Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Journey of a 20-Something

If you’d asked me at thirteen where I saw myself a decade from then, I'm quite sure I wouldn't have described where I am now. It's with a mixture of disappointment and despair; I find myself, aged 23, not yet having achieved anything on the ambitious “to-do-list” my thirteen-year-old self formulated.

Apparently I’m an adult. On paper I’m an adult, the world looks at me like I’m an adult and on some days I feel like an adult. But my gosh, I am so not an adult.

I look around at my friends and although we’re different, we’re all going through the same phase of being “ adults but not quite adults”. Some of us are broke creatives, living on the financial edge, doing all we can to make our dream a reality. We like to think we’re on the verge of blowing up; our parents think we’re deluded and should hurry up and get a “real job”. Others are doing unpaid internships, which to the outside world seem like Sisyphean quests. However they continuously slave away, hoping their over-worked and under-sexed boss finally rewards their efforts with a job. Some of us are traveling around the world, seeking that “Eat, Pray, Love” moment, all in the effort to stall the inevitability of a 9-5.

Then there are those who were sensible and sold their soul to a soulless corporation and are being paid a hefty sum in exchange. Though their bank accounts suggest adulthood, their lifestyles are markedly different from what their parents were doing at their age.

This isn’t a trend localised to my social circle, it’s global. There are millions of us scattered across the western world. The 20-Somethings ; adults on paper and united by their choice to “avoid” becoming adults in substance.

In an article in the New York Times called “What Is It about 20-somethings?”, Robin Marantz Henig explores why we are the generation that refuses to grow up. Even wondering whether “we need to start rethinking our definition of normal development and create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account”

Ironically we were the ones in a rush to grow up. Then we grew up and realised the process isn’t as simple or romantic as we assumed. All we want is time to figure out what the hell what we want to do. Unfortunately the time frame for finding yourself expires as soon as you complete university.When the graduation jollity subsided, and we took off our cap and gowns, suddenly we were surrounded by expectations. Expectations that we never signed up for and are not quite sure we want to meet.

We’re grappling with the world’s expectations of us whilst trying to decipher what precisely we expect of ourselves. It’s a delicate balancing act and at times it feels like we’re cartwheeling on a tightrope that’s suspended over a noisy reservoir. Constantly engaging in such an elaborate acrobatic act is tiring. Many of us have garnered reputations for being unstable dreamers who are unable to execute. Everyone’s concluded that we don’t want to grow up. They don’t understand that we want to grow up, we’re just not sure how.

At least when we were teenagers awkwardness was expected and accepted. Now we’re 20-Somethings we’re supposed to have magically grown out of our awkwardness. Since none of us really have, we've learnt clever mechanisms to conceal it. We walk around with the air of confidence and defiance, when in truth most of us are plagued by bouts of diffidence.

They didn’t warn us that part of the journey in becoming an adult, involves combat with an overpowering force. And when it seems like everything you once dreamed of achieving may never happen, that force has a voice that drowns out everything else. It gets louder with every day and perpetually reminds us "You're not good enough". What’s the force called? Self-doubt. Self-doubt is the real reason behind the 20-Somethings apparent refusal to grow up. We’re just so good at cartwheeling no-one’s noticed.

At the end of this decade, hopefully we’ll be real adults. Warehouse parties, dodgy internships, living in perpetual overdraft and questionable sexual partners, will be a thing of the past. Hopefully we will have overcome self-doubt and decided the only expectations we need to fulfill are the ones we set for ourselves. We’ll have departed from that platform that reads “Not Quite Adults” and boarded on a train marked "Real Adults" or at the very least one that reads “Finally Getting To Grips With This Life Thing.”

Despite the fact we haven’t got the best rep, I like to think of us 20-Somethings as superheros. Complex flawed beings, each in possession of a magical gift. The only thing stopping us flying are the closed doors where our capes are trapped. Maybe a decade from now they’ll be no need to board any train. Perhaps we’ll kick down the doors, cast away our burdens and fly to our destinations.

