20-Something and Over It?

This over hyped decade delivering less than you expected? Jessica Martin feels your pain.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
This over hyped decade delivering less than you expected? Jessica Martin feels your pain.
Corbis/Click Photos.
Corbis/Click Photos.

When my mum was my age (27), she had been married for four years, was paying off a mortgage, and was on the way to starting a family. Last night, I came home, proceeded to eat some frozen pizza for dinner and ended the night by heading to my room to Facebook-stalk my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.

Admittedly, frozen food and torturing myself was not exactly the way I’d imagined I’d be spending countless Friday nights while I was in my twenties. Not when I’d expected this decade to be equal parts debauchery and security. But according to this diary entry I wrote six years ago, maybe I should have seen it coming: “So many Friday nights doing nothing. This one’s even worse because although I’m being good and recovering from my deathly illness, I couldn’t go out if I wanted to because I am DIRT POOR. Yep, I am 21 years old, desperate for attention, bored and poor. Cool!”

If you think I sounded like a whiny brat, you’re probably right. But at least I know there are others who feel a similar sense of disappointment with this third decade on earth. Blogs like quarterlifepoetry.com illustrate the sad, mundane ironies of being a 20-something millennial, while blogger Emma Koenig became a bona fide internet sensation by chronicling her dissatisfaction with this very matter.

Great expectations

Turning to the Internet is a formula that works well for many Gen-Ys, not least of all Ryan O’Connell, editor and writer at Thought Catalog, the online home of disappointed 20-something musings. In an article titled “What You Imagined Your Twenties Would Be About vs What They’re Actually Like”, Ryan waxes lyrical about the decade that is constantly put under the microscope by those living it. The piece describes what he thought certain aspects of life would be like in such a way that you’re convinced the dude is actually living in your brain – for example, his take on jobs.

“16-year-old me: ‘I’m going to have a dream job and take meetings at chic places. Being in your twenties is all about living out your dreams!’”

“20-something me: ‘Did someone just say ‘job’? Where? GIMME!’” It’s this job business that has us feeling most despondent about our twenties, particularly if we look at the prospects and security our parents had when they were our age. Ours is a generation working in a time where “You call that a pay raise? #timeforawine” tweets are an unfortunately common occurrence.

Ryan agrees, admitting that he thinks his parents probably had it easier when it came to landing a job in a workforce that was thriving in a post-war boom. “Did the term ‘freelancer’ even exist in the ’60s and ’70s?” he asks.

Generation ripped-off

Before we all start thinking the problems we face might have something to do with us and not the world we live in, psychologist Sharon Draper confi rms that we 20-somethings do actually have a lot to deal with. “People in their twenties are going through the vicissitudes of life. These transitions can be very stressful as it is. Add the economic crisis and the difficulties in finding employment and their stress becomes exacerbated.” See! It’s not all in our highly-educated, overqualified heads.

Sharon adds: “People in their twenties have to juggle more things than their parents had to at that age. Recent fi ndings have identified a quarter-life crisis in which people tend to experience feelings of immense pressure to succeed in everything they do (relationships, careers, finances and so on) before they even turn 30. Life has become more complicated and it seems to be moving faster, which results in many finding themselves disillusioned, overwhelmed and even depressed and anxious.” Cue collective sigh.

But even when things are going pretty well for us, we can still manage to find fault with our lives. In the six years since I wrote my aforementioned diary entry, I’ve scored a coveted job in the magazine industry and successfully learnt to tame my annoyingly frizzy hair (success!). But do I feel satisfied? Do I feel like I’ve “made it”? Nope, not even close.

Again, I’m not alone. Emma, whose blog features hand-drawn musings on life and the fact that it hasn’t turned out the way she imagined, scored a book deal about the same subject matter. Awesome, right? Well… “As much as there is a fairytale ending, it’s not like I now love everything about myself or know exactly what’s going to happen,” she admits. “Who knows if next year nobody will give a damn and I’ll just be working at a restaurant again?”

Tomorrow gets better (trust us)

So, what to do? When I told my mum I was writing this piece, she said she was saddened by the thought of 20-somethings feeling ripped off . “By what and who?!” she cried over e-mail. But when I asked her how she felt about her own twenties, the decade that she seemed to have sorted, she gave a surprising response. “There were many highs and lows in my twenties. But I’d honestly have to say that this decade [her fifties] is turning out to be the best. I have financial security, I’m comfortable with myself, I have opportunities to travel and I’ve stopped beating myself up about all my mistakes. I choose the work I want to do, and I feel like life is full of exciting possibilities. Things get better.”

So hold on, gang! The next time you’re feeling let down by your low-paying job, love(less) life or frozen dinners, just remember that what seems crappy now does improve. My mum says so.

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