The worst part about being in your 20s is the onset of reality. You get out of school only to be promptly buried in debt, bills, and rent. Plus, you’re rarely making a living wage.
How can you deal with all that and still work toward your dreams?
I should preface this with a little honesty. I’m in a very lucky position: my parents covered my college loans, and I have a decent economic safety net into which I can fall. At the moment, I’m making decent money and spending very little of it, which is why I have the time to do things like blog about life.
Nevertheless, I’m faced with problems: the idea of financial independence seems incredibly far-off and impossible. Even though I’m fairly self-sufficient I’m struggling to learn all the minor-but-vital things that come with being an adult. Insurance is a completely foreign thing to me. As are taxes. And loans. It can get overwhelming– to the point where all I want to do is curl up in my room and watch cartoons and play Dwarf Fortress and maybe eat sugary cereal out of a popcorn bowl. I’ll hopefully be moving out in January, but I’m still somewhat in shock that any sane person would actually trust me with my own apartment.
Among all that confusion and turbulence it’s really easy to not write.
I have it easy. I know there are people my age who don’t have the safety net I do, people who are facing all the same stuff at the same alarming speed with a lot more pressure. I’ll end my acknowledgement of privilege there: you know the background I’m coming from.
This is what you need to keep your dreams alive.
The biggest trap of your 20s: getting stuck in your job. When you’re working two jobs with no downtime and no weekends, it’s a little hard to set aside time for your hobbies. Whatever time you aren’t working, you’re likely spending time with friends or watching TV or rediscovering the joy of free reading after college. That’s great: relax. But set aside some time during the day to move forward with something.
Spend an hour in the morning painting. Spend your lunch reading up on grad schools. Spend a break after work playing guitar. Do something that makes you move forward, even if it’s nothing but practice. Keep the dream alive.
Sometimes this isn’t possible. Sometimes your schedule’s too busy for even that. That’s fine. Spend an hour a week— one hour, four times a month– looking for new work. Your employer doesn’t need to know about it. They knew the risk when they hired someone in their 20s: we’re a transitory bunch.
tl;dr: Make time for your passion. If you can’t make time, work towards being in a place where you can.
Second trap: false progress. Say you want to be a rock star when you grow up. You can practice really hard every day, work toward an amazing repertoire of songs, and generally be really talented– but if you never bother to get a gig, it’s not going to happen. If your goal is “perfect Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the violin for ten years in a row and you still can’t hit that last note properly, you’re never going to be a concert violinist.
So once you have your habits down, set a goal. Give it an end date. Meet it and set a new one.
This trap is the one that’s currently worrying me. I’ve been working on the same novels for years, constantly re-writing and re-writing, to the point where I’m not even sure what the plot is any more for some of them. I’m sick of it. So my goal for the end of the year is to have a new novel written: fresh material, fresh story, something I can get published by next year. It may not be my masterpiece, and I’m okay with that. But it’ll be fun, and new, and (I think) a story worth reading.
Don’t talk yourself out of it.
This is possibly the hardest part of anything you set out to do. Of anything anyone sets out to do. For some weird reason, when you tell someone “I have a plan”, the primary response of 90% of the population is to point out flaws in it.
On one hand: good thing. I’m sure it’s talked a lot of people out of a lot of bad ideas.
On the other hand: something will always go wrong.
It doesn’t matter what you do. Especially in your 20s, you will constantly make mistakes. Things will constantly bite you in the ass. The job of the more responsible adults around you isn’t to prevent that from happening: it’s to prevent the mistakes from fucking you up too badly, so you can learn from them in the future. And it’s your job, as a 20-something, to learn from them.
So, with that in mind, “things might go wrong” can’t be your sole reason for not doing something.
Example. If the reason is “something might have a slight chance of going wrong in the worst possible way,” think of ways to bounce back from worst-case scenarios. If the reason is “I may not be secure enough to take that chance”, find ways to make your position more stable. If the reason is “the payout is good but this idea is risky”, think of ways to make it less risky.
If the reason is “if something is likely to go wrong and if it goes wrong I am seriously screwed over”, yes, it makes sense to maybe reconsider.
Problems are meant to be prevented. They are not meant to prevent you from doing what you want to do. Try solutions before you quit following your dreams altogether.
But what if I don’t have something to chase?
I’ve written about this before, but I’ll reiterate it here: if you don’t know what you want to do, spend that time finding something. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how ingrained you are in your routine, you can find something new.
Try something new for a month. Just a month. If you like it, keep going. If not, find something new to try next month.
Even if you never find something you like, you’ll build up a lot of interesting skills. You’ll be an interesting person. There’s no way in hell that’s not worth the time.
Ignore perspective. Don’t get discouraged.
Yes, the chance of becoming a multibillionaire rock star is incredibly unlikely, just as it’s unlikely that I’ll become a famous author one day. But here’s the thing: if you chase what you want to do, even if you don’t get where you planned to be, you’ll likely end up someplace you like.
Too many people end up working a job “just for now”, building skills they aren’t passionate about, and go down a path they may not be happy with. These years, in your 20s? This is when that happens. The only excuse for giving up on your dreams is a legitimate change of mind: there’s no excuse for not at least striving to be happy.