An Intervention For Your 20s

an intervention for your 20s

By Meg

There’s a certain beauty we see in being messy. It feels like you’re in an artsy film with a lot of lens flare and close-ups of you smoking at sunset. Life just won’t come together for you.

Recently I read this quote and it hit home:

“Your life is not an episode of ‘Skins.’ Things will never look quite as good as they do in a faded, sun-drenched Polaroid; your days are not an editorial from ‘Lula.’ Your life is not a Sofia Coppola movie, or a Chuck Palahniuk novel, or a Charles Bukowski poem. Grace Coddington isn’t your creative director. Bon Iver and Joy Division don’t play softly in the background at appropriate moments. Your hysterical teenage diary isn’t a work of art. Your room probably isn’t Selby material. Your life isn’t a Tumblr screencap. Every word that comes out of your mouth will not be beautiful and poignant, infinitely quotable. Your pain will not be pretty. Crying till you vomit is always shit. You cannot romanticize hurt. Or sadness. Or loneliness. You will have homework, and hangovers and bad hair days. The train being late won’t lead to any fateful encounters; it will make you late. Sometimes your work will suck. Sometimes you will suck. Far too often, everything will suck—and not in a Wes Anderson kind of way. And there is no divine consolation—only the knowledge that we will hopefully experience the full spectrum—and that sometimes, just sometimes, life will feel like a Coppola film.”

It’s accepted as the norm to get trashed on the weekends, go home with someone, vomit, walk back home gingerly with smudged mascara and heels in hand, and tell your friends all about it over brunch. There’s something inherently wrong with that. The problem is that this is romanticized. It’s romanticized in film, TV, and in real life.

It sucks when you don’t have shit together. It really does. But we can’t limit ourselves and say, “That’s just what life is like these days.”

It’s now suddenly OK to be broke and living in the city, eating cold leftover pad thai you forgot to put in the fridge while you nurse the hangover from the bar you drank last night.

“I’m such a fucking mess!” you text your friend. LOL.

And yet we accept that it is OK to be this mess, because everyone is right there beside you, right? You’re in your 20s and this is what it’s supposed to be like. You’re supposed to wake up with strangers, eat crappy food, and take artsy pictures at the beach. You’re supposed to either have a shitty job or a job you hate. You’re supposed to constantly be going on dates with quirky guys. You’re supposed to drink entire bottles of wine and cry while you watch Ryan Gosling smolder around your screen. You’re supposed to be this broken, messy, and struggling artist.

So we romanticize the hurt, the pain, the mess. We romanticize mental illness and make it something beautiful and poignant. We make hook-ups with people that don’t deserve you something quirky and “natural.” We make loneliness a part of everyday conversation. We’ve made memes about it. We dramatize it. We joke about it. Yet, we don’t admit it.

Recently I watched this TED Talk. Meg Jay essentially addresses how 30 is now the new 20. We spend our 20s making mistakes because we think it’ll be OK, because we think everything will work itself out later. We put off traveling, we date shitty people, we take shitty jobs, and we say to ourselves: “I’m just livin’ life, but it’ll figure itself out!”

“As a culture, we have trivialized what is actually the defining decades of adulthood… What do you think happens when you pat a 20-something on the head and say, ‘You have 10 extra years to start your life?’ Nothing happens. You have robbed that person of his urgency and ambition, and absolutely nothing happens.”

Being miserable isn’t a lifestyle that we all have to go through in our 20s. Make mistakes, but don’t make the mistake of accepting those mistakes as a part of your life and not as reasons to grow and get better.

Treat yourself with respect. You deserve better.

Your body is a fucking temple. Stop quoting Liz Lemon as a way to justify your inability to make yourself a proper meal and exercise every once in awhile.

Don’t stay with that person that you’re annoyed with or bored with or stuck with because you figure you can’t do better or something better will come along eventually. You have to look for those people now. You can’t settle and pass time and put off happiness.

