Your 20s aren’t going to look like the movies.
Whew. There it is. The one thing I wish someone told me as a 21-year-old, embarking on life after graduation.
During my formative years, I consumed a healthy diet of inspirational “dreams do come true” films. I spent most nights laying in bed, staring at the ceiling and imagining what my own box-office worthy story would look like. Life would finally begin in my 20s. My teenage years were just the first 15 minutes of the movie, the part where the small town girl declares “I’m gonna make something of myself!” before hitching a Greyhound to Manhattan. Which is exactly what I did. And it was like a movie — until it wasn’t.
In between dazzling nights underneath skyscrapers were days of not being able to afford groceries, months of in-between-living situations, and years of derailed plans. I would say to myself in disbelief, “My life isn’t supposed to be going like this.” I mean, I knew that challenges were a part of the rom-com, where the heroine rises from her plot twist in the last 30 minutes of the movie and finds an even better outcome for herself.
But for me, the plot twists just seemed to go on forever. My 20s weren’t filled with glittery nights at the club, endless romances with men I bumped into on the subway, or prestigious job opportunities that launched my career. Instead, I was grappling with some very un-fun things, like identity, self-worth, faith, humility, and ego.
Within the earth-shattering realization that my life truly was not like a movie, I discovered a bittersweet pain — the kind that hurts, but in a good way, like an open wound that stings as it heals or a sore muscle that aches from yesterday’s workout. Every time I got hit and fell down, I had to learn from my mistakes, get back up, and grow. I realized that our 20s are like that euphoric moment after a painful breakup where your heart is still raw, but you know you’re going to be okay and better because of it.
When I talked to my fellow 20-something-year-old friends, they all said the same thing: the reality of their 20s didn’t match their expectations. But we all experienced the same unexpected growing pains and challenges that pushed us to grow. For every uncinematic experience in our 20s, there was a life-defining experience of far greater value, a silver lining amongst stormy rain clouds.
If you’re embarking on a new decade and you’re not sure what to expect, here are four honest things you should know about your 20s.
1. You’re probably gonna lose a job or two (but you’re going to discover your passion).
Before you panic, take heart in knowing that everything will be okay and it’s not the end of the world. I know losing a job seems like the worst thing that could happen to you, but it’s actually totally normal and pretty common. In fact, most people lose a job or two during their lifetime — sometimes more. Staying at the same job for your whole life is pretty rare, and losing a job is bound to happen at some point.
Remember that you’re still growing. In our early 20s, we like to think that four years of college helped us “figure it out all.” But really, our 20s are just an extension of adolescence and we still face a lot of growth during this decade — especially professional growth. Be kind to yourself because you’re still changing and learning. Whether you get laid off by a job that can’t afford to keep you on, or you’re flat out fired because it’s just not a good fit, it’s all a part of your development.
Instead of seeing this experience as purely negative, consider it as an opportunity to discover and invest in your passion. Ask yourself, “Maybe God has brought me to this point for a reason. What is He asking me to do?” Losing your job is sometimes the catalyst you need to take a step back and ask where your true calling lies. Think about what brings you joy in life — the things that set you on fire and the type of job that would allow you to live out your passion. In the grand scheme of things, losing your job could be the best thing to happen to you.
2. You might end up living at your parents house (but not for forever).
You know how in F.R.I.E.N.D.S, the characters manage to live in a huge apartment in Manhattan while surviving on waitressing tips and inconsistent acting and cooking gigs? Well, “making ends meet” looks a little different off-screen, and sometimes it means moving into your parent’s house for a brief period of time.
In our culture, independence = success, even if we can’t afford where we’re living. That means moving back home is wrought with feelings of shame and failure. When the reality of rent, utilities, student loans, wifi, phone bills, car payments, and the daily cost of living is pressing down on you, don’t let social embarrassment ruin your peace, self-esteem, or happiness. Remember that this is only temporary and when you’re able to move out again, you’ll be grateful you had that time to save money.
Consider this as a time to grow in your relationship with your parents before you’re out on your own again. It might be the last time you ever live with them again. Soak up that quality time with your family and be present in those moments of connection — you’ll never regret investing in that time together.
3. You might not get married (but you’re going to grow in life-defining friendships).
As kids, thinking of being in our 20s felt like hundreds of years away. Surely by 25, we would be married with kids and living in a gorgeous home, right? When you actually reach 25, that expectation is almost comical as you settle in for another Disney throw-back movie night with your three roommates over Thai takeout. A lot of people do meet their spouse in college or shortly after. But for most of us, the path isn’t so linear or short.
It’s easy to feel like the only relationships you can grow from are the ones that end in marriage, but really, the unsung heroes of our 20s are the friends we lean on through good and hard times. For every unexpected challenge, disappointment, or success you experience in your 20s, there is a friend in your corner saying, “I know what you’re going through.”
These are the friends you immediately call after a breakup or successful first date; the ones you laugh till you cry with on FaceTime; the ones who remind you of your worth, build you up when you’re questioning your abilities, pep-talk you out of emotional death spirals, and ground you when everything seems uncertain. These are the friendships that help you to become the best version of yourself, which is what relationships are all about.
4. You might not travel the world (but you’re going to discover your home).
Instagram and Pinterest may have led us to believe that our 20s would be full of luxurious trips abroad. But you’ll soon find that taking days off from work is difficult, especially when you realize you also have to use personal leave for holidays and sick days — leaving you with only a few travel days. Combined with the expenses that come with travel, you might not travel as much as you had imagined you would.
But as you move into your first apartment, decorate your room, cook meals in your kitchen, have birthday parties in your living room, chat over wine with friends on your couch, you’ll start to sink into that cozy, welcoming feeling of “home.” When you leave town for the weekend or simply spend a day out, you’ll look forward to walking through your front door. You’ll crave that newfound feeling of having your own home — a feeling no amount of glamorous travel can replace.
You will be okay.
In the end, the most important part of our 20s isn’t getting the dream job, the beautiful house, the expensive car, or the perfect significant other. If your life starts to fall apart by 23, that’s okay — you’ll survive and be even stronger and happier for it. Give yourself permission to fail and have the courage to get back up again.
Your 20s might not look like the happy ending of an early 2000s romcom. But these years will take you through the depths of the human experience, allowing you to understand a far greater joy that will frame the way you experience the rest of your life. Whatever ups and downs your 20s bring, take heart — you will be okay. In fact, you’ll be better than okay.