Have you ever tried walking against the waves at a beach? As your feet clutch & push against the receding dunes of sluggish ocean sand, you get this dizzy feeling of being pulled right in. You’re reaching for the shore but the water heartlessly flows on with its own gravity.
Being in your late 20s can feel a lot like that.
As if the entire world knows something you don’t & it’s conspiring to work against you alone at every step. As if all your friends have somehow managed to make just the required amount of right moves at the right time with the right company, placing them on a clear path for the next decade or so. Somehow life’s smoothening out for every person on this planet … with one awkward exception.
You had a vague but decent idea of where you wanted to be a few years after your graduation. And maybe you’re kinda on that path but you’re beginning to digest the humbling realization of how tough it actually is to “make it” outside the classroom. How much time it’s going to take to achieve those goals.
You also never considered the possibility that you’re going to fail. Fail hard & often. So here you are – unsure of whether you want to really pursue this for the rest of your life, this thing you thought you were damn good at. And then you dismiss the idea of starting fresh as soon as you realize how deep you’re into this game, with responsibilities & expectations piling up faster than the paychecks.
I keep trying to go back in time to pinpoint where exactly it all went tits up. I shouldn’t have left my job abroad out of fear during the pandemic. I shouldn’t have switched to that job in the first place, and instead taken up the offer I had sitting on my lap from my previous company. Actually, I shouldn’t have tried to run away so early for my Bachelor’s but instead waited for my Master’s like everyone else. I shouldn’t have been afraid to tell Pa that I hate commerce & want to be an artist (which actually led to the whole wanting to run away thing). I shouldn’t have done this, done that.
A friend said reviewing all my decisions like this is one hell of a drug because it looks like I’m being critical but really I’m just trying to hold on to the cozy embrace of the past. And it spurred a discussion, “Would I doubt myself so much so often if I wasn’t bombarded by hundreds of Reels & TikToks & LinkedIn Updates from people hitting perfection at whatever they do?” Our teachers never trained us to handle this imposter syndrome every adult goes through.
But I’m only just beginning to accept how competitive & comparative many of us are. Ironically, that can damage those most who used to always be on top in school. Back then, it worked in our favor. But now, not so much. Because being in the 20s is a lot like sitting in a circle and playing a game of “pass the ball.” Eventually everyone’s going to get it. Eventually something somewhere is going to click for every single one of your friends. Most of the times not even because of their talent but out of sheer luck.
The problem starts when we expect the system to be fair, or when we think the kids who got lucky recently have always had their way. But we don’t know each other’s real paths. The guy who landed a job at Google in the States had to endure 3 years of stagnation & humiliation at shitty jobs. The girl who’s raving about her styling fashion career today actually chose the wrong degree early on & took a lot of hits before finding her groove. The startup founder you envy was bullied throughout his childhood. These people waited for their turn to shine, and it can be difficult to give away the spotlight or complain about how you’ve never had it yet, but that’s how it works.
I know it’s irritating to always watch those cool content creators, influencers, and even some friends grapple with success so effortlessly on the Gram. But it’s important to remind yourself that people’s feeds are a highly edited, constructed, and handpicked curation of their whole lives. Every single person on the internet (including myself) is here to feel good about themselves and their choices.
Nobody’s posting their failures, fears, and wounds here. The dude who announced his spanky new job on LinkedIn? He didn’t tell you about all the places that rejected him. The girl who’s traveling & posting pics from all around the world? She doesn’t talk about her family problems back home. No, I’m not saying no one’s actually happy with their lives. The world is not so bad either. People are having fun, and loving what they do. But that’s just a part of their story, that’s all. You only see the good bits so it feels like they’re impossibly ahead of you. I just want us to remember this every time we feel like we’re the only ones falling behind.
I also discovered recently how since we’re all looking at people’s final products, we tend to overlook the time & resources they’ve had to make it work – the biggest one being sheer dumb luck. No, wait, don’t hate on me yet. I’m not discounting or undervaluing anyone’s hard work, nor am I asking you to use this as an excuse to give up & slack. I’m just saying we’ve underestimated how many things really need to come together at the right time & place for you to beat the odds.
We’re creatures of fairness so it unnerves us to hear someone say that working hard or being passionate isn’t a guaranteed recipe for success. “Destiny” has been made to look like a bad word used by sore losers, and I feel that’s an unhealthy way to tackle something as unfair as life.
