by Paul Angone; an excerpt from his book “101 Secrets for Your Twenties”
An A- student in college. The editor in chief of the university newspaper. Peter had big plans as he crossed the graduation stage—to be a journalist, maybe an editor, at the city newspaper. His dream was to write stories that matter. To highlight the good going on in the world instead of the bad.
Everyone knew Peter would make it.
Through a friend’s dad he was able to land an internship. Worked hard. Started getting a few small assignments. Could see some light at the beginning of his dream. Landed his first big interview with the mayor.
Then, his whole department was laid off.
Cue scrambling to find a job anywhere. Cue selling advertising space. Cue vague memories of the last two years, each day blending together in a kaleidoscope of monotony.
Peter can’t really complain about his job. Oh, he used too. Every day. But not now. He’s settled in. Good wage. Good hours. Good boss. Good corner-cubicle and if he leans backward far enough and to the left, he can just see the window and the top branches of an elm tree.
His dreams of being a journalist have slowly died. But his 401(k) is alive and well.
But as he loops his tie this morning and cinches the knot, his hands move to a standstill. He stares into the mirror, his eyes locking like two spies trying to tell if the other is lying or telling the truth.
Then THE QUESTION hits him.
One that he’s been avoiding. He wants to run from it even now, but it’s caught him like a shrimp in a net.
What am I doing with my life?
There. He’s said it.
He has a good wage at a good job. Monotonous, meaningless, mundane….
But my life was supposed to matter. To have an impact. To do something worth doing.
Our generation’s greatest question has gripped him tight this morning and is not letting go.
Peter’s story is my story. And maybe it’s yours too. Sure the details are different, but I believe What Now? is the question looming in the back of our generation’s closet.
There is a collective Twentysomething-Struggle going on. We’re being propelled into the rest of our lives and nothing can bring us back. How do we make sure we’re shot in the right direction, while not being splattered across any windshields in the process?
For years in my 20s I experienced ample amounts of my own un-success. I became bitter. Frustrated. Angry at God, man, and myself. My 20s weren’t turning out to be the successfest I’d planned and somebody, everybody was to blame.
What was I doing wrong? Why were all my big dreams and plans mere fairy tales to life’s blunt reality? Was everyone else sailing on the Rock Your 20s Cruise Ship and somehow I’d missed that boat?
Sitting on a not-so-glamorous motel room floor, while traveling for my less-than-ideal sales job, I made a pact with myself, God, and that ’80s floral motel bedspread right next to me: I was going to find the secrets to doing my 20s right. Because up to that point it all felt nothing but wrong.
2,555 days ago when I began looking for the truth to our 20s, I didn’t realize that it would take being body slammed by massive questions, studying, searching, pleading, pushing, crying, caffeinating, praying, failing, and failing, and failing, wondering if I’d lost my mind, researching, experiencing mild success sandwiched in-between modest failure, crying to God to be transported to my 30s, being lost and then found time and time again to reach this point.
These secrets that I’m about to share with you were not easily obtained. All I ask is that you do something with them. Or even better, allow the possibility of them doing something with you.
No. 6: Life will never feel like it’s supposed to.
When am I going to experience the success I am supposed to? I’ve asked that question exactly 4,399 times and only now am I catching a whiff of the answer.
Because what the heck is “supposed to”? Who holds the blueprint for my life—down to the number of kids, salary, and size of my house? Who decides “supposed to”?
“Supposed to” is a lie. A fairy tale. It is the stealer of peace and productivity. It is the leading cause of Obsessive Comparison Disorder with everyone who “has it better.”
No one has it all figured out. No one holds their first child with all the answers. Not many walk right into their passion from the graduation stage. Not everyone gets married like they’re “supposed to” or climbs the corporate ladder full of broken rungs.
If we keep trying to live other people’s lives, who is going to live ours?
Being twentysomething can feel like Death by Unmet Expectations. However, you are right now, at this moment, exactly where you need to be. You’ll just only be able to see that five years and thirty-three days from today.
Let go of “supposed to.” Tie an anvil around its neck and throw it out to sea.
If we’re always trying to live like we’re “supposed to,” we’re never going to truly live.
No. 14: Don’t go Into the Wild all by yourself.
Have you read the book or seen the movie Into the Wild? It’s a true story of a guy named Chris McCandless, who graduates from Emory University top of his class, then leaves it all—his family, his savings, his car, safety, sanity, to go to Alaska to live on the land with little belongings or training.
He goes to the wild to escape all comfort and trappings that distract a person from finding truth. But as the movie progresses we also see he’s escaping memories of an abusive dad, and as he changes his name to Alexander Supertramp, he’s also trying to escape from himself.
Chris makes it to Alaska and lives in the wild. Then he becomes lost in the wild, then realizes he’s truly alone in the wild, then trapped in the wild as the river floods and blocks his retreat. Then (the book came out in 1996 and the movie in 2007, so I think the “Ruining the Ending” Statute of Limitations has passed), Chris’s final chapter is Death in the Wild.
Into the Wild wasn’t an easy movie for me to watch. For many reasons. Mainly because I recognize some of myself in Chris McCandless, on a search for truth no matter the cost. I remember questioning, wrestling, doubting, and feeling very much alone.
