20 signs you’re a 20-something who’s sick of being told how to be a 20-something

January 30th, 2014



“20 things every 20-something should know how to do,” “101 things every 20-something realizes in their 20s,” “20 women every 20-something girl needs in her life,” “5,000 signs you’re a 20-something.” What is it about the ages of 20-29 that everyone feels it is his or her responsibility to regulate these years? It seems like every website I visit has listicle upon listicle of advice (or strict guidelines) of how I, as a 20-something, should be living my life. (And don’t get me started on the listicle trend overtaking the web.)

Some of the advice they offer is valuable: Stand up for yourself, suggests one list. Sure, that’s something I could definitely work on. Others are kind of insulting: Every 20-something should be able to hold an intelligent conversation. Gee, thanks, random person on the Internet, I better start brushing up on my intellect and learning how to say words.

I wrote a previous column about advice in general, and how it should be taken with a grain of salt, and I stand by that. It’s one thing to be wary of advice coming from professors, parents and friends, but when it comes to anonymous sources who may or may not have your best interests at heart, that warning increases tenfold.

I’m ecstatic to be 21 years old. I have had a great time during my first two years as a 20-something, and I’m looking forward to living out the next seven years of my 20-something term as best as I can. I realize that your 20s are supposed to be some of the best years of your life, and you’re supposed to be figuring out who you are and making mistakes and beginning to mature. But I don’t get why the media and the people of the Internet are so fervently trying to regulate these years for other people.

Culture yourself, they say. Travel. There are around 200 countries on planet Earth, and eight other planets (I stand by you, Pluto), and you need to go to all of them, never minding the fact that you will be earning an entry level salary. While this is an exaggeration, it’s not far off from the tone of some of the 20-something listicles bombarding young adults. I’ve never been through this treacherous decade before, but if I don’t specifically live in Amsterdam for precisely 16 months and go on exactly three terrible dates each weekend, I think I might still make it to see age 30 (but stay tuned).

I’ll be the first one to admit that right now, I’m going through somewhat of a quarter-life crisis, and it does make me feel better that I am not the only one trying to find myself, but I don’t think growing up is about following a set of unrealistic ideals set by a perfect stranger. Some of these articles attempt to make you feel like if you don’t do a combination of crazy, sometimes-stupid things, you won’t have a full experience as a 20-something.

I can count on exactly zero fingers the amount of “40 signs you know you’re a 40-something” articles I have seen, and I even checked the second page of the Google search results. This could be because it is the 20-somethings who are the rulers of the Internet, and maybe when we’re 40 we’ll be offering guidelines for how to make it “over the hill.”

The most frustrating part of these lists are that they usually contradict one another or lack validity. My favorite one I’ve come across is titled “How you spend your 20s will define you.” I thought I just read that this is the time to make mistakes and date all the wrong people and work jobs I hate? In reality, neither of those scenarios is the be-all-end-all of a 20-something.

The ones that bother me the most are ones that make authoritative claims about future trends. One article actually advises: “Social media is not a career,” and warns anyone pursuing a career as a social media specialist to heed the warning that social media won’t be around in five years. Maybe, but probably not, and who has the foresight to say that anyway?

As a staunch defender of the Millenials, I think it’s time to stop attacking the 20-somethings with hybrid insult-advice. Hopefully, the 20-something listicle is a trend that will fade out as the Internet finds another generalized flaw of my generation to attack.

Until then, check out my column for next week: 10 things every 10-something needs to realize.