The girl who started her business probably had support from her family & a small seed fund. The guy who transformed his body could take time off from work. You have to consider the possibility that people sometimes have access to resources you don’t, which is okay.
In his satire “Animal Farm,” George Orwell hits us with the uncomfortable reality – “All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others.” Being able to chase success without having to worry about the consequences of failing is a privilege, whether you accept it or not. There’s a matter of classes in play. I’ve worked with big shots who claim to have faced the worst hardships in the pandemic, but really, they had the wealth & protection of their circle to at least stay afloat. Try telling this to a first-generation single mom entrepreneur who had nothing to rely on except her wits, with two crying babies to feed on the side. She couldn’t sustain it & broke down. This is the unfair reality, and we need to come to terms with it.
This idea feels like taboo because we have idols like Oprah Winfrey & JK Rowling who made it big without any support. Granted, there are exampls of poor, crippled, and damaged people who have bounced back from absolutely nothing. But such stories are truly one in millions, and they provide a narrow definition for studying success.
If you start digging for the truth, however, you’ll see what most of us don’t factor in. Check this – Bill Gates’ mom was on IBM’s board, so he could take the risk to venture on his own. Bezos had $300,000 in seed capital to build Amazon “from scratch.” Most frequent in the news nowadays, Elon Musk’s Dad owned a goddamn mine in Africa. Warren Buffett was the son of a congressman. Your “self-made” idols had help along the way.
On the flip side, thousands of people have tried their hands at the same ideas & failed. 90% of businesses shut down in the first year. There’s a survivorship bias at play here- we only look at the winners & not everyone else who also tried just as hard. This doesn’t mean you should resign all effort & make yourself lazy but it helps to prepare yourself for the reality that you’re not going to be rewarded with an A+ just because you studied overnight for the test. Sometimes you’ll still crash after all the checks have been done.
And that’s okay. Social platforms are making our generation feel like we don’t have time to fail a thousand times. They’re pressurizing us to believe we should have at least one shiny achievement to show by the time we turn 30. It has become like a cut-off point, and we’re chasing it at the cost of our health. Everybody wants to get featured in Forbes, have their own startup, find the ideal partner, buy a house, and settle down – all within this decade itself. There’s an entire industry called “career counseling” dedicated to pushing us down a singular carefully planned path. But we’re never allowed to feel confused & wander. There’s only one result of all this pace- which is burnout. Something I’ve very intimately experienced.
I had a heart-to-heart with my Dad last week. Without realizing it, he implied he doesn’t know what he wants from life. He’s an engineer who spent 20 years successfully in banking. And now day-trades for a living. My Dad is almost 60. And he’s still searching for answers. So I think I have ample of time, dude. In fact, I’m going to deliberately take my time because I don’t want to be an exhausted unhealthy, sad, exhausted, robot at forty, ailing with a dozen diseases & no satisfaction. I would rather earn less & be lesser known but still fully alive in my own element, exploring what I love, and loving whatever I explore.
This means I am slowing down. I’m learning to be patient with the process. It’s going to take a lot of practice to believe in it but I’m constantly telling myself I’m on the exact path I need to be on.
I’m on the exact path I need to be on … even if there doesn’t seem to be one right now. I’m neither falling behind. Nor too early. I’m going at the right speed.
I’ve started chasing not goals but good habits that have nothing to do with money, status, or fame but instead center around my physical fitness, inner peace, and above all, my real contribution to those who need it. I want to be the “hope” for those of us who feel alone, who haven’t yet figured it out. I want those peeps to know they’re not alone.
I’m hitting 2 hours at the gym every day. I’m sleeping for 8 hours. Reading a shitload of good value books. Confidently saying NO to junk without temptation. And voicing myself more often. I just wish they taught us to glorify these little things that matter so much. In any case, I’m sending tiny ripples for what I know will merge into waves someday.
It’s true I’m nowhere near where I wanted to be. In terms of the salaries which my peers have already bagged or the milestones they’ve long hopped through. But all this time, what has been driving me insane is I’ve been chasing the world’s definitions of what happiness really is, which is probably why everything I’ve done feels wrong. When I started asking myself, though, the answers were a lot simpler & grounded. So I’m going to listen a lot more. And I hope you, do, too.