At 27 years old, my twenties (so far) have left me feeling pummelled, bruised and more-than-a-little tender. There I was, happy in my little university bubble, but graduation came and went in a flash, and suddenly reality wanted its pound of flesh. I was given fair warning about the emotional difficulties I would face in my teens, but my twenties kicked me right in the solar plexus. Why is it that while we were relatively braced for becoming teenagers, no guidance was issued before we entered our twenties?
The hormone-fuelled dramas that played out across our teenage years failed to elicit much surprise from our parents. They knew what was coming and shared that knowledge with us. Because of the various commentaries about the trials of puberty that I had borne witness to, by the time my teens arrived I was aware that they would be at least a challenge. Comments like ‘she’s just going through the difficult teen phase’ after one tantrum or another made moody extremes of behaviour seem rather run of the mill.
Those years segued into university (not such a major adjustment), but then it was time to grow up and join the real world. And that's exactly where I feel I was unprepared. I wish I'd been warned about the emotional, professional and social challenges that were fast coming my way.
Like me, many of my generation were convinced by teachers and lecturers that we'd have no problems landing our dream jobs, only to discover that 1,001 other people wanted THAT job. Many of us had grand plans to fly the nest and move to London immediately (if not sooner) only to find that it was nearly impossible to do so (and survive) on a graduate's salary. And, to make it all worse, there was the acute Facebook-induced envy caused by endless photos of smug individuals already employed in their dream jobs, living in their dream pads, and having Instagram-perfect barbeques with their besties every weekend (even in winter, the sods).
What of the role of social media in all this? The nature of the beast means that we have instant access to people’s lives, and so we naturally only post the things that we want other people to see and admire. Regardless of whether this is a conscious effort to incite jealousy or not, the effect is pretty much the same and it's all too easy to assume your contemporaries are leading perfect professional and social lives while you’re looking at another weekend developing your relationship with the Dominos delivery guy.
And therein lies the root of the problem. We’re so busy presenting a glossy and photo-ready front, teamed with an innate sense of competitiveness and overuse of the word ‘fine’ (it never means 'fine'), that most of us are left with the feeling that we’re the only ones who are groping through the dark.
My generation has been told that we’re going to be Mark Zuckerberg-like leaders and CEOs by the time we’re 30, with early retirement just a decade away. Well, I turn 30 in 32 months and I can guarantee that I will not be a CEO by then (unless it’s of Charlotte Rottenburg Inc., net value £50). It turns out we have to become pretty nifty at beating off fellow Millennials with a professionally barbed stick to get the jobs and promotions we want. The sad reality is that an estimated 44% of people who have graduated in the last four years are stuck in low-wage jobs, and only 42% of those graduates claim that they are in the career they wanted.
Our twenties are the crucial years in which our identities are really shaped. Away from the cliques and unwritten social rules of home, school and university, we can be whomever we choose to be, which is actually pretty terrifying. This new-found independence can be daunting and overwhelming. Personally, I often feel like I’m madly treading water, trying to stay afloat and choose the best direction for my life when, honestly, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.
But I do know this: I'm not alone. And realising that I am not the only one having a tough time plays a huge part in alleviating my feelings of inadequacy. It’s something I’ve only recently done, and the positive effect it has made to my general mind-set is huge.The majority of my contemporaries in those 'perfect' jobs are also working long hours. And they've also had moments of self-doubt, days where they feel like chucking their keyboard at their boss’s head, and had small weeping fits in the loo. It’s just that no one will ever admit it. But we should; we're all in this together and we should be supporting each other.
So the next time you find yourself alone at home at the weekend, staring at your Instagram and Facebook feeds, convinced that everyone else is at some über-cool party that you haven’t been invited to, remember this: social media is just a form of personal advertising. No one posts sad selfies. Beneath the Valencia filter, everyone else is working their butts off to make it through the minefield of their twenties, just like you. Once you realise that - and remember that quiet determination, patience, empathy and kindness (to yourself and others) goes a long way – the rocky road through this decade of establishing yourself in the world will become a lot easier to navigate.
Words by Charlotte Rottenburg