though I was betraying the hand that fed me and just when I began to pay off some debts and get my head above the water. No to mention all the career clothes I bought on clearance at Marshals. What do you do with those?

To be continued…but until then here are some secrets to surviving your 20's.

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