I’ll never forget that moment: she was lying on the kitchen floor, crying and screaming at full decibel about some want that was unfulfilled. I gingerly stepped over her as I brought in the groceries, ignoring her snotty nose and tear-filled face. My daughter was having a meltdown. She had entered what every parent knows and dreads: “The Terrible Twos.”
Fast forward a couple decades and both my kids are in their 20’s. Both are leaving the world of education: my son his college years, my daughter her graduate school years. Both have privately admitted to me that they are fearful about growing up.
My reply to their anxiety: “Growing isn’t so bad. Not growing up is worse.” My children have entered the stage in life that I call the “Terrifying Twenties.”
Many baby boomers glorify the 20’s when they’re sporting a full head of grey. But to me, it was a time of constant worry. Would I find a job? Would I make enough to support myself? What would it be like to leave college and not have summers off? Would I ever meet that certain someone? How do I plan for retirement? Figure out things like life and health insurance? Get along with my colleagues? Find friends in a big city?
Of course, there were happy times too. But mostly, I remember being fearful. I would not willingly return to that decade.
I told this to my daughter and her friend over dinner recently. My daughter’s friend shook her head in agreement: “No one ever tells you that,” she said, seemingly relieved that post-graduate anxiety is a “shared” generational commodity.
My children are far smarter than I ever was at their age, but sometimes, experience is the wiser. So what advice do I have for Millennials as they go through their Terrifying 20’s?
This decade is incredibly pivotal for your career, emotional development and future success, but remember: it’s one of many. Your first job is important, but it’s also a stepping stone. Be humble, recognize that you’re still learning, and absorb all the nuances, politics and lessons about working in a professional environment,
You may meet the love of your life this decade, but you may not. In my experience, love is as much timing as it is romance. You have some growing up to do still. You may not be ready to commit to another person. Take your time, figure out who you are, work hard, grow your friendships, enjoy hobbies and deepen your spiritual life.
And volunteer. It’s the secret to becoming more human.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Don’t let it overwhelm you, but use it to push yourself in your job, your exercise routine, your friendships and outside of your comfort zone.
Pay attention to your finances, live below your means and remember that it’s never too early to start planning for retirement. Developing good financial habits now, while you’re starting out, will pay dividends later, literally and figuratively.
And finally, the “Terrifying 20’s” lead to the “Thoughtful 30s,” a decade I found to be filled with continued change, but overall, more fun and fulfilling. Until then, you’re going to mess up, you’re going to question everything, you’re going to wonder if you’ve made a huge mistake in your career choice, and you’ll especially wonder if you’ll be able to keep on for the next 40 or 50 years.
You will. And next thing you know, you’ll be looking at retirement or grandchildren or other life changes and you’ll look back at this stage with pride that you navigated through it.
Enjoy where you are, but know that each decade brings its own challenges and opportunities. There is something to be said for growing older and wiser.
John Updike, the American author who chronicled the joys and sorrows of regular, working class folks, said it best: “Looking foolish does the spirit good. The need not to look foolish is one of youth’s many burdens; as we get older we are exempted from more and more.”