the terrifying 20s

I had the wonderful pleasure of visiting one of my oldest and dearest friends last weekend. What is it about visiting old friends that fills me with the same sort of inexplicable warmth I feel turning into my parents’ driveway? There’s something so familiar and easy about old relationships. I don’t have to explain things or try to impress. I can just be. I always leave liberated with a deep joy that I find a hard time maintaining otherwise. But maybe that’s just me…

As we updated each other on the lives of our family members and people we separately new better than each other, I found myself thinking something that I find myself unexpectedly (and unwillingly) thinking a lot lately: “Crap! They’re ahead of me!”

One of my mom’s main mantras when I was growing up was “don’t compare.” She had to tell me this again the other night as we were pondering the divergence of lifestyles that I see happening amongst my peers in our 20s. Comparing is never good because you end up either envying someone else (bad) or patting yourself on the back for being better than them (worse). Neither of those things is healthy or productive, but when I hear someone (my age!) is having their third child and is a stay-at-home mom or someone (my age!) has just bought their second house and this time it has 8 bedrooms, that younger version of myself that’s still inside of me whispers “Crap! They’re ahead of me!” And I could tell you the emotion that follows that thought, but I think I’ll just say, it ain’t happiness.

I think sometimes as we go about our lives we don’t realize the ways in which we insulate ourselves from people who are different from us. For a multitude of reasons I felt out of place at Vanderbilt, but really, I was amongst my people – white people from a middle-class Christian upbringing with an expectation of college leading to a graduate degree. It wasn’t until a couple years out of law school that I met people that didn’t have almost the same life story as I did.

Now, as I’m looking around at my peers in our 20s – those that started at about the same place as me and have, up until  this point, followed a similar path – I am seeing that for the first time in my life, my fellow generation whatever-ers are all going in different directions. We’re making different choices, mistakes, lifestyles and successes. We’re not so much the same anymore. My first reaction may be jealousy, but my final feeling is gratitude.

How much is my life enriched by the ways in which my friends’ experiences differ from my own? How many new perspectives am I shown by these people that are exploring things that I don’t have the courage or constitution to try? How much greater is my understanding and empathy for people because I’m seeing the different ways in which we can survive this complicated adulthood thing?

My mom (yea, I talk to her a lot, so what?) said that around the time that we were in our Terrible Twos, parents would brag to each other about when their children started walking or talking. New parents would gawk at each other and then frown at their own child who wasn’t quite there yet. Twenty years later she laughs this off as she points out that by kindergarten we were all walking and talking. Maybe in twenty years I’ll look back on my Terrifying Twenties and smile thinking about how I used my peers’ lives as a yardstick for my own. Maybe I’ll still be doing it. Either way, I hope I am still surrounded by people who show me worlds I can’t see for myself.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Mary said,

    I just love being quoted and talked about…I love it that you pull into the driveway and feel a warmth…I breath deep, and say wow, isn’t that what rich is?!


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