- My expectations of the working experience of adulthood have shifted radically since my 20s.
- Here are the life lessons I’ve gained from six early beliefs that turned out to be completely wrong.
At 20, I believed that I was an adult and that I knew everything. You won’t be surprised to learn that I was wrong on both counts.
The older I get, the less I cling to perceptions from my youth. Many of the assumptions I took into my early adult life made me feel bad about myself because they were unrealistic, and I couldn’t live up to them.
Here are six things I thought I understood about adult life when I was 20 that I now know, in my 50s, were off-base.
1. Adulthood is easier than it’s made out to be
The year I turned 20, I was a senior in college. I had learned everything I needed to know, clearly. There was no doubt in my mind that I would simply stride off my college campus and take the world by storm.
What I didn’t know then was that adult life is actually a never-ending series of hills to climb. Adulthood isn’t about knowing everything but being nimble and flexible enough to master the new challenges that come every day.
2. I am mature and without much need to grow
I don’t want to hate on my 20 year old self. I was reasonably together, spunky, and willing to work hard. But I was so clueless.
In my early 20s, I was fired from my second job for boldly telling my boss I had too much respect for my clients to sell the ad agency’s work, because I thought the quality had gone downhill. I was so surprised when I got fired the next day. After that, I began to catch a clue that life is better when I am able to see things from other people’s perspectives.
3. It’s imperative to find your soulmate and get married early
- Maksim Fesenko/Shutterstock
Don’t tell anyone, but I spent my high school years wolfing down Harlequin romance novels. This gave me a slightly warped sense of relationships.
I assumed my first serious boyfriend would be my guy forever. We would get married and have kids early. I call this my “White Picket Fence” fantasy.
This plan hit a snag when our relationship ended when I was 20. It hit another snag a few years later, when I came out as a lesbian. No picket fence for me – same sex couples couldn’t even get married at that time.
Life, in its usual unpredictable way, came full circle. I did meet my soulmate (just not in my 20s), and I’m actually grateful my wife didn’t know me at 20. That girl was a jerk.
4. The best part of life is your 20s, and it’s all downhill after that
The hardest birthday of my life was the day I turned 30. I was not rich and famous and now I was too old to be a prodigy. I was crushed.
When I was 20, I assumed I would achieve amazing things at a young age. This seemed like a totally reasonable goal.
In the end, turning 30 was the best thing that happened to me. Each decade since my 20s has been better than the one before it. If I had a chance to go back and be 20 again, I wouldn’t do it.
5. My career was laid out in front of me
When I was seven, I decided I would be a writer. When I was 20, I was still sure I’d become a (famous) writer.
Except I didn’t. I applied to an ad agency hoping to write ad copy, but I got a job as an account rep instead. I thought I would write the Great American Novel in my free time, but I was too exhausted, when I wasn’t working the second job I took to pay my student loans.
My writing career, like much of the rest of my working life, has been a series of twists, turns, and opportunities that I couldn’t have anticipated. Sometimes, I still wonder what I’ll be when I grow up. I hope I figure it out before I retire.
6. Fame and acclaim are in my future
- Caroline McCredie/Getty
When I was about 10, I had the thought that I might grow up to be a mother and housewife, like my mother. I quickly dismissed this as impossible. I was definitely going to be rich and famous.
At age 20, I still clung to this belief. If I’m honest, many (ahem) years later, I continue to struggle with the feeling that I’m a failure at life because I’m not rich and famous. The problem with this goal is that, no matter what I do achieve, I hold it up against what I think I should be doing and come up short.
Someday, I’ll grow out of this, too.