Saturday, June 21, 2014

What You MUST Do With Your Life

So, here's just some food for thought based on something my friend and I have been talking about this week: I'm tired of 20-somethings telling other 20-somethings what to do and couching it in terms of "life advice." And ok, I'm pretty sure I've probably been guilty of this a time or two even on this blog, so I admit it. But what I'm really talking about are the lists--the stress-inducing, judgmental lists that make readers feel like if they haven't reached certain milestones by 23, 25, 26, etc., they are failures. Maybe you know exactly what I'm talking about:

"25 Things You MUST Do Before You Turn 25."

"If You Haven't Done These Things by Your 30th Birthday, You'd Better Get Started!"

And the vague, "Things You Have to Do to Be an Adult."

Really? I must do a list of things compiled by a 25-year-old before I turn 25? I have to follow the advice of my peers (not older, wiser folks, mind you) if I want to consider myself to be a real adult? I need to be going through my twenties with a checklist in mind--made by people my age and younger? Now, I know you're probably thinking I'm reading way too much into this. Of course I don't have to follow those lists and of course I can ignore what people tell me I "have" to do. However, I think what I really find troubling is that articles like this, while new ones get published every day and blogged about and go viral on social media, are only scratching the surface of a deeper cultural epidemic among 20-somethings. That epidemic is a compulsion to one-up the life choices of everybody else with your own and then to act like you're superior to all your peers because of what you decided to do and that THEY NEED TO DO IT TOO. Like, right now:

"Why I Got Married at 22 and You Should Too"

"23 Things to Do Besides Getting Engaged When You're 23"

"Why You Should/ Shouldn't Go to Grad School"

"Why You Should Definitely Work in _____ (tech, the arts, etc.)"

So I need to do all those things because someone else my age has decided that that's the best way to live life? What happened to individual differences among people, different values, different goals, different hopes for the future, and different skills? I already know way too many of my peers who feel bad about their lives because they're struggling in this economy to find work and pay off debt, or they feel like they'll never be able to afford better than a studio apartment, or they feel discouraged and like failures because they're working so hard to make rent that they simply don't have the time or energy to be in a relationship right now. Or perhaps, they are married and have small children and a job and are doing their very best to keep up with a multitude of responsibilities, and the last thing they need is to get on the Internet and be told they shouldn't have gotten married yet, or should have waited to have kids, or their career is never going to advance because they're trying to have a family too. And really, at the core, isn't it arrogant to assume that others need to do exactly what you have done and to pursue the life you've pursued? Who are you to tell someone when/ if they should pursue a certain career, date, get married, buy a house, travel, have kids, etc.?

Let me put it to you this way: people my age have enough stress in our lives as it is, and enough expectations on us from 100 different sources. We don't need to keep reading about how we're not real adults or are doing life wrong because we haven't found a long-term "career" job yet or because we haven't had a serious relationship yet or because we decided to wait on/ skip grad school. Plus, I would rather take my serious life advice from people who have lived a lot more of it than me. I'm not saying 20-somethings can't have great insights on life, but if I'm really trying to make decisions for myself, I'd rather seek insights of people who are significantly older than me and have made certain choices and lived to tell about it.

And finally, I have enough expectations for myself as it is, and I don't need the added burden of tons of cultural expectations from people who don't even know me or know my life circumstances. I'm willing to bet this is also true for almost anyone my age. Here's what you MUST do before you turn 25: whatever you are good at and enjoy and feel called to do and want to do. No one else can make that decision for you. So, 20-somethings: Quit telling other 20-somethings what to do.

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