The Hard-To-Hear Advice Every Twentysomething Needs

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
By Ran Zilca
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Let’s be honest: Your 20s are a fragile and tumultuous time. After teenage years spent in angst over the lack of freedom that comes with living under your parents’ roof, you finally have independence. Now what? You have to cook your own meals, clean your apartment (not just your bedroom), and pay all of those bills. Plus, there’s the whole searching for a job, getting a job, and then questioning if said job is right for you. On top of that, you could be plopped into a new city and met with the slightly terrifying prospect of making new friends.
You may also get jealous of those friends as you check their perfectly filtered Instagram photos or stalk their amazing promotions on LinkedIn. And, then you start feeling left out and abnormal. At times like these, we need to remember that we see in other people what they choose to display. When you truly get to know others, you find out they experience the same types of insecurities you do.
Part of adulthood is understanding the importance of finding peace with your current situation. It took me until I was 40 — riding solo across the country on my motorcycle — to really find my inner peace. On that month-long journey, I met with scientists, spiritual leaders, and people along the side of the road, and I came to realize some universal truths that every twentysomething needs to hear.
Everybody Hurts
Just like Michael Stipe croons in the early-'90s R.E.M. anthem (and yes, if you’re a twentysomething this came out when you were still in diapers), “Everybody hurts — sometimes.” But, social norms mandate that we keep these feelings to ourselves. If we must, we share the pain with only the people closest to us.
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We could all benefit from taking a page out of Buddhist traditions, which includes dukkha (or suffering) as a central concept. The Buddhist approach acknowledges that life is difficult and flawed. Dukkha is a natural part of life, and it can only be eradicated if you take the lifelong journey toward enlightenment.
Modern science also recognizes that negative emotions are a necessary part of life, and part of their role is to grab our attention and alert us of potential dangers. Just like you, everybody hurts sometimes — even the people who seem the most outgoing, optimistic, and fun.
Everybody’s Confused
Life is made of endless choices, and you don't get the chance to live the alternative, so it's near impossible to truly tell if you’ve made the right decisions. This uncertainty leads to a natural sense of confusion and lack of confidence. Yet, surprisingly, when you ask others for advice, they often sound confident and advocate that you make the same choices they’ve made. The reason they seem so certain is simple: Life’s decisions are perplexing before you make them, but afterward, you adjust your views (and even your memory) of the facts to support your choices.
I look back at all the major decisions I had to make at the end of my 20s: I left the military service, got married, had my first child, finished graduate school, and moved to a different country with my wife and our two-year-old daughter. On the outside, I seemed confident about these decisions, but it was actually the most confusing time of my life. Just like suffering, confusion is a natural part of life — as is the tendency to cover it up!
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Everybody Has Regrets
People stick with their decisions and rarely regret making them. But, they do regret indecision and inaction (you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!). There were so many things that could’ve gone better when I crossed the country on my motorcycle. The first few days, it felt like the ride was a bad idea. I dropped the motorcycle, failed to secure my bags safely, and constantly got lost. But, I never regretted going on the road, and I'm certain that I would have regretted turning back.
Everybody Feels Isolated
Even as we seem more interconnected, with our smartphones tethered to us at all times, there’s a growing epidemic of social isolation. As more people move to cities, the sense of community that was once present in small towns gets lost. As personal relationships increasingly move online, there are fewer casual social interactions in the real world.
The Good News
By virtue of being human, you will experience suffering, confusion, remorse, and loneliness throughout your lifetime. This is normal. The good news, though, is that you can easily tip the scale in your favor if you choose to ignore all the things that are considered "normal" or rites of passage, and instead remain loyal to whatever is meaningful to you. Make it a resolution to go on the ride of your life and never look back (or sideways!). Stop chasing the things you think are the norm for twentysomethings, and start achieving your dreams.
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