If I could sum up my experience as a twenty-something thus far simply and honestly: 80% getting it wrong, 20% getting it right, with a healthy side dose of anxiety, excitement and confusion.
Getting it “wrong” has been a huge part of my life process as I try to figure out who I am, what I like, what I don’t like one bit and what I want to do (and not do) with my life.
My wrongs have been plentiful thus far. Case in point: Career. After an intensive 3 years in art school where I studied photography, I exited college and took the first job I found. Not in art or remotely close, although maybe folding clothes could be artistic if we’re really stretching it. I took that retail job as a means to eventually jump ship to an entry-level position in corporate (retail) America and landed there a few months later.
That job could not have been more wrong for me. Sure, I was good at it and made friends and got free clothes and also had one important thing needed for success in your 20s: a PAYCHECK. Yet I was never happy at that job and always complaining about it. It was boring and stressful at the same time. Yet it was comfortable territory and I was getting paid, so I stayed.
Another example: Relationships. Another big part of your 20s, which I think is important for anyone, is to truly explore your options. Date a lot of people–often a lot of wrong people—and find what you need and want in a relationship as well as what you don’t.
I thought I was dating someone when I wasn’t (more than once), was treated poorly and treated others poorly, almost moved in with someone I shouldn’t have (and didn’t), reconnected with exes who eventually reminded me why they were exes, and made poor judgment calls that hurt people more than once. But, I also had some good relationships in which I learned trust, communication, reasonable differences, common core values and respect are the pillars of a great relationship and the type of relationship I wanted to find.
And because I could keep listing examples all day long, it’s also worth mentioning MONEY. Ugh. I started working in retail at 16 and don’t think I saved a penny of ANY paycheck I saw until I was 23, and that may even be putting it nicely. I didn’t pay attention to money at all and thus it flowed freely into and right back out of my life. I had a lot of credit card debt, didn’t understand my 401k benefits at work (never asked, then later cashed it out when I left to move to FL), lived paycheck to paycheck with no cushion, used student loan checks unwisely, bought a bunch of crap I didn’t need, I think you get the picture.
I realize a lot of the choices or things I have done may seem “wrong” on the surface. I’ve definitely let guilt overwhelm me and felt the pressure of being wrong. But as the common saying goes, hindsight really is 20/20 and I see now that the path to the right stuff is often paved with the wrong.
Yes, my first job out of college was kind of a bust. It wasn’t related to my college major but it did pay my bills. It enabled me to actually pay my own rent without having to ask my parents for help. I also learned a LOT from that first job. It taught me about handling stress. I learned how to juggle tons of tasks at once while still meeting everyone’s deadlines. I got a taste of what it’s like to manage others, and also learned that the work environment of corporate America probably wasn’t the best fit for me.
And relationships? I dated a lot of wrong people and eventually was able to figure out what matters most to me in a partner. All qualities my current boyfriend possesses. I’m thankful for those times I spent exploring my options and figuring out what mattered to me, and I’m also thankful for the time I spent being single and loving myself. I may have felt lonely at the time, or heartbroken, but all of those experiences prepped me for a stellar relationship I’m thankful for every day.
Money has been the most recent undertaking for me, and while the more I learn about it the less I seem to understand, I have made waves in improving my finances. In an odd way, I’m thankful for experiencing that paycheck-paycheck life and the stress of debt, because now I know what it feels like both to have debt and be free from it. I know the secure feeling that comes from having a little extra saved up for the inevitable “rainy day” or, more accurately, the trifecta of horrible unexpected expenses that all seem to happen at once. Not understanding certain money concepts led to a desire to understand them and make smarter choices.
Every job, relationship, experience, choice and outcome has something to offer. At the very least, you can learn from what you’ve done wrong and appreciate it for teaching you what exactly the wrong thing is.
You will not have the perfect job the second you graduate, you will probably not find Mr. (or Mrs.) right on your first try and you’ll stumble and fall a lot, especially in the first few years as a twenty-something. But it’s not a mark of failure or poor judgement on your part. It’s just a reminder that getting it right takes work.
You may be wrong today, but somewhere in the future, you’re getting it right.