I have two younger brothers in their 20’s. The older of the two is turning 29 this year and in honor of his last year as a twenty-something, I’m sharing my take on this important decade.
When I was in my 20’s I was a real asshole, as was just about everyone I’ve ever known who passed through that decade. I’m not at all saying that you two specifically are assholes and I don’t mean to offend anyone reading this. Every decade that we have the honor of living gets summed up with the virtue of hindsight and I like to refer to my 20’s as The Asshole Years. I use the word as a way to describe how people in their 20’s are sometimes perceived and if we’re lucky enough to be over 30, we were assholes too (and might still be). These are my experiences and you may or may not relate to them. End of disclaimer.
Despite being uncertain about the future, you will never know such steadfast confidence. A lot of that is due to the fact that you think you know everything. When we’re in our 20’s, we discover the power of forming opinions and then, of course, voicing those opinions…to everyone…whenever the whim hits us…without care for the consequences. I still cringe at some of the opinions I voiced and soapboxes I stood on in my 20’s. I can picture what friends/family/coworkers must have said (because I’ve said the same thing). Don’t be so hard on her. She’s in her 20’s. She’s just an asshole.
This isn’t something to be ashamed of. Knowing how and when to voice opinions is something we learn slowly and it takes practice. I’m still practicing, with mixed results. When I was 20-something, I was trying to be an equal and I wanted to be treated with respect. Sometimes, we are respected more for what we don’t say when we could than by what we do say because we can.
This is your Golden Age of confidence. The confidence you have now allows you to take risks without crumbling if you get it wrong because you assume you’ll have a lifetime to make up for it. You may beat yourself up now, but believe me when I say that you’re more forgiving of your mistakes in your 20’s than you will be later on. I lost some of my confidence in my 30’s, mainly because I was more aware of consequences and I second guessed myself. People are also less tolerant of asshole-ishness because they figure we should know better by the time we reach our 30’s. Enjoy being an asshole while you can.
You will learn about boundaries. Popular media frequently calls 20-somethings selfish but I don’t see it that way. What is perceived as selfishness is really the lack of boundaries. The 20-somethings I know are incredibly generous but that may come from their willingness to say yes and commit without thinking it through. When you know something is right, you act (case in point, I got married at 24) but the “sure, why not” attitude that comes with being in your 20’s can lead people to think you’re flaky. I think back to the times when I said I’d do something and then backed out. Jobs I accepted and quickly quit. Committing, then not showing up (literally and metaphorically).
It’s not because I was selfish but because I’d jump quickly without having all the facts. I also wanted to please people and taking on responsibility earned me respect. At the time, I really didn’t feel all that bad about changing my mind. After all, why should I go through with something that I didn’t want to do? But it’s one of the reasons why people think you’re an asshole.
But when you do commit, it’s something to admire. The young warriors who protect our families, our cities, our country. Committing to raising a family during a time when many of your friends are still waking up in strange places. Being true to your art instead of climbing the corporate ladder. Standing up for what you believe in, so adamant and hopeful.
This is the time to take stands, to yell your beliefs from the tops of mountains, to stand up for others, protest, rally and vote. Discuss, argue, debate, test your opinions and change your mind. Your 20’s are a vital building block of your morals, character and values. Stand tall.
You will never be more physically resilient than you are right now. Notice I didn’t say healthy. I’d argue that I’m much healthier at 43 than I was at 23 but it’s directly tied to the choices I make about how to treat my body and what to put in it. When you’re in your 20’s, your body will bounce back easier despite what you put it through. Anyone who has gone through a midlife crisis and tried to pull all-nighters and drink till dawn knows that you can party like a 20 year old but you won’t recover like a 20 year old. My body was a gift that I took for granted and often abused. Don’t do that.
Some random thoughts:
- Your face will always break out. Forever. Whoever told you that zits were for teenagers lied. Having said that, your face will never be as soft and unmarred in your adulthood as it is right now. I just want to pinch your sweet cheeks.
- People don’t envy your youth as much as you think they do. I was convinced that anyone who was condescending to me was just jealous that I was young. It’s not true. They just thought I was an asshole. You couldn’t pay me to relive my 20’s.
- Dress the part. Look awesome, be hip and own your style. I remember this super short skirt I wore at business meetings just because I could. You can get away with a lot in your 20’s.
- Life is short. It’s really, really short. Not everyone makes it out of their 20s (as our family tragically knows) so be aware that every day is a gift. There has always been a part of me that assumed I’d have another tomorrow but never as much as when I was in my 20’s. Take care of you.
I really love you, assholes, and I’m proud of you.