Earlier this year, I read an article about a well-educated young woman who gave up her successful “career” job and life in NYC to move to St John and scoop cones at an ice cream shop, much to the dismay of her family and friends. After reading it, I felt an overwhelming desire to immediately leave my life and move to the USVI to scoop ice cream and find chickens in my bathroom.
At the time, I was living in Maui. I had my own condo right across the street from the beach in a south Maui resort town, lived 5 minutes from the island’s best snorkeling spots, had an amazing work situation where I made great money but had absolute flexibility and heaps of leftover hours in a day to “play,” hiked volcanoes every other day, etc… All this to say — I was already living in paradise, and arguably in a much better work/financial situation than I would’ve been scooping ice cream. Also, I’d visited the USVI a few months before and decided that I absolutely had made the right choice in picking Hawaii rather than the Virgins. So that sudden desire to move there was startling and made no sense whatsoever.
I wrote this as a response to the whole ‘this is the only valid and epic way to live out your twenties’ theme that loves to parade across social media, inspiring jealousy, insecurity, doubts, and regret. I got distracted and never posted it, but with my recent life changes I’ve been thinking about the subject again so dug this up. If you’re curious, here’s the story that got me thinking about this subject. **Note: I am not in any way criticizing the writer or trying to insinuate that she was saying everyone should quit their $95,000/year jobs and move to St John to scoop ice cream — She was not; she was simply sharing her (beautiful) story. But, it (ironically) inspired a bit of location envy in me and got me thinking about the why of that — and the danger of it.
Every week it seems like I come across a new article spreading like wildfire across the internet about what you should (or shouldn’t) be doing in your 20s. Ironically, many of them contradict each other. Some say to shun responsibilities and career growth to travel like a vagabond. Some suggest staying single or dating as many people as possible, while others glorify the advantages of marrying young. While they’re typically somewhat convincing (and also feelings-of-inadequacy-inducing,) I would suggest that we not listen to them.
I spent a fairly significant portion of my life fearing that there was one ‘right’ way for me to live my life, and that any detour from that ideal, be it small or large, would screw everything up… for ever. But the more “squiggles” quirked up my life path, the more I realized that the only screwed-up thing was that belief. Rather than being a neat and orderly straight line, my life path thus far has been full of messy squiggles and outside-the-line zig zags… and I’m okay with that. So when I come across one of those articles that tries to tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing, what I’m doing wrong, or all the things I’m missing out on—there’s a little voice in my heart that politely says, “No, thank you.”
When I say not to listen to anything anyone says about how you should live your 20s, I’m including myself—a fellow journeyer in my late-20s—in that. Sure, I could write my own version of one of those articles about how choosing to make myself and my dreams a priority during my 20s rather than committing to (or staying committed to) romantic relationships has been the best and most rewarding choice I could have possibly made, and how avoiding any sort of career stability to be self-employed, independent, and free to travel the word and move thousands of miles on a whim is the only right way to spend your 20s, and it would be a pretty kick-ass article that would most likely fill you with a wistful mixture of longing, envy, and regret because I would show you, as these articles always do, only the shiny side of everything. But the thing is, that’s my truth. The idea that since it’s my truth it is also everyone else’s truth is extraordinarily conceited and invalid. And if you’ve chosen to follow a different path and read that (hypothetical) article and did feel a wistful mixture of longing, envy, and regret…well, that would be a travesty (just as it would be a travesty for me to read about your chosen life path and begin to question my own.)
For the most part my choices really were the best thing —but they were the best thing for me. Another person may be in a completely different place with a completely different choice that is the best thing for them. For example, in my early 20s I’d been through a string of traumatic events and bad relationships and was not healthy or whole, so the people and relationships I attracted were also not healthy—we attract what we think we deserve. I am hugely grateful that I let each of them go to continue on my own path, as it was essential to my journey toward wholeness. Yet I have friends who made the opposite choice, and it was the right choice for them. They were either in a more ‘healthy’ place or they and their partner were able to help each other towards wholeness and authenticity (this is definitely the exception, rather than the norm), so for them, choosing to marry (or commit to a serious relationship) at that point has been a spectacular adventure that was absolutely the best thing for them. And it’s the same in every area—I’ve got friends who have been chasing PhDs while I’ve been chasing new countries and zip codes, and building stability while I’ve been avoiding the mere idea of stability like the plague…and those are all the right things! There’s just simply not one ‘right’ path.
Everyone is going to have input on how we should be living our life—at every stage and every age, not just in our 20s. But the only voice we need to listen to is our own. As long as we’re engaging actively in this journey of life, following our hearts, consistently stretching and growing, and searching the depths of our souls to discover and create the most authentic versions of ourself, we’re on the right path.
It doesn’t matter if we choose to immerse ourselves in years of schooling or climbing the corporate ladder, sell all of our stuff to hitchhike around the world, live out of our parent’s basement to work toward a dream, selflessly volunteer in a 3rd-world country, quit school and drift through a random series of jobs and relationships while we to try to figure out what the hell we want in life, or embark on a wild parenting adventure with a lover before having done any of those things.