I remember seeing my friends get married one by one when I didn't even have a girlfriend. I wondered what was wrong with me. Was I so unattractive? Was I so strange and unlikable? Every time I dated a girl, I wondered what in the hell she was talking about. How long could I hold this fake smile while she went on about stuff that didn't interest me? Would I end up alone? Was there a word for a male spinster?
I remember sleeping in a sleeping bag on my apartment's kitchen floor with my dog curled up beside me. It was my attempt to delay turning on the heat until late December. If I hadn't worked as a cook, I don't think I could have afforded to feed myself. My rent was half of my weekly income. I rode a bicycle to work and school because it was all I had. On rainy days I hitchhiked.
I remember college friends preparing for careers they had planned their whole lives (or at least since high school). Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were born to do... but me. Should I be a musician? A psychotherapist? A writer? A minister? A photographer? A chef? How would I know? Those career aptitude tests were no help. My results always pointed to all of those things! What if I graduate from college with a degree in one thing and then decide I want to do something different? OMG! What if I go into a field and then decide that I hate it? OMG...OMG!!
I remember being six feet tall, 172 pounds with a big smile and a head full of curly hair like a lion's mane. I only knew that I felt fat and homely. I was sure that all people saw was a big doofy guy with a chipped tooth. I would never look better in my entire life... and my poor self-image caused me to miss that experience entirely.
It was hard to be in my 20s. It felt like I was expected to go from carefree teenager to responsible adult overnight. There was so much pressure to be so many things: Someone's steady boyfriend/husband, someone successful, someone confident, someone who never made mistakes.
Now, I'm 62. I have friends (and a son) in their 20s, and I offer this advice:
Somehow, I eventually met and married my best friend. Somehow I found my niche and my balance. I figured out how to pay the bills and still do what I enjoyed. Life teaches us to be resilient and we gain the confidence of knowing that we will emotionally-survive everything that it throws at us. We even manage to become wise... and make fewer mistakes.
Decades from now, you'll look at a photo of yourself from today and marvel at how good you looked. But, if you're honest with yourself, you'll admit that life is much easier and less stressful than it was then. You'll figure out that the people who are attracted to you are attracted to the person you've become... not just the shell that strangers see.
If you should become disenchanted with the field you choose, you can change your mind and try another. I did. I worked in Human Resources for 12 years before entering grad school for Psychotherapy. If you have too many interests to choose just one, so did I. I wound up working as a psychotherapist for four days a week and a drummer for three days a week… and I wrote books and built things in between. I still find time for photography and I am the cook in our house.
Forget about doing things the “right way.” Focus on figuring out YOUR way.
Take advantage of your 20s. Your energy and potential for learning are at their peak. In your 20s, I promise that you have no idea what your life will be like at 35, 45, 55 or beyond.
But relax. Everything is going to be okay.
UPDATE: If any young people are interested in hearing more of my thoughts on this subject. earlier this year (2020), I was interviewed on this subject on a video podcast which can be seen by clicking the YouTube link above.