Surviving Your Twenties: The Myth of Being an Adult

“I found my twenties to be very difficult,” says Lisa Kudrow in an interview with the Sunday Chronicle. “You have all this information on your side, but you don’t have the experience to judge it. I had been crying for two weeks, every day, so I started seeing a therapist.”

The twenties can be one of the most challenging transitions in life. Part of what adds to the challenge is that we are conditioned to believe that once we reach the ripe age of twenty-one, we are supposed to know how to function in the world as fully capable adults. Nothing could be further from the truth. We tend to think of turning thirteen as the age that marks the passage into adulthood, but the reality is that the process of becoming an adult actually begins in the early twenties and continues in stages for the rest of our lives.

What does it mean to be an adult? Adulthood is most simply defined as being a fully responsible human being, one that has learned how to take good care of one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual self. Clearly this is a monumental task, one that cannot be completed in a single decade. Yet we are thrown into our twenties with the expectation of being able to achieve this task, and when we struggle with it, we feel that we are failing.

Our culture tends to regard adolescence as the time when humans wrestle with the questions of “Who am I?” and “What is my place in the world?”. Perhaps in the past, when people were expected to reach maturity, marry, and be an independent person by the age of eighteen, this time-line of self-growth made sense. But now, with the age of marriage and financial independence becoming increasingly delayed, it is in our twenties when we are handed the task of figuring out who we are–our identity–and what we want to do with our lives–our purpose.

As with any rite of passage–adolescence, adulthood, marriage, the birth of a child, old age–there is a letting go and a rebirth as we release the old identity and welcome in the new way of life. As we move through our twenties it is helpful to keep in mind not only the fact that these are difficult years as we attempt to find our place in the world, but also that we are finally releasing our last attachments to childhood. If we can hold the awareness that it is completely normal to grieve and struggle, the transition into adulthood will be more fluid.

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Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998 she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and  has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, “The Conscious Bride” and “The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner,” and her websites, www.consciousweddings.com and www.consciousmotherhood.com. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions available internationally for all types of transitions.

13 comments to Surviving Your Twenties: The Myth of Being an Adult

  • I’m glad you posted this, Sheryl. I have found my 20s to be a time of struggling to find some sort of identity. I know one thing that keeps me from moving toward parenthood is the thought of losing my childhood and finally having to “grow up” and be a real adult – even though I am already by every definition of the term. I wish more people recognize that grieving is part of the process!

    • I think at each major transition there’s a letting go of childhood and growing up that has to occur. Yes, I wish more people recognized how important it is to grieve at each stage, and that the more we allow ourselves to grieve the more we can joyously embrace the new stage. There’s so much resistance to grieving in our culture which, I think, is connected to our fundamental denial and fear of death. In order to move through transitions consciously there has to be a recognition that death is part of the process. We use words like “letting go” to make it more palatable, but it’s really death and dying that we’re talking about, which terrifies most people (me included!). More on this in future posts…

  • Natalie

    While I found this post very interesting, it was only made more interesting by your response to Anna’s comment. Fear of death and dying is HUGE for me (what it feels like after I die) and I know it’s a huge part of my fear of getting older and “growing up.” Finding the Conscious Weddings board has allowed me to realize that every transition is a death and rebirth process, and it all makes total sense to me now logically. When I’m experiencing anxiety, I know it’ll pass and I feel more able to deal with it. My 20s have been challenging and I’m looking forward to a time where I feel more comfortable in my skin… even if it’s another 20 years from now. I’m about to enter my last year of my 20s and I feel much more secure and like I know myself much better. And I feel I have your site to thank because without it, I wouldn’t have this understanding of all of this.

    • The fear of death is so big for many people and it’s really at the heart of transition anxiety – which makes increasingly more sense to me why so many people resist talking about transitions. In transitions we ARE dying to an old stage of life and identity and if our relationship to death is tenuous, the anxiety will be activated. I wrote about this in my Master’s thesis (which turned into The Conscious Bride) and this conversation – as well as several of my sessions this week – is inspiring me to go look up what I wrote all those years ago.

      So wonderful to see the Conscious Weddings message board members here! Thank you for writing and sharing.

      And Natalie, life is so much easier once you reach 30. You will feel more and more comfortable in your skin as you move through your 30s – I promise you!

