How to Navigate Your 20s (and Keep Your Sanity)

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You’re walking down a crowded street, past stores and cafes full of other 20-somethings. As you pass by, you see signs of confidence everywhere: the way the brunette with the knee boots strides into the bookstore. The way the young couple lean into each other over their coffees, knowing smiles on their faces. The way the other passer-bys nod their head as they talk to whoever on their phones.

You know their stories all too well, too.

Your college roommate has committed herself to a life of true freedom. She’s just bought a camper, sold all her stuff, and is moving to Marfa, Texas to make soap.

Your co-worker has just quit to launch his own startup. He’s already planned his exit strategy for acquisition, too.

Then there’s your best friend Claire, who just found “the love of her life”. She’s planning her wedding so she can have at least one of her three kids before age 30.

How is it that everyone around you seems so sure of themselves and the path they’re on? What are your 20s supposed to be all about?

The Myth of Shoulds

You have probably heard that your 20s are supposed to be “the best years of your life.” If not, you’ve watched enough Kate Hudson and Jennifer Garner movies to know that your 20s should be fabulous. You should have a closet full of designer clothes, a beautifully decorated apartment in the Upper West Side of NYC and an exciting and glamorous job.

These pictures of pop culture, even if you try your best to ignore them, can really do a number on our notions of self. We all know we’re bombarded with images in magazines, TV and film of what life could be, yet few of us can resist how our minds easily turn the “coulds” into the “shoulds”.

The reflection of the people around us, whether they are strangers, friends or family, can also lead to feeling like you “should” be doing more or doing something different all together. Other people look to be in control of making their 20s the best years of their life, so why shouldn’t you?

Psychosocial What?

The only thing you “should” be doing in your 20s, is what you are already doing naturally—growing. Yes, you might be done growing physically, but science has been teaching us a lot about how the 20s are actually still a vital part of your childhood psychological development. This is a time where you are developing your “adult” identity, which, you might be surprised to learn, is still growing and evolving well into your 20s.

You might remember Erik Erikson from Psych 101. Erikson was a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory of psychosocial development. Erikson believed we all go through eight stages of development throughout our lives.

Erikson’s theory was that at each stage we’re faced with a challenge. As you develop as a person, and successfully complete each of life’s eight stages of growth, you’ll develop a healthy personality and acquire what Erikson called “basic virtues” which he described as “characteristic strengths” that strengthen your ego and ultimately help you manage any possible crisis you may face in your life.

Tess Brigham