As twenty-somethings, we are constantly asked to evaluate the life we’ve lived. Everyone seems to have a quarter-life bucket list, and we are made to feel as though we must accomplish everything on that list to validate our existence. In some ways (though definitely not all), the pressure is greater for women. Are we on our way to “having it all?” Do we have successful careers? Do we pay our own bills? Are we going to have a family? Kids?
This week, a post by the bloggers at Today Was Meaningful has been circulating entitled “… Because I’m a Twentysomething.” Frankly, the piece is a breath of fresh air. Its author discusses the pressures of the timelines we put on ourselves, and she cleverly makes all our deadlines seem unrealistic and arbitrary: “when I was sixteen, I planned to be married by age twenty-three with two kids. I’ll always smile to myself when I think about how time changes things.” When we don’t do by twenty-five what others might do, we tend to feel guilty or ashamed for not “[fitting] the mold of all of the rest of the twenty-fivers.”
Her post throws all of that nonsense out the window. She writes, “I’ve started to think about how easy it is to become controlled by our age. And the expectation of what your age signifies to everyone else […] Forget molds.” She advocates for choosing your own path, for “[doing] what you want with your life;” she reminds us that each individual has sole ownership over his, hers, or hir life. The important thing is to follow our hearts and not to “[feel] like time is slipping by.” The post concludes with a beautiful, “enjoy where you are. Here. Right here.”
When I asked my friends and family for a few things they felt should be on a quarter-life bucket list, each answer was unique to the individual. Answers varied from “find one book you truly love” to “get a job,” from “rent your first apartment or home” to “travel to some of the following countries: Israel, China, Thailand, Australia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and Cyprus.” My favorites were less literal, like “learn how to be comfortable with yourself” and “be in love with at least one thing.”
There were two trends in both Today Was Meaningful’s post and in my family and friend’s responses. The first thing was that most felt it was important to feel some sort of loss within our first twenty-five years. In these years, we often learn what death, failure, and heartbreak are and begin to process that traumatizing information; we become aware of our mortality. It’s somehow important that we do. One friend wrote that we must “get lost.” My aunt put it best when she wrote, “Have a breakdown. Sorry, but I kind of mean it.” There’s a reason “YOLO” is the phrase of our generation; every generation of twentysomethings go through both a panic and a thrill over the realization that we only get one shot (in this life, at least).
Roy Lichtenstein (we’ve all been there…)
The second trend in the discussion of quarter-lives was less explicable, but it has to do with birth and rebirth. I don’t mean literal birth, although some people did write “have kids” (I expect at least a few were joking). I mean the kind of birth or creative effort that reminds us that we are living creatures with fertile minds, who, if only for a moment, can feel immortal. For some, it can come in the form of “experiencing puberty,” “doing something unbelievably well,” “falling in love,” finally “feeling comfortable with yourself,” or “finding a good therapist” (all real answers to my question). For others, it can come from having a job or owning a new apartment; it can come from traveling the world. One of my favorite examples of this youthful rebirth and hope came from my fiance’s friend Eric, who wrote, “Believe in something imaginary (i.e. Christmas, for those who celebrate).”
My friend Kate put her finger on it when she said, “I have an additional vague thought about creative energy, but I’m not sure how to word it.” I’ve realized that the point is that it’s vague, that it differs for everyone. But by the time we’re twenty-five, I hope we’ve all created something, material or intangible. For some of my friends, it’s publishing a novel or essay or exhibiting a work of art at MoMA. For me, it’s as simple as recording the most precious pre-twenty-five moments that I fear will slip through my fingers, through photography or writing. For everyone, the important thing seems to be that in some extremely personal way, small or large, we’ve begun to make our mark. And I think we all have.
But enough talk! What is or was on your “List of Things to Do Before I’m Twenty-Five?” We’re eager to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Thanks to Today Was Meaningful
The most special of thanks to Kate Little, Margie Ruddick, Eric Kunz, Tim Kail, Caitlin Rosso, Lisa Ruddick, Lindsey Weiss, Tom Stanley-Becker, and Maxine Mattana