Originally published June 14th, 2019
It is currently four years, two months, and 21 days since I entered my twenties. I remember that particular birthday well; I spent most of it holed up in my bedroom with my friends, watching old episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race. We ventured out only to walk into the village centre and buy a Subway. The next day, Zayn Malik quit One Direction. I couldn’t have cared less.
Privately, I spent most of my twentieth birthday wondering what the next decade of my life would be like. I imagined parties, hedonism, love affairs, and, most of all, change. Lots and lots of change. I would graduate from university, get a job, and hopefully find a boyfriend. I might even get married. I probably wouldn’t have children, but I’d definitely get a cat.
All in all, my estimations weren’t all that wrong. I do, in fact, have a cat – and a boyfriend, too. I did graduate from university – twice, don’t you know. I have a job. I did get the whole hedonism part wrong, mind; I much prefer a night in watching Killing Eve to going out and getting drunk or high. Overall, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out. Being in my twenties isn’t entirely terrible.
However, In all of my wondering about this decade, I did miss out something rather major: the totally crippling sense of insecurity that a lot of people my age feel. I imagined that as a twenty-something, I’d be confident, constantly joyful, ready to grab life by the proverbial horns. In reality, the opposite couldn’t be truer – and I don’t think it’s just me, either. I know a lot of people my age who have spent the last four-or-so years in a near-constant state of fear and anxiety.
To be fair to ourselves, we do have a fair bit to worry about. The job market for graduates isn’t exactly wonderful these days. Getting on the property ladder is a struggle and a half, a painful endurance test that may or may not end in success. The state of dating is abysmal; the last time I was single, I nearly threw my phone in the River Wear after receiving yet another weird message on Tinder. Carving out a life for ourselves in these troubled and changing times isn’t an easy thing. I challenge you to find one member of the millennial generation who has their life totally figured out. Spoiler alert: they don’t exist.
For me, though, it’s not external forces that cause my sense of insecurity. It’s my own inner monologue; the way I’ve been trained to look at the world. Many people my age were pushed through an academic system that forces you to think of everything in terms of “success” and “failure”. It’s left many of us with a feeling of deep, existential panic that can be summed up by one question: am I doing things wrong?
Are we getting the right jobs to secure our future success? Are we dating the right people? Are we making the right choices with our money? Are our entire lives going to come crashing down in six years’ time when it emerges that we did our twenties totally wrong? These are all common questions we twenty-somethings ask ourselves. It’s almost like a compulsion; it’s near impossible to make a choice without panicking that it’s the wrong one. We’ve been told that we need to make something of ourselves, succeed in our careers, forge meaningful relationships, and reach that fabled state that the world calls “happiness”.
Thing is, it’s incredibly difficult to know whether we’re on the right track or not. Unlike school and university, life doesn’t have a mark scheme. There are no past papers for us to try. We have to live blindly, not knowing whether our decisions will work out for the best in the end. It’s stressful, to say the least.
Will this feeling of insecurity ever melt away, I hear you all ask? Well, I’ve been told that it can disappear in your thirties and forties, once you start to feel more secure in yourself – or decide not to care about what you “should” or “should not” be doing. I certainly hope that this feeling isn’t permanent; I don’t want to find myself in a nursing home in 60 years’ time, crippled by worry over whether I bought the right colour of Marks and Spencers’ slippers or not. I want to be able to live my life freely, without over-analysing every move I make.
If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that growing up is hard. It comes with a lot of mental baggage that we’re often not very well-equipped to deal with. But at least there is one silver lining: if you’re feeling that in-your-twenties insecurity, you’re not alone. Chances are, everyone around you is feeling it too.
Talk to people about how you’re doing. Share your feelings and worries and insecurities with the people who care about you. It’ll make things feel ten times better, I promise. Barring a major disaster, we’ll all get through this decade one way or another – but it’ll be a lot easier to do if we all club together. On that note, does anyone want to join me for a “bitching about your twenties” party? I have cheese, tea, and a really moody cat who might choose to reassure you with a great big cuddle. She might also try to claw your eyes out, but that’s a risk you’ll have to take.
Anyway – live well, friends. Try not to worry about your choices too much. We’re all doing just fine. (Except you, Boris Johnson. You’re not my friend, and you’re doing appallingly. Fuck you.)