Are Your Twenties Really the Right Time to Explore?

As a twenty-something, I spend a significant portion of my time thinking about what that means. In a literal sense, it means that I’m twenty-something years of age. Go me! But in the existential who-am-I sense, being a twenty-something means to be in a state of constant self-discovery. I’m always trying to figure out what defines me as a person. I’m thinking about what it is that I want to do and who I want to be. And I get the decade to figure myself out because that’s just what twenty-somethings do.

But I’ve been wondering recently, are your twenties really the right time to explore?

Twenty-somethings have the benefit of “not being tied down.” As our parents and older coworkers describe it, we don’t have kids and mortgages to hold us in any one place and overall we have less responsibilities demanding our time. Therefore, we can take a gap year, travel, go back to school, switch careers, and move across country without having to worry. We can explore every facet of ourselves in a carefree and selfish manner because the only strings we have are the ones that we’ve purposely created and wouldn’t hesitate to cut for a bigger, better opportunity.

Yet the more I think about it, the more I feel as though that freedom is an illusion. Sure, I don’t have kids and the lease on my apartment is only good for a year at a time, but there are other really big strings tying me down. Or did we all forget the giant student loan checks that I’m required to write every month? Some kids are lucky enough to leave college without them, but most young adults don’t have that luxury. Most of us can’t afford to spend our paychecks on European adventures; a weekend at a friend’s parent’s beach house is about as far as we can get towards a vacation.

Beyond financial obligations, job security is another major issue that I worry about. In today’s still recovering economic climate, I’m lucky to have the job that I do – one that comes with good pay, reasonable hours, and substantial benefits. There aren’t a lot of reasons good enough to make me give that up. It may not be the career of my dreams, but at least I have a job. About a third of my graduating class couldn’t say that right now.

There’s also a lot of emotional instability that comes with being a twenty-something, a factor that most adults don’t consider. They think that we should be happy and enjoy being young, but it’s harder than it seems. We’ve spent the last eighteen years of our lives shuffling through one textbook or another and now suddenly we’re done. When you’re given direction and purpose for eighteen years of your life and then abruptly handed your get out of jail free card, it’s a little unsettling and that takes time to adjust to.

To make matters worse, many of us won’t settle into long term relationships until the second half of the decade. So our options are to either rely on our parents or build a support system composed of our similarly afflicted peers, neither of which is really appealing.

As twenty-somethings we feel pressure to “make things work,” professionally and personally, even as other people tell us to take advantage of our ability to explore and try new things. But I don’t think that we can do both at the same time. I don’t think that I can ignore the strings that are so very clearly there and present in my life, no matter how many times other people implicitly tell me to.

I want to explore and get to know myself as a twenty-something, but it feels like doing so would be irresponsible. It would mean putting myself in danger of defaulting on my loans and of being unemployed and that’s just not a risk that I’m willing to take right now.

How do you feel about this issue? Are you a twenty-something on your own mission of self-discovery or someone who’s already passed that phase of life? Let me know in the comments down below!

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