I've never been that much of a self-help person. I don't really have a stigma about it, but I suppose I just (naively) thought that I didn't need a book to help me work out my problems. Right? Not so much. Here enters The 20 Something Manifesto, a book that I have been shamelessly recommending to everyone ever since I first read it a few months ago.
It doesn't preach at you, or talk about lots of oooey-gooey new-agey stuff, or read like something Oprah would recommend. It's by a young person (I think she's about 33 now) and the meat of the book consists of short essays by twentysomethings about their own experiences, accompanied by the author's commentary. Little submitted quotes are sprinkled throughout the book, and I was surprised that I could relate to nearly all of them.
Before breaking down and buying this book (along with a few others) I would joke about how I was going through a Quarterlife Crisis, but it became apparent that it wasn't a joke, I actually was dealing with one. Finishing grad school recently was both scary and exciting, because although it's a great accomplishment, here I am in the world without school as a cushion for the first time in my life. In the last two years I went through an enormous upheaval and tons of changes, most of which I was not prepared for. I graduated college, got married, moved several hours away from everyone I knew, and my partner jumped right into his career while I started grad school. We went from having a few bills in college to having tons of freaking bills and became completely independent from our parents. We thought this town couldn't possibly be that much different from Wilmington (we were spoiled throughout college-- Wilmington has a great arts and music scene) and experienced an enormous Expectation Hangover™ when we realized that the new town was just the opposite. This is how an Expectation Hangover is described by one person in the book:
"It feels like a dull pain in my chest. It's the terrible disappointment I've felt when faced with the results of my decisions and has led to some depression, much anxiety, and a lot of introspection. I would say during these Hangovers I am motivated towards change-- but the scary part is seeing how to make the change and also seeing the obstacles in the way, mainly being the opinion of family and loved ones. These obstacles can make what seems to be a simple fix a much more complicated process." (Hassler, 32).If that sounds familiar, you are so not alone. I was shocked by how many people in my age group are slightly lost, overwhelmed, depressed, or at the very least just plain stressed about what they're supposed to be doing.
"Our culture really focuses on youth and success, and many of us feel that we have to be fabulously successful by age thirty or we're failures. I think we forget that lives don't have to follow a single path... Many people don't become successful until they're older, which makes a lot of sense." -- Graduate student, 25, dating, New Jersey (Hassler, 44).One of the best things that I took from the Manifesto is that comparing yourself to other people is an absolute dead-end habit. We have such a tendency to do that; she's more successful than me because of her job, where she lives, whatever. Lady Gaga is younger than me, but it makes no sense for me to compare myself to her because (obviously) we're on completely different tracks! So why should it be any different with people that I actually know?
It took reading about other people's experiences to make me realize that I just needed to do what I wanted to do and stop worrying so much. I spent the past year worrying about getting a job after school, while at the same time knowing that I wasn't quite ready for a full-time librarian job at this point. I felt like the world would end and everything I worked for would fall apart if I didn't get a position right out of school and jump into my career head first. The idea of Jeremy as a travel nurse was both exciting and terrifying for us-- we would have to travel lightly, move frequently, and would be on our own even more-- but I couldn't shake the feeling that I would never find a librarian job if I took time off after grad school. But traveling is such a huge opportunity and seems to have come along at the perfect time, so we would be crazy not to go for it. I finally realized it's okay to do something that wasn't originally in my plan-- a huge deal for someone who obsessively plans things as much as I do.
"During my Expectation Hangover, every day it seemed like something would go wrong or not work out for me. It would seem that my needs were not being met. In actuality it was me not accepting the position that life had put me in. I was fighting the present and trying to regain the past, which only made everyone around me suffer-- including me." Teacher, 25, serious relationship, Illinois (Hassler, 45).
I think every twentysomething can relate to this. Every decision you make right now feels huge and important and you think if you do the wrong thing everything will fall apart and you'll be miserable forever. It's not true! You have to make yourself go for something scary and different and trust that your life will keep going. You probably know deep down what will make you happy-- moving to a bigger city, switching jobs, going back to school, making a career out of a hobby. We all have a fear of failure, and god knows I've heard this advice given a million times in my adult life but it's only been relevant to me now-- you really do have to try things, no matter how scary they are, and you have to make a conscious choice to be happy and accept what life gives you.
"It seems like every decision you make in your twenties is the most important decision of your life. It's like you're standing at many crossroads, and they're all beckoning you to take a risk." -- Writer, 26, serious relationship, Texas (Hassler, xxiv).
You can poke around at Christine Hassler's blog here for some quick inspiration, and pick up The 20 Something Manifesto if any of this sounds familiar.
Hassler, Christine. The 20 Something Manifesto: Quarter-lifers Speak Out About Who They
Are, What They Want, and How to Get It. Novato: New World Library, 2008. Print.