There seems to me that we experience a strange kind of revolution when we progress through our 20s; it feels as if we go from a point of naivety in which we feel the world is golden beneath our feet into a sort of organisational purgatory. A place where the ground we walk upon is so unsure that we have to be careful where we tread, lest we fall before we even start living. It’s as if throughout adolescent there is a mask which covers our eyes and fills our egos with the belief that we are untouched by the world and our experiences. This mask slowly being warn away by the stark reality that our world, although beautiful and spectacular, is adorned with weaponry and we must armour ourselves against. I guess it’s a construct really; the stress we begin to understand, the pressures we begin to feel, the reality which begins to appear. Its society’s game; the slap in the face that is supposed to wake you up to the ‘real working world’, the bucket of water which kills your dreams before they have even begun to come into fruition.
Yes, there is an amount of cynical thinking which comes with feeling this way. However, it feels more rational to take a step back and try to understand the confusion and depression which seems to sweep generations when they enter their twenties. To me it’s reminiscent of the ‘Great American Dream’ in which propaganda was sold filling the minds of a whole country with this glistening image of solidarity, hope and love. However this dream was made so unachievable for so many that people lost hope, lost solidarity and love became hardship. The world itself when you are an adolescent looks like the Great American Dream; you are fed the idea that you will go to university straight out of school, you are sold the image of you and all of your ‘life-long friends’, you are told that this is what will ‘prepare you’ for all the glories adulthood. Yet, when those graduation caps fly up in the air they tear down the wallpaper which has been layered around you all these years by the institutions which have ‘parented’ you.
…And there you see the cracked wall, the reality that has eluded you; that you are living in a concrete cell and that to operate within this cell you have to have a skill set which these institutions have told you nothing about. A juggling act of sorts has to begin, in which we try to manage all the hoops that society makes us jump through in order to keep a float whilst also trying to hold onto our dreams; these dreams that reflect our true desires in life. However, again, for so many these dreams seem to move further and further away from us as our minds become filled with ‘bills, work, schedules, appointments, and assets to gain’. Not that we innately as humans want to be full of this dreary reality. No, we want to be living; actively living. We want to be gaining new experiences, learning things that interest us, filling our hearts with the laughter of others, engaging with people on a deeper level then just complaining that ‘we have no money this month’.
That, within our current society, is the difference between what we are told we want and need and what we as an individual, beneath all the material, actually yearn for. So the juggling act deepens. Within our 20s, freshly tainted by our wake up calls, we feel the pressure so immensely crush the essence of our spark within us. We yearn to go back to the comfort of youth in which our parents provided us with warm and reassurance. We pine for the days when we could just be in the moment and not have to constantly chase a future and plan all our tomorrows. We ask to be taken back to a time in which innocence was expected and not frowned upon. We are split, we are asked to do one thing with the promise of having the resources needed to do the other. Yet time slips from us; we slowly are given less and less rest-bite to replenish the light within us which is stomped out by all the hoops we are desperately trying to jump through.
For me I feel this is why I see so many people around me fighting their way through their twenties; trying to put together a life plan which will allow them to reach some sort of comfort at the end of the day when they leave their concrete cell. But we should try and take comfort from all moments which make up our day. Although we face hard decisions, unwanted tasks, times of sadness; what should really be taught to us is ways to still feel alive and to still be comfortable in times of distress. Society, it seems, does not teach us how to function within it and remain happy; instead teaching us just that we must function within it. ‘Work hard at school it will set you up for university’, ‘Work hard at university it will set you up for life’, ‘Work hard in your life and it will set you up for retirement’. Where are the words of encouragement, where are the words of reinforcement, when are we shown how to live healthily- ‘to work to live’ and ‘not to live to work’?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t work; in fact there is something really satisfying about practically applying ourselves to tasks. However, it seems that it has become the expectation in life that all of our goals should be set around a career (if this makes you happy out of choice then excellent). We are told that once we reach the end of our educational journeys all we should be setting our sights on is how we get our money. We are almost commanded to lose all the rest of our desires and aspirations; we should no longer pine for further knowledge of ourselves and the world, we should no longer wish to collect new experiences or visit new places –‘travelling is for the young’ and ‘social gatherings are something you do in your youth’. I see people much older than myself still cherishing and holding onto feelings of freedom, still working towards building themselves up and not settling where they are not satisfied.
It’s a personal thing really. Happiness is relative to a person’s own wants and needs. Nevertheless, what I mean to say is that do not let yourself be caught within your concrete cell as if is our only reality. There is a world outside of us full of life and beauty that does not centre on assets and wealth. There is also an entirely spectacular world within ourselves which is refuge for everything we may not say. Light your own path, do whatever you wish, just do not believe that growing up means quashing your excitement and wonder at everything. Do not feel that you have to have all of the answers laid out before you and do not feel like just because society tells you so you have to follow the path of least resistance. Walk up at mountain if it means you will feel fulfilled once you reach the summit, do not stay planted on the ground because ‘that mountain has never been walked up before’.
Our 20s may be the time where we are desperately trying to adjust to what we are told we have to do, but is it is also the time that our youth is still so fresh within us. It is a time in which we can see how hard everyone is working around us to keep themselves together, but we can also still remember the wonder and beauty which we felt before material reality caught up with us. Thus, this is the time where we can craft our lives, with enough reflection, to fit both our internal and external realities. It is the time where we can decide to change our worlds, we can carve our own paths and we can remind others that there is so much more than the concrete cell we are all living in.