It’s a heavy question: What are you going to do with your life? The rest of your life?
I remember the first time I realized that the weight of too many choices was overwhelming me. It was about six weeks into my first post-college internship—the summer of 2010. I felt restless and unsure of what I wanted. My fellow intern said she felt the same way.
Three months later, that friend quit. Since then, she’s changed career paths twice. Another one of my friends quit her corporate career to start her own wedding-related business. An engineering friend toyed with the idea of quitting his day job to open a restaurant. I left a marketing job writing about software. Why? To help found a startup that will assist amateur photographers with getting gigs. Are we just ungrateful yuccies or what?
Just a hundred years ago, newly minted adults didn’t have the myriad options that new graduates face today. “Now, your worldview is literally the world,” says Paul Angone, a fellow Gen Yer, millennial expert, and author of 101 Secrets for Your Twenties and All Groan Up: Searching for Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job! “There are endless opportunities, endless choices, endless possibilities.”
“With baby boomer parents, many of us grew up in an age of unprecedented wealth,” he says. When the Great Recession happened seven years ago, and careers were being upended at an alarming rate, Angone says that “it kind of blew up in our face.” In fact, if projections are accurate, we’ll be the first generation in recent history that has less monetary wealth than our parents, according to the Globe and Mail.
Millennials are now asking deep, philosophical questions of purpose and direction on the front end rather than during a midlife crisis. This introspection comes with a cost, though. Many of us feel lost before we even begin. Getting lost in options and exploring options seem pretty similar. Explorers, however, get lost on purpose and with purpose. “Whether they have maps or have a guide, they’re bringing intentionality to the goal,” Angone says.
For you twentysomethings feeling bewildered, it’s time to explore with purpose. To get started, push aside these five lies eating at our proverbial insides:
Lie #1: I’m the only one struggling.
Consider this: Forty percent of unemployed workers accounted for are millennials, according to Market Watch. Despite what you see on social media feeds, you’re not alone in your struggle to find that ideal job and start living your ideal life.
We’ve all more or less suffered from OCD. Obsessive Comparison Disorder, that is. From a young age, we’ve used the Internet as a way to create and maintain our image. We share vacation photos, new clothes, flattering profile pics—all while counting the “likes.” Often the result of all the over-comparing is that even though we may be struggling, we’re afraid to be open about it.
“I get emails from millennials all over the world, and they’re all asking the same things,” Angone says. “No matter if they’re in a small village in Africa, the Philippines, Thailand, or the United States, it never stops surprising me how universal these questions are.”
Angone continues: “When people write to me, they start their email by saying that they thought they were so alone—that they didn’t know other people were going through this. This is a dangerous belief and a lie.” Our twenties are a process. We’re supposed to fail, make mistakes, and learn. Angone likens our twenties to setting a table as opposed to a time of sumptuous feasting.
If you’re struggling, reach out to others in your network. It might surprise you to discover who else feels the same—and to find that many of them are willing to help you.
Lie #2: I should be successful by now. Like, right now!
OK, so we’re a little impatient.
Maybe it’s because we grew up with online shopping. Maybe it’s all that Netflix binge-watching. Or perhaps it’s those looming student loans that we’re desperate to pay off. Regardless, our expectation for immediate success—and feeling like a failure when we don’t yet reach it—is more hardwired into this generation than in the past.
“Previous generations had a longer view of what it means to be successful,” Angone says. “I think because we are a little too used to instant gratification, we sometimes feel success should be the same way.”
There are several ingredients that go into making success happen. Among them, time and patience are often underestimated. The truth is, real success takes time—and lots of it.
“For a lot of us, we didn’t see our parents struggle—we just saw their success,” Angone says. “It comes down to where you are deriving your worth from.” We’re a results-driven culture. But when we forget about the importance of what it took to get there, we sometimes make poor decisions.
“What’s interesting is, this kind of focus on the wrong things is what led to the financial crash. . . . People were trying to buy a life they couldn’t live,” Angone says.
If your self-worth is riding on success, you’ll be left questioning your life when that crashes—which it will. Before you hit yourself over the head because you’re not successful yet, step back. Determine what success means for you exactly. Then accept that achieving it takes time.
Lie #3: I have to be completely independent.
Collectively, we’re in 1.2 trillion dollars of student debt, according to USA Today. Many of us are paying off loans with jobs that make us question if the loans were even worth it. But let’s be real. What is life supposed to be? Sunny all the time? Money everywhere?
“Economic realities push people . . . there are even some positives about moving back in with your parents,” Angone says. “This idea that you have to leave your home is a very westernized, American culture.” In fact, in Eastern cultures there is a huge stigma attached to leaving home, according to the Journal of Marriage and Family. These cultures view the family unit as integral for survival.
A study from the Journal of Marriage and Family examined thousands of respondents at the average age of 24 exiting and returning to their parents’ home. The authors note: “Greater economic resources were linked to delayed exits from, and earlier returns to, the parental home.”
We’re not proposing that everyone move back home with mom and dad. But if you feel stuck in a rut, remember that this is only a part of the journey. “No matter what path we take, there are going to be parts of our lives that we feel are lacking,” Angone says. “No matter how amazing our living arrangements are, we’re already looking at someone else’s.”
So do yourself a favor, and realize that success has nothing to do with a preconceived idea of what was supposed to be. Angone urges, “Live your life as it is right now, and move forward into where you want to go. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Lie #4: I don’t have what it takes.
Many of us feel like we don’t have what it takes simply because we don’t know what we want.
Angone suggests an exercise he learned from a mentor several years ago. First, write down where you want to be in life twenty years from now--writing in first person as if experiencing it. Go through even minute details. Answer questions such as these: “Where are you going? Who are you meeting? What do you let yourself dream?” By allowing yourself to mentally experience it, you can envision how you want to craft your life.
Do the same exercise envisioning life in fifteen years, then ten, then five. Then imagine where you want to be in three months.
When Angone did this exercise for himself, he realized that he did have what it would take. “That was a powerful exercise,” he says. “What are my goals? What’s my vision? What needs to be done three months from now to start walking down that path?”
Lie #5: I am a failure.
“The possibilities for embarrassment and greatness exist in the same space,” Angone says. “It was surprising for me to realize how much failure it takes to be successful.”
We all want to find a way for our passion to align with our job. But that only comes through failure—often miserable failure. It’s when you realize you’re trying again, despite the failure, that you’ve found your passion.
Angone reminds us, “Success in your twenties is about setting the table more than about enjoying the feast. You’re laying the groundwork for success. You’re building that foundation. You’re not creating the masterpiece. You’re learning.”
So much of our twenties is marked by failure and things not going as planned. It’s time to learn that life is about being comfortable with the uncomfortable. In doing so, we’ll find that failing is just a part of the process. And it’s this process—not the end goal—that truly defines us.
What do you want to do with your life? Well, it is a big question—one that you might not have an immediate answer to. The world is always changing, and the options that our parents had aren’t the same as ours. But berating and isolating ourselves won’t reveal answers. Patience, intentionality, and a little bit of conscious wandering will show us the way.
For more from Paul Angone, follow him on Twitter @PaulAngone.