Don’t squander away your talent and complain about your career going nowhere. We live in a time where everyone alive is accessible. Work hard, study hard, and network. Make something of yourself. You might have to take shitty jobs in the process. But don’t accept that you are your shitty job. You can be better. It’s all in your hands.

Don’t stay in the same place. Go somewhere. It doesn’t have to be Europe or New York. Go anywhere. Take a risk and leave your comfort zone. Stop putting travel on your laundry list. Meet people and treat them with respect. But don’t ever forget about yourself.

You are the most important. Everytime.

Being fucked up and messy and broke and unhealthy is not OK. We have to stop justifying it. It’s not glamorous or artsy. It’s your life. You are living it everyday and you have to claim your life for your own. You can’t just let things happen to you and laugh about it over mimosas later.

“Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You’re deciding your life right now.”

You can change everything you want to change about yourself. You can be smarter, thinner, a better runner, extremely knowledgeable about astrophysics or improv comedy. You can read more, you can be a better cook and a better son or daughter or sibling or best friend. Remember that.

But you can’t change the shitty decisions you made because you believed that you couldn’t do any of that.

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About Meg

an intervention for your 20sMeg (or Meghana) is a senior at the College of William & Mary, and probably the coolest person you’ll ever meet. She’s obsessed with writing anything that allows her to create characters and ideas. She’s pursuing a career in advertising (so holler if you’re hiring) but aspires to be one day become a comedy writer on the nerd level of Tina Fey and/or Mindy Kaling. Besides that, she’s always planning where she can next travel, obsessively watching sitcoms and TED Talks, binge-eating chocolate, studying for her business major, trying to support a fashionable wardrobe on a student budget, and putting out fires when she gets a chance. If you’re a rich prince looking for a spouse, please forward me your resumé.

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Reprinted with permission from “A Zest for Life”. Formerly titled “Don’t Settle for Cold Pad Thai” 

Photo by Nico Nordstrom



View Comments (21)
  • Although I’m sure you wrote this article with the best of intentions, as a college graduate in my mid-20’s, I find this article pompous at best. Mainly because it was written by somebody who is still in college. For someone, in college, who is probably only about 2 or 3 years into their 20s, you sure know a lot about what it’s like to be a 20-something out of college. I bet a vast majority of the people this article aims to criticize…errr…inspire isn’t exactly living in the squalor they advertise on Facebook, Twitter, etc. In case you haven’t quite experienced it yet, young college student, growing up is scary. It’s really really scary, especially when you’re forced to let go of your carefree college ways in exchange for real world responsibilities. In most cases, the people that advertise themselves in the way you described generally have it together and utilize this facade as a last ditch effort to hang on to the youthful years they long to perpetuate. It’s a cute phase. A little self-deprecating humor never hurt anyone (probably). But on the other hand, what about the people that are forced to live this way? Certain career paths, most notably creative ventures, don’t necessarily pay all that much, especially when you’re first starting out. Being a struggling artist, musician, comic, etc, isn’t some glorified gimmick that people assume as an easy way out, it is in fact a way of life. This article generalizes that everybody in their 20s should all have the same priorities and those that neglect this hierarchy are doomed to a life of regret and failed expectations. This, my friend, makes you wrong. Dead wrong.

    But then again, I could be full of shit, as well.

  • I appreciate the pep talk, but please tell me how easy it is when you graduate from college. Ad life ain’t easy, and we try our damndest, but don’t you dare try to take away my Liz Lemon quotes. Sometimes you have to make fun of your crappy situation when you’re trying to make it better. It’s not an excuse. It’s a coping mechanism.

  • I think we live in a society where at 18 years old we’re expected to have all of our shit together and know what we want to do witht he rest of our lives. There’s this idealized portrait of what our 20s should be like: perfect. When in reality, I think we need to accept that sometimes we need to be lost to find our way. I agree when you say we should respect ourselves, I’m 21, living in San Francisco at the moment, going to school and looking for a job. By this time I was hoping I’d be semi rich and famous and living in New York. But sometimes, you have to struggle and NOT have your shit together to figure out what’s right for you.

