What They Don't Tell You About Your "Roaring Twenties"

One of the best-kept secrets about adulting is that, most of the time, nobody knows what they’re doing.

One of the best-kept secrets about adulting is that, most of the time, nobody knows what they’re doing.

Simply put, many of us feel like we don’t measure up.

Oh hey! Are you a recent college grad or 20-something attempting to navigate the “real world” and fretting about the future? Think everyone else has it figured out? Join the club! No really, we’re all freaking out.

News flash: we’ve always been in the “real world” and there’s no step-by-step guide to life!

Oh, you didn’t know? Perhaps it’s because one of the best-kept secrets about adulting is that, most of the time, nobody knows what they’re doing. I guess there’s a turning point — a paradox really — once you realize how much you know (about your field, your life, the real world) you realize how much you actually don’t know.

Keeping up appearances and faking it could be a full-time job.

Lately I've been thinking about how this insight can be difficult to grasp, especially since there's a lot of pressure on social media to present our lives as perfect and our every achievement as effortless. I’m sure we can relate to halting our lived experiences abruptly to snap the perfect photo (and another, and another), and then later stressing out about crafting a pithy caption to capture the moment that was already ruined once we decided to take the photo. Right?

The anxiety social media perpetuates in terms of what/how/why we post (and how we anticipate others will respond) can be mind-boggling. We might feel conflicted wondering how to appear effortlessly perfect and how this crafted representation of ourselves was created in the first place. We need to stop it — even if just for a moment — so we can gain some perspective. Because, let’s be real, nobody is that perfect all the time!

The New York Times discussed this culture of appearing perfect to save face in one of their most popular articles from 2015. They detailed a phenomenon where students “could say what they’d accomplished, but they couldn’t necessarily say who they were... Students felt pressure to be 'effortlessly perfect': smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort.”

Don’t be fooled. Nobody epitomizes the complete package. If someone seems to, they’re attempting to trick themselves perhaps more so than those around them. There’s little that’s redeeming about the ability to construe your identity solely in terms of what you’ve done and the roles you’ve played. In fact, if you “look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment… what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation.”

Simply put, many of us feel like we don’t measure up.

Hold on — measure up to what, exactly? To society’s depictions of success and excellence? Remember, those definitions were created and are held up by people already in power. These notions encourage us to chase ideologies that constantly remind us that we should embrace the pervasive drive to achieve.

So, we compile lists of things we need to do to be our best. Of course, being only human, we can't accomplish every single goal we've written down. We call these unmet items potential, and as the list of accomplishments grows longer, so too does our list of expectations for ourselves. Then, we’re compelled to compare our lists of qualifications and aspirations. See how this reinforces the idea that we’ll never be good enough?

Somewhere along the way, the memory of all the hard work we've done and our confidence that we are skilled and valuable dissipate. Perfection and “making it” become burdensome, heavy, unattainable prospects — they weigh us down.

Our priority becomes making sure that it looks like we can do it all — and so we do — whatever the cost. It’s “like chaos never happens if it’s never seen,” right?


So, then, why aren’t we talking about this phenomenon? Why aren’t we both paying attention to the strides we are making and dedicating attention to how confusing, overwhelming, and scary it is to “grow up”? Avoiding and pretending is a dangerous, slippery slope that, for some, ends in fear and pent-up, insidious, persistent feelings of inadequacy or feeling like we’re the only one who doesn’t have it together.

By not talking about these anxieties about the real world, and consequently devoting painstaking effort to appear put together, we’re bolstering the fallacies that say we’re not doing enough and won’t accomplish our goals.

If we do talk about it, we can find solace in the well-deserved feeling of relief we experience when we learn that we’re not alone in this expedition called adulthood.

Nobody said it would be easy. They didn’t even say it could be done without hard work. But relax, it will all work out. It might even turn out better than you ever expected!

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