You Do Not Have to Have Everything Planned in Your Twenties
I remember watching “Living Single,” and “Sex and The City” reruns with my girlfriends as teenagers and we would tell one another stories about what our lives as women in our twenties would be like. We would have it all together and would be killing it in our careers. We would be married with at least our first child, and we would have husbands that worshipped the ground we walked on. We’d also be very fit, have stylish condos or houses and travel a lot. And like our stylish idols, our clothes would finally be something to see.
Let me tell you—life comes at you fast. It’s important to remember that your life is never going to be exactly what you envisioned, and that’s okay.
There’s this myth among young adults that by the time you’ve reached your thirties, your shit should be together. This notion of “togetherness” has affected every aspect of our culture. The problem with this idea is that if you are waiting for the universe to give you perfection, you’re never going to feel happy or content with yourself.
As we age, we battle with this idea that life is literally passing us by and it can be scary as hell. The first time I really felt the weight of this emotion was when I was working as a Team Leader through the AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), a full-time, residential, team-based program for young adults in 2014.
I had already completed a year of service through the AmeriCorps VISTA (volunteer in service to America) program, and while I enjoyed my other VISTA colleagues, the experience I had at the nonprofit in the communications department was disappointing. I was 23 when I started the VISTA program, and after it ended, I felt like I hadn’t gotten one step closer to my dream of working as a reporter. And, because I was 23, broke, and hadn’t adequately planned, I decided to jump into AmeriCorps NCCC. I tried telling myself this was a great opportunity—I’d get to travel, meet new people, and shore up my leadership skills. And, I did, but after five months in the program, I wasn’t any closer to my dream of working in journalism.
For our second assignment, we were stationed in Buffalo, NY working on curbing violence in the area through environmental beautification. Three weeks in, I was driving through downtown Buffalo and I felt myself breaking down. The pull of dissatisfaction with my life hit me suddenly, and I pulled over and started sobbing. Instead of heading to the local Pride parade with my beautiful team, I decided to head to the laundromat to do laundry. Twenty minutes into doing laundry, I was crying—again.
“Mom, I can’t do this anymore,” I sobbed into the phone. “I’m so sad, tired, and homesick. I can’t keep doing this,” I told her.
“Well, come home, and we’ll figure it out,” she said. My mom could usually soothe me, but this time, I couldn’t be pulled out of my misery. I needed to get away. I was tired of waiting and reflecting on what I didn’t have.
I kept asking myself, “Why can’t I find something? Is my writing not good enough?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why will no one work with me?”
I went home for Memorial Day to escape my team, and spent the week sobbing at home.
Since I had graduated from undergrad, I watched as friends, acquaintances, and even peers who I mentored in college, careers thrived. And it was hard as hell for me to deal with it. I felt the stabbing pains of envy every time I saw a new post, Tweet, or text about another personal milestone met by someone I knew. The depression and unhappiness I felt about my finances, my career (or lack thereof), my failed relationships, and my body were unbearable.
Before I headed back to Buffalo from my parents home, I decided to leave AmeriCorps NCCC—with or without a job—and try my luck with the universe somewhere else.
I had been applying for jobs every moment I could to ensure I knew what my next move would be after NCCC was over. The program was only 10 months long, and I felt like my next window of opportunity would pass me by again. I vowed I wasn’t going to get caught slipping like I had when I joined the program.
Job after job, interview after interview, and I finally stumbled upon something promising. I had a phone interview, and right before our summer break from the program, I was offered the job.
Things started looking up. I left my beautiful team and NCCC, and headed to Washington, D.C. to start a new chapter of my life. Mind you, I was still broke, so I ended up living with family in Baltimore.
Things did start to look up. Although I wasn’t working in journalism, I was working in communications and finally using the degree I had worked so hard to obtain. I had a few internships after graduating from undergrad, but nothing was promising or felt significant enough. This job finally did.
And then, a few months after joining the job in D.C., I started feeling the pain of not doing enough again. One of my life goals was to live in D.C., but it didn’t feel like I was living in my purpose. It wasn’t enough to just live in D.C. and work in communications—I wasn’t living in my true purpose (or on my own), and I felt inadequate.
I wanted people to read my writing, my blogs, and contact me for pitches. I wanted to blow up on Twitter from something intellectual I wrote and have a ton of new think-piece esque followers. I wanted to be asked to speak at conferences, host meet-ups, and be a contributing voice in the room. I thought back to all the internships and writing fellowships I hadn’t applied to and beat myself up for missing these opportunities that would have surely guaranteed me the success that I desired. I thought back to all my failed pitches and rejections. I questioned whether I was meant to do this.
I was only 25, and I was stuck.
But because I had created a persona of perfection for myself, I couldn’t let people know that I was suffering. I thought, “If they know that I think I’m a failure, I won’t be able to reclaim the narrative.” In hindsight, I’ve discovered that so much of our happiness is tied to other people’s perceptions of us, and it shouldn’t be like this.
So, I suffered, silently, and kept to myself. I made a few new friends and kept the persona up. I couldn’t let people know that envy for what others had achieved was eating me alive.
I kept this going for years—I judged and berated myself. I kept working, pitching articles, getting a few things placed here and there, but nothing felt good enough. And, I carried those feelings with me even after I got engaged and married my husband in 2017.
It wasn’t until right after my wedding that things started to shift for me, and it had everything to do with The 94 Percent. For a while, two of my friends whom I had met in D.C. and I toyed around with the idea to create our own blog and talk about the shit that mattered to us. At first, I was excited for this new opportunity to get my hands dirty and create something—then, old feelings of doubt and not being fully prepared started to seep in. I started to struggle with the idea of fully owning something that I created. It was scary.
And then it hit me. I was so afraid of life passing me by that it had even started to affect my own ability to create opportunities for myself. I was so afraid of not doing journalism the way it had always been done, that I was letting opportunities pass me by. When I felt like I wasn’t fully qualified for something, I didn’t apply for it. When I felt like I was qualified, I psyched myself out or sabotaged or skipped interviews. I stopped following up with editors when they told me to pitch new stories after being rejected even if they had previously accepted a story. I gave up on exercising because I was convinced I’d never lose the weight. I stopped working on my book because I talked myself into believing it wasn’t good enough.
I realized I had been sabotaging myself because I felt like I wasn’t qualified, and I was getting to old to have “first-time” experiences.
So, I pushed myself forward and started building what would become The 94 Percent. It hasn’t been easy convincing myself that I’m worth it, but I have realized that the perfection I wanted from the universe was actually just perfection from myself. I have stopped being envious of others accomplishments and have learned to fully enjoy their happiness as my own.
I have grown.
Growth is important. I’m now 28 and feel more in control and excited about my own life than ever before. With that, I have also realized all the incredible opportunities I have been afforded and created for myself. Living in my purpose wouldn’t have been enough if I hadn’t learned to be happy with myself. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to have had all of your shit together in in your twenties—I know that now.
There is true and genuine beauty in learning this wisdom now and knowing that you can create opportunities for yourself. You do not have to be subjected to other’s perceptions of the milestones you should have achieved in your twenties. And for every black and brown woman who feels this way in their thirties, forties, fifties and beyond, your milestones are your milestones and they are in your time. Embrace your life right now in the present and create things for yourself and in your time.
Life has not passed you by—you can create it.