I recently read this line in WILD by Cheryl Strayed, and it strikes me that this is exactly why our 20s matter, why they are not “wasted” years as some skeptics have argued:

“I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life,” she’d wept to me once, in the days after she learned she was going to die. “I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.”

I never could have articulated it quite like that until now, but yes, that’s it. That’s what our 20s are. A chance to just be us. A moment of suspension, of midair flight/freefall, after we’ve let go of one vine (our parents) and before we’ve grabbed hold of the next (becoming husbands/wives/parents).

(And yes, I know not everyone will get married or have kids. I’m speaking broadly here.)

Previous generations didn’t necessarily get that chance. I think we’re lucky that we do. Maybe it seems like we’re not making the best use of it, sometimes… But maybe that’s the whole point.

10 responses to “Why our 20s (the “New Adult” years) matter”

  1. Alex Avatar

    And sometimes that vine you let go of is the first job that you found after having held on to school, school, and more school through the first half of your 20s, having graduated eminently qualified for and yet completely terrified of the unknown “real” world. (Not that I’m speaking from recent experience or anything…)

    The point is that while it served me well for a time, now it’s my turn to be in the driver’s seat.

    My mother-in-law sent me this quote this morning: “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”

    There’s something to be said for shedding your skin, going through a journey of self-discovery, etc.

  2. Julie Maughon Avatar

    I would say the same goes for those in their 20s who are already married or have families. I think that suspension/flight/freefall is innate in the newness of juggling life, sometimes regardless of vines.

  3. Juliann Avatar

    As someone well past their 20’s, I’d say the other part of being in your 20’s that matters is just being young! Until it passes you by, you have no idea how freeing a time it was. It’s the time to be young, explore, and enjoy life. Your 20’s are likely to be the time you’ll want to recapture when you’re older. So take flight and HAVE FUN!

  4. Sonje Avatar

    Another person here who is past her 20s, and I’m not sure I agree that I was “just me” in my 20s. I don’t think I knew who I was. It was a period of figuring it out. I wasn’t really anybody. That’s the truth of it. And that is certainly a valid time to write about, but I wouldn’t pretend I was some pure essence of myself during that time.

  5. Meghan Ward Avatar

    And the 20s are fun! (Well, for some people.) I had a lot of ups and downs, and am happier now than I was then, but man, sometimes I miss the freedom to just pick up and travel anywhere I want, to sleep in, to spend all day rock climbing, to lie in bed all day reading a book. Definitely enjoy it while it lasts. Kids are WONDERFUL, but your life is no longer your own when you have them.

  6. Meghan Ward Avatar

    By the way, did the “New Adult” category that St. Martin’s was trying to start ever take off?

  7. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    When was in my twenties, and (much to my surprise) married, I read an article about “starter marriages.” The premise was that a lot of people have first marriages then, marriages which are generally short, without kids, and which prepare the people for their “real” marriages later on.

    But, as you say, our 20s are when we start to discover who we are, and apparently my ex and I discovered we were single, since we split up (amicably, no kids) and neither of us has married again.

    Being married was not unbearably awful or traumatizing and we were not so hung up on each other that we couldn’t move on — it just wasn’t for us (apparently). It was a good time to figure that out.

  8. janet Avatar

    got nostalgic and tried to see what you’ve been up to lately. if you still blog. so hi! yes, i’m almost on my way out of the 20s. learning. growth. some tough times. some best of times… i’m looking forward to embracing my 30s. but i’m grateful for the experiences i had in my 20s.

  9. Jon Avatar

    This passage sounds really interesting. Now I am very curious about the book itself. Worth the read?

  10. Kristan Avatar

    This passage/post seems to have sparked a lot of discussion. I love that!

    *nods* Yeah, the vines I specified are common, but by no means the only ones. And, switching metaphors for a minute, the driver’s seat can be intimidating, but also exhilarating. I know you’ll do great in it. (Hypothetically. ;P)

    I agree, there’s a newness to your 20s, regardless of one’s family situation. But being “completely independent” lends itself to a certain experience, I think. It’s one that I’ve not experienced myself, seeing as I moved in with my college boyfriend immediately after graduation, but intellectually I get it, and I definitely see it in my friends’ lives. It’s not better or worse than my situation, just different.

    I don’t think it’s about “pure essence” (although I love the idea/sound of that) so much as its about exactly what you said: figuring yourself out. But NOT in relation to a parent or partner. Of course, your 20s aren’t the only time this can happen; I think it’s just a common time for that, in modern times.

    Freedom – yes, exactly! I’m not married and I don’t have kids, but even my long-term boyfriend and my dog “tie me down” in ways that my single friends don’t experience. That’s totally fine — I chose it, I love it — but it’s different.

    Heh, funny how that worked out for you, reverse of the “traditional” expectations.

    Heeeey! Glad to see you again! “i’m looking forward to embracing my 30s. but i’m grateful for the experiences i had in my 20s.” – DITTO.

    Hrm. I didn’t love WILD as much as I loved Cheryl Strayed other book, TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS. However, I am glad I read it and would generally say it was worthwhile, if a little slow. But since you’re a film guy, I’ll also let you know that it’s been optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s company, with her set to star, so you could also probably wait for the movie. ;P