And if you’re in a very intense season or place of questioning, you know as well this can be a very lonely place. Sometimes painfully, undeniably, unrelentingly so. And there’s something of strange importance that takes place in us when we are stripped of all the things that used to keep us company.
But don’t allow loneliness to become isolation.
Don’t pull your head inside your shell thinking only you can protect yourself. Don’t go on a dangerous Great Alaskan Adventure to live off the land all by yourself. That’s not a search for life, that’s suicide.
We need to know, and to be known.
Invite a friend or two over for dinner. Talk, laugh once or twice—even if it’s forced, and before the meal is over you might just notice your friends are chewing on the same questions you are. And at that moment of honest conversation, you will see light in the dark and dusty corners.
No. 19: Our plans aren’t the problem. Our timeline is.
I don’t think our plans and dreams are the problem. Our krizaaaazzzy timeline of how quickly we wanted those plans and dreams to be sitting on our doorstep with a big Christmas bow is the problem.
I thought the red carpet was going to be rolled out on Day Three of life in my 20s when God had that penciled in for Day 2,334. You know, for when I was actually ready for it.
God has His timeline for your life. You have your timeline for your life. Some of the time those match—like on that one Tuesday in February, three years ago. But most of the time they don’t.
We could try and hold tight to the uncontrollable, gripping the details of our lives like a five-year-old trying to walk a rhinoceros.
Or we can let them go and do their thing. We can drop them deep into the ground and water them with creativity, consistency, and patience.
Then when it’s the right time, we’ll watch our plans and dreams grow bigger, better, and more beautiful than we ever could’ve planned.
No. 24: Love is blind. Enlist some seeing-eye dogs.
There are red flags galore waving in front of you. You’re being warned there’s a serious accident ahead, so why in the name of a 7-Car-Pile-Up are you still driving directly toward it?
Enlisting trusted guides to help direct your relationship can save your life. A friend, a parent, a sibling, someone. You need help spotting the gaping potholes and oncoming traffic in your relationship that you can’t see for yourself.
Love is blind. Don’t move your relationship forward until you’ve enlisted some extra sets of eyes.
No. 35: Obsessive Comparision Disorder is the smallpox of our generation.
Nine out of 10 doctors agree this disorder is the leading cause to eating two boxes of Girl Scout cookies while watching The Bachelor.
So what exactly is Obsessive Comparison Disorder and more importantly, is there a cure?
Obsessive Comparison Disorder Defined
Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the disease I’ve coined to describe our compulsion to constantly compare ourselves with others, producing unwanted thoughts and feelings that drive us to depression, consumption, anxiety, and all-around joyous discontent. It’s a habit from hades itself.
Like having to run outside to light up a cigarette, our addiction to comparing is uncontrollable and killing us with every puff.
How do we cure this new form of OCD?
1. Put on blinders. If you look at a horse that’s carrying a carriage out in public, the horse will usually have blinders on. Blinders keep them from being distracted or freaked out by the noise of the peripheral. Blinders force them to focus on what’s exactly in front of them, and nothing else.
We all need a set of blinders. We need to be Forward-Focused. What set of blinders can you put on that will help you look straight ahead?
If we took all the energy we waste comparing ourselves with those running next to us, how much farther could we run our own race?
2. Cut back on Internet and TV. Want to know a surefire way to cut your Obsessive Comparison Disorder in half? Cut your Internet use and TV time in half. This is the best set of blinders money can’t buy. The Internet and TV take your Prius-Sized Comparison Problem and turn it into a Hummer, guzzling energy for no good reason other than to try and look cool.
3. Celebrate What You Do. Celebrate what you do, whether big or small. Don’t obsess about everything you don’t. Be inspired by others’ stories, but don’t let their story dwarf yours.
Don’t let Obsessive Comparison Disorder devour with Bubonic-Plagueness creativity, energy, and peace—three vital characteristics you are going to need to rock your 20s.
We need to sail our own ship instead of drowning trying to swim to everyone else’s.
No. 50: God in His infinite mercy saves us from Syllabus Syndrome.
If I had a half-dollar for every time I cried out to God for Him to show me the plan, I’d be in the Guinness World Records for my extensive coin collection.
But I realize now that God saves us from The Plan. Thank God He didn’t show me the syllabus for my 20s.
If He would’ve showed me all the assignments my 20s were going to entail, I would’ve been crushed by it. I would’ve dropped this whole decade like a calculus class and never returned.
God gives us what we can handle, and sometimes that means not giving us the exact thing we cry out for the most.
No. 83: The most underrated tool you have to rocking your 20s is Hope.
When I felt like my 20s were smothering my face with a pillow and I couldn’t breathe, I’d break away to Griffith Park—a magical land of green, trees, and hills, encased by LA.
I’d climb high above the Hollywood sign, and there, looking across vast LA-ness, I’d audibly encourage myself (quite loudly) that I had hope. That there were bigger and better plans. That this was just a short season. I would thank God that He’d already given me a way out, even when visibly there wasn’t one.
Sometimes you have to climb hills and declare the truth of your bright future instead of the reality of your lackluster present.
Sometimes you have to war for hope.
You have a purpose worth pursuing and you have to keep talking about it so you don’t forget.
This article has been excerpted from 101 Secrets for Your Twenties by Paul Angone. Used with permission from Moody Publishers © 2013.