  • Interesting point. Thank you for sharing your point of view

    Although you are right in saying that most people my age are too young to experience this sort of lifestyle, In terms of a mental health issue, sometimes I am unable to “have it together” no matter how much I want it to.

    I think my overall point was for people that romanticize this sort of lifestyle. I don’t think it’s wrong to be a mess or struggling. I believe that those things are an invariable part of life. Rather, I think it’s unhealthy to romanticize this sort of lifestyle.

    But then again, I could be full of shit too.

    • I don’t necessarily think it’s wrong to romanticize being broke. I think the real harm is the people that romanticize being broke, when they aren’t actually broke. And if you’re arguing this, then yes, your article totally makes sense. A lot of people that make light of how broke they are usually have some sort of safety net and lack the sense of urgency that most actual broke people live with constantly. I’m beginning to think this is the angle you were trying to take with this article(of course, correct me if I’m wrong).

      I equate this to the people in a class that whine about how they didn’t study for a test and how they’re going to fail, but then they end up getting an A because they actually did study for the exam. I found this infuriating and a lot of people do this. The majority of people that actually think they’re going to fail a test don’t advertise it because they’re freaking out about how they’re about to fail. Same with being broke. If you can make fun of yourself because of how broke you are and how you’re a mess, chances are it really isn’t as bad as you advertise.

      So yes, the people you describe in your article that aren’t as bad as they portray to the world are assholes. The ones that are actually in that situation that are just making light of their lifestyle are just going the “glass half full” route. Self-parody is a great release. It’s when people poke fun at a lifestyle they actually aren’t living that it becomes toxic. One of the biggest examples of this is how the song “Thrift Shop” glorified mostly-privileged suburbanites shopping at thrift stores for goofs. This is a place where people actually buy their clothes without trying to be ironic and it’s such a slap in the face to them.

      This is where I agree with you.

      To sum up, most people are stupid (sans myself, of course). If you agree with me, you’re alright as well.

  • I agree whole heartedly that people glorify being mess, hung over and broke is not beautiful. Granted, I also agree with some of the other commenters that for some, that is a reality but I would bet that they don’t find it beautiful and would be more than happy to get out of their current state. College is one crazy roller coaster and every body’s experience is different. Thanks for sharing!

  • I used to have your same perspective– until I actually graduated. It’s a bit more complicated than you portray.

    I was a mess after I graduated from college. I was unemployed for 6 months with no prospects. It sucked. I was depressed, and all I could do was chug whiskey and cry myself to sleep.

    I’m past that very ugly time period in my life but I’m still broke but now I have two part time jobs in my field of study. One I hate, and I one absolutely adore.

    And not being where you had hoped to be at 25 does suck. Especially when there’s nothing you can do about it. It doesn’t matter how many jobs you apply to, how many networking opportunities you go to, or how many people you talk to. The changing point in your life is going to happen by chance. Things are going to align. There’s no planning for it.

    And you drink that bottle of wine because life sometimes sucks. It’s not romanticizing, it’s coping with your situation until you can find a better way.

    Some days you cook dinner, work out, and optimistically apply for new jobs while some days you buy mcdonald’s, stay in, watch netflix, and cry.

  • I’m sure there were good intentions here, but I’m going to have to agree that this article just screams privilege. Outside of your private school bubble, the real world is waiting to show you know ridiculous it is to tell anyone that it’s not okay to be broke.

    • Maybe my point did not come across correctly. I think it’s wrong to glorify being broke. There’s a difference isn’t there?

      • I think anyone who’s actually struggling to get by could tell you that kind of lifestyle has very little or nothing to do with actually being broke and that there is still a huge amount of social stigma around being broke. A few teenagers wanting to be broke artists does not break down the stigma and glorify being broke. Being poor is absolutely still looked down upon in this society.