  • Allan

    Hi Sheryl,
    First of all I so appreciate and admire your work! Somehow I always end up with a smile and a warm feeling inside after reading your articles 🙂
    I really hope you are right about feeling better in your skin at your 30’s! cause I feel like I’m having a huge responsibility on my shoulders once I reach 30. Not just suddenly of course, there has been a natural development in many area’s which took years, but 30 is really the sacred number for me. I absolutely want to literally cut the robes of many of my attachments, and forcefully start a new way of living. I’m convinced this will do me good, because the drastic way has always been the best way for me, for several reasons, and, like I wrote, there has been some development as well, leading to this choice. However, what I’m concerned about is that, though biologically I’m transitioning from my 20’s to my 30’s, in some way it feels like I’m transitioning from my adolescence to young adulthood. You explained already in your article, that nowadays it’s all being delayed anyhow. But I think in my case I also have a kind of a general lateness in the sense that some special circumstances, both internal and external, never allowed me to transition from adolescence into young adult hood and it is only now, after 5 years of living on my own (before I was always somehow dependent on others), that I actually feel the excitement of a whole live ahead of me (which normally happens at young adult hood). So I have this weird feeling that my biological clock is transitioning into my 30’s (after all the body never lies) but my consciousness is way behind ,so there’s a gab of 10 years between my consciousness and my body. So I was wondering if you could say something on that.

  • admin

    Hi Allan,

    Thank you for this comment and I’m so glad the blog is has been helpful. It sounds like you’re right on track with your understanding of your current transition. I wouldn’t say that there’s as much of a gap between your body and your consciousness as you think there is : ) In other words, yes, biologically you’re entering your 30s, and your consciousness seems very aligned with this leap, so from where I stand I don’t see much of a disparity. What matters more than your body and consciousness being in alignment is that you honor this transition as thoroughly as possible, asking yourself the important questions about what you’re leaving behind, what you need to grieve, what aspects of yourself you hope to expand during the rebirth aspect of your transition.

    I hope that’s helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    Sheryl

  • KD

    This is the first time I have read this post and I am thankful I did. I am 25 (almost 26) and still trying to navigate adult life.

    I think young women and men today are in a unique spot. We’re brought up to believe that we’ll be rock stars and make millions by the age of 30. We’ll be ivy leaguers and we’ll have successful careers and eventually great marriages.

    But reality has changed… we’re graduating from school and entering an unstable workplace or moving back in with our parents. We’re trying to be independent, but so often lean on the people and the things that have always brough us comfort (ex: parents). And, while I feel ahead of the game in some respects, I know I am less independent than my parents were at my age, as they were less than their parents before them.

    I’ve definitely blossomed since my teenage years, and I hope I continue to do so as I approach 3-0. However, I know I am still sorting out who I am and what I want. And just as we wish we knew back when what we know now, I too wish I knew what I was doing. I guess I am still undergoing that crazy beautiful transition 🙂

  • So beautifully said, KD : ) Thank you, as always, for your honest and insightful comment.

  • sarah

    My 20s have been nothing like I’ve expected (which reminds me of checking and letting go of expectations) and I can only hope and pray that my 30s come with more clarity and confidence. Like Allan said, I’m wanting to cut ties with so many of my attachments, from my furniture to overall lifestyle. I want to fully cleanse my life and start anew, living life the way I choose to rather than how I’ve just ended up living. Living consciously is so simple yet so complicated (at least while in a relationship, it seems, when someone else’s feelings are involved).

    I’ve absolutely been feeling the fear of death lately and am starting to recognize how that is a huge factor in keeping me stuck. Moving forward means being that much closer to death (literally) and by not moving forward I’m preventing myself from benefiting from this transition.

  • tony

    Excellent, excellent article…put a lot of things in perspective for me.

  • Trevor

    Thank you so much for posting this.

  • Sopotito

    I couldn’t agree more with what Sarah wrote:

    “Moving forward means being that much closer to death (literally) and by not moving forward I’m preventing myself from benefiting from this transition.”

    It’s exactly how I feel, too. On the other hand, I’m now 32 and I feel I still don’t have (almost) any clue about who I am and what I want of my life. Maybe a bit more than ten years ago, but not much. And at least I was much more hopeful ten years ago – I felt I had so many opportunities ahead of me, which have disappeared during this last decade for me.

    I know I should and think I’d also like to move forward, but besides my fear of getting older (ie. fear of dying), what is keeping me stuck is also the fact that I’m fed up of moving on just for the sake of moving on, like I did during my teenager years and my 20s… At this point, I’d love to finally be able to find a clearer direction. It’s making me very anxious not to have one, but I feel I’ve searched for it already everywhere and don’t know what else to try anymore, so I end up doing nothing, which makes me feel even more anxious…

    I seem to not have any answers, but I thank you Sheryl and all you wonderful people who write on these boards for at least making me ask myself new questions and think about my situation from new perspectives.

    (P.S. Maybe you should write an article about the 30s too 🙂