Until then, To all the 20-somethings wearing capes on their shoulders that everyone sees as chips, stand firm. I heard somewhere that things eventually get easier.

Love & Lght



  1. not me. im a winner

  2. Christiana, thank you soooo much for writing this - it's so honest and so true! The world calls me an adult but when I act like one, I still feel like I'm faking it! All I want to do after a long day of being a pretend grown-up is wrap myself in a blanket and watch cartoons! LOL, anyway, my point is that made me realise that I'm in the same boat as sooo many other people even when I do feel surrounded by people who appear to have this adult thing in the bag!

    Keep writing - you're incredibly talented and a blessing to many!


  3. Great blog, you kept it real! I love your writing style, don't stop please


    Right on that boat with all other 20 somethings...however, I've taken the 'GIVE UP' approach...I really don't think that I CAN grow up...childish ways are ones I secretly don't want to come away from of 'GROW' out of....

    Great blog though!

  5. Thank you. As a 21 year old who has taken the endless route of unpaid internships in hopes of being hired on and living out my ambitions that I've had since as far back as I can remember, I've been having difficulty coping with the fact that nothing seems to be happening. It's nice to see this written down and put into perspective and have a tap on the shoulder that says "you're not the only one."


  6. @Automatic TLC(RJ) and other 20-somethings.I spent years doing unpaid internships all over the place, at best getting a pittance for a travel and lunch allowance in some cases if I was lucky! Part of this sacrifice was living with a bunch of fellow interns (or rather, maniacs) in Brussels, and living in a right slum in Senegal. All this in the hope of gaining experience and finally getting some sort of 'meaningful' job. It's fair to say that I didn't get what my parents see as a 'proper' full time paying job till I was 25, which was rather late by their standards! Whilst most of my super-smart mates were already doing the professional 9-5 thing as soon as they left uni at 21. But you know what's funny, when I finally got the 9-5, it was pretty apparent that it wasn't my cup of tea. Now seemingly unfulfilled career-wise and going on to my third job since, I am still chasing my real dreams. I have decided that I can be as many things as I want to be and won't be pigeon-holed by anyone or any circumstance. So I'm still chasing my true passions, and boy, even now having just turned 30, there's no way I am anywhere near being an adult. And do you know how I know? Well even now, I keep being told by the 'older ones' that I need to focus, and stop running round in circles. So, keep pressing, don't give up, and it will all pay off (metaphorically and money-wise hopefully:)) in the end

    @Christiana (Ama :-)) Great post as always. I think this 'combat with an overpowering force' you describe in your post, is actually ourselves. But I think it's a great feeling and great place to be, when we're. Because most people don't like the pioneering stage, where the battle is biggest and the detractors are loudest. But it was in jail that Mandela probably first discovered he wasn't all that he thought he was, and that was a crucial turning point for him. Now he is the great man he is today.

    So to all you 20-somethings, and even older who don't feel like they've arrived yet. Hang on, hold, keep pressing. We're not quite there yet, but at least we're not where we used to be.


    - Poor people work, wealth people build networks
    - Everyone call to be a leader will be broken in the crucible of adversity
    - Masters are never starved of breathe, because the air is better at the top

  7. haha thats what you feel like at 23 imagine the delights of 25, 26,. Oh heads up after 25 you're just counting down the years to the big 3-0.
    At 23 the world is still up for grabs you could travel for a year, take those first steps on your career ladder and generally work towards becoming a responsible adult (gulp)!!
    Enjoy your early 20s i say.


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  10. Thank you so much for this. This had me weeping like a child. :) At 23 I was an inpatient grad student. Its been 2 years, I have the masters but I am still drifting, afraid of the consequences of doing as I please. Sigh.
    You are truly a lovely writer. Keep it up.

  11. Loved this article!