The Twentysomething Identity Crisis

Listen up, class:  you're getting rid of your professor for a day. (My god, you could at least wait on the hoots and hollers until I'm out the room.) Today we have our first substitute teacher, Ms. Ashley Sapp from Chaos and Words. Ms. Sapp recently approached me, saying she wanted to work with you rowdy bunch. Seeing as how I enjoy her lyrical, impassioned blog - and given the fact that she's an actual twentysomething (read: not an old codger like yours truly) - I thought this would be great. Please give Ms. Sapp a warm Career Avoidance 101 welcome by clicking over to her blog, engaging in some thoughtful post-lecture class discussion, and refraining from throwing spitballs! I'll be back on Friday to dole out penalties accordingly (no recess for you!). What is the identity of the twenty-something? Why does this identity constantly shift?

We feel the need to fit ourselves into categories that make sense because we've got one foot in our adolescence and the other in adulthood - this is a confusing time, and we can end up feeling split between two worlds and not quite like "ourselves". Sometimes, we don’t even know what it means to feel like ourselves. We are still figuring things out, and that’s fine. Some adults don’t have things completely figured out, and that’s also okay. There is incredible pressure to be someone. Particularly growing into a twenty-something and moving through such a defining decade, we don’t always know who that person should be.

Question Mark Graffiti

As a child, we're asked what we want to be when we grow up. This question is a big deal. At younger ages, these answers can range anywhere from an astronaut to a cowboy to an actress to a race-car driver (or whatever the case may be).

I remember taking little quizzes that told us which profession we would most likely excel at depending on our personalities. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a singer and performer, and because that’s what I wanted, my quiz answers reflected this. Eventually I heard a recording of myself singing (you know, practicing) and realized that I’m totally tone-deaf. Some dreams just aren’t meant to be.

However, there is a difference between having certain talents (or in my case, not having those talents) and feeling as though we have to fit a certain mold. Parents and teachers can often times play a large role in this, wanting us to become "successful people". What exactly does this mean? Many times, it’s based off monetary success, so careers such as lawyers and doctors are considered the best route to take. Yet, wouldn't any career that makes someone happy be considered a success?

I’m a writer through-and-through, but I’ve still been asked, “Okay, but what are you going to be?” as though my answer was a joke. I’m sure I’m not alone in confessing what my dream is only to have it be deemed ludicrous. We go from declaring ourselves astronauts as children to having that same dream smashed as being too far-reaching (there’s some irony for you).  When does this transition happen? Obviously, some people go on to become all those things.

No, we are not all destined to have out-of-this-world careers, but my point here is who is anyone to tell you what is right for you, your dreams? We made it through the awkward years, the bullies, the drama, the stresses of middle and high school only to be told when we finally reach the end that our dreams are not realistic. We have to start being serious, go to college, get a job. However, it does not always work out the same way for everyone – we can go about these stages at our own pace (or skip some altogether). There is a reason we are individuals, and we don’t all go about living in the same manner.

One thing I’ve learned, though, is that people have a lot of opinions on what you should be doing. Apparently to some what I am  is not good enough – it’s not who I should be. So here’s the number one lesson I can perhaps provide to you today:

Question mark in Esbjerg

It does not matter what anyone else says you should do with your life. It is you who must live it day in and day out, and the only way you’ll ever be satisfied waking up each day is if you do what feels right to you. Your number one concern should be to make you happy, not to satisfy someone else’s idea of you. That will never last. The best way for your life to have any sort of impact is for it to be undeniably, completely, messily, and unabashedly yours.

We have been taught and conditioned that whatever we do for a living is what defines us, makes up our identity, and deems us successful. Perhaps that is why our identities shift so often, but I think it's our perceptions that shift rather than our actual identity. For instance, I'm the same person I was when I worked in retail, but I wasn't defined by that – that does not make up who I am as a person, my morals, my thoughts, my inspirations. Lessons were taken from the experience, certainly (like patience), but that's not my entire make-up.

A career should be something that motivates you and inspires you, and retail just did not do that for me. On that note, retail is not an easy job to have, but people tend to rank it rather low and as being "unsuccessful". That's simply not true. I have a friend who actually enjoys working retail, and I say all the more power to him. When a career coincides with how you feel about yourself and what you desire out of life, I think you’ve made your match.

Going after a certain career can be terrifying and amazing at the same time. We fear we’ll fail, we fear we’re not good enough, and we’re unsure we’re making the right choice at times. Try to remember, though, that whatever career you choose is not your entire identity. Your core is not made up of dollar signs and nine-to-fives.

So if whatever path you choose isn’t right the first time, that’s okay, too! My path of singing was quite short-lived, but I have that notch in my belt and found a different route to take that is right for me. The identity you have is always there, but paths tend to bend and twist and go off-roading at times. Don’t let it become a crisis.

Will the real you please stand up? (Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon)

Hmm, hmm, hmm. (Photo credit: alexanderdrachmann)