        • I don’t think this article is really focused on being poor, though you definitely have a point about the social stigma of poverty. It is centered on individual self respect and striving to be better on a personal level; physically and mentally, not just economically. People have a tendency to try to outwardly mitigate stressful situations; to turn an almost arrest or drunken blackout into a funny story. However, this mitigation can frequently cause people to repeat potentially dangerous behavior, like alcoholics masking their problems by glorifying their abilities to remain undetected at work or school. Poverty is frequently due to uncontrollable circumstances: bad job markets or the decisions of others. This article is about recognizing and changing what you can control, not just accepting that this is how life should be.

  • I have never felt compelled to leave a comment on an online article until now – so I will give you that. Otherwise, I could not disagree more. This in no way applies to all 20-somethings. The world is HARD – you don’t just float out of college on a magical pony with people throwing money and job offers at you. I am a senior in college, I have a job (that I love) and own a website (that I also love) and keep up in school. My shit is definitely not together. I struggle, I get fucked up but I also work out, keep up good relationships with my friends and family and try to succeed in school and outside of it. I imagine when I graduate it will be even harder. I luckily come from a fantastic family and live in an area with a lot of job opportunities but I still anticipate a struggle. If you are broke, working your ass off and having a great time, so be it. No one strives to be broke! No one goes out of their way to make their life a mess. People are not going out of their way to make their lives this way, their lives are just that way, who knows what internal or external struggle they are fighting. No one is romanticizing, no one is glorifying – we are COPING. Healthy food is expensive, food in general is expensive – have you ever purchased your own groceries with your money that you worked for? Have you ever had to purchase a gym membership? Have you had to make cell phone payments, car payments or really any real payment at all? If we can’t learn to laugh at ourselves and make the best of any situation – well, we would all have pretty shit lives. I really think you need to rethink your argument here or narrow your audience or just delete the article entirely because this is not an intervention, it is a sheltered outlook that applies to a very small percentage of people. So here is my intervention – have fun, post stupid “What Do Betches Call Me” to your friends wall, retweet TFM posts and most of all don’t take it seriously because I can guarantee I, as well as many other people, are having a much better time than you.

  • All of you talking about privilege are completely missing her point. She’s not trashing people who get too drunk or are depressed or have difficulty finding a job or sometimes make unhealthy decisions. These things happen, especially when you’re young and trying to enjoy yourself, and times are rough, man. It’s true that we have to laugh at ourselves sometimes.

    That said, this is what a lot of us need to hear. For the last year, I was living in NYC working a shitty job, not sure what to do with myself, and I fell victim to this very apathetic shit. Showing up to my job hungover, going out with guys I didn’t like and/or going home with them, crazily vibrating between extreme loneliness and manic socializing, sitting in my trashed room eating ramen day after day, not saving money… and instead of expecting better from myself, I just let it happen, because I’d get on the internet and there was this whole welcoming culture of THAT’S JUST YOUTH THESE DAYS, MAN, WHY TRY TO DO ANYTHING WHEN BEING A MESS MAKES SUCH A GOOD, RELATABLE STORY?

    It took me too long to realize that my body, my goals, my self-worth and intellect and self-respect and the opportunities I’d been afforded deserved better, and that I felt better when I wasn’t buying into this ridiculous, ubiquitous 20-something internet tripe that says that when you don’t like your life, it’s respectable to let everything about it fall to ruin because everyone else is doing it.

  • This article really speaks to me. Often times I feel left out because I do not allow myself to go out, get drunk, sleep with crappy men. It’s as if I’M the one doing something wrong. I really needed this article today, so thank you!

  • I love this article. It seems like we romanticize this sort of stuff as a sort of coping mechanism. We make it seem like bad decisions are beautiful, like doing dumb things is a great way to “find” yourself. That’s garbage. Thanks for this article.

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