20 - Somethings and Identity
Is it just me, or were none of us adequately prepared or warned about the confusion of being in our 20's? I can't recall a time I was ever told by an adult growing up that being in my 20's would come with a set of uncertainties so vast and profound as what I have already encountered in less than 2 years of the beginning of my third decade.
Just looking around at your peers when you're at this age is odd. Some are engaged, married, or have babies. Some are even divorced. Some are in prison. A few work at auto repair shops or retail stores in your hometown, where you see them while you visit family for the holidays. Some are traveling the world with money from God knows where and gloating about it quite loudly on social media. Some are in college, while some have full time jobs. There really is no one size fits all 20-something these days. So where do you fit in?
Identity. 20's are the decade of identity. The framework for which we will base our entire lives. We stitch a protective blanket over ourselves from fabrics contrived of one part circumstances, and two parts choices, although we often confuse it as being the other way around. But the point being, we innately desire a very fixed and concentrated identity. It's a something to be known by and hide behind when things feel uncertain.
Some of us become hardened in our 20's. These types exchange what was once childlike wonder for calloused indifference. It reflects in rebellious choices of career, lifestyle, speech, and fashion. It's a chosen identity. It's a fixed certainty... "Nobody can tell me who I am if I define it this clearly.".
Some become mothers. They adopt it as an identity. Every post on their social media platforms is parenting related. Their reposted articles about an FDA recall on baby formula is less about awareness of the faulty product and more about reminding people that they are a caring mother. This is not somebody who is a mother. This is a mother who is somebody. And that's comforting, because motherhood can't be taken away. Right?
A few have gotten extremely fit. The ones who claim it as an identity are rarely the ones that were fit in high school. It's often the ones who were weak and frail or overweight and insecure in high school. Now, their new fit bodies are their identity. These bodies are a reflection of their inner beast! It's proof that what everybody else thought about them was wrong, and now that they are a physical wonder, they get to call their identity shots, not their peers.
Whatever it is we choose (and we have all chosen/are in the process of choosing) becomes our security blanket of self worth. Yes, even those who publicly condemn and demean themselves have adopted an identity (the identity of the depressed, self demeaning, distraught individual). You can say whatever you want about those people, but you can't tell them they aren't somebody. And that's it. For better or for worse (often for worse), we are desperately attempting to be somebody. Our base level desire is to have a personality unique and different enough that we carve out a corner of universe as ours and only ours, and there, in our individuality, we find a semblance of meaning for our existence.
This need for identity is dangerous in so much that it is tainted with fear. To desire to be an individual is no intrinsic danger. It is human. It's beautiful. But so many of us choose to be extreme in our choices out of fear of not really having a place in the world. So we develop and adopt intense belief pillars about the world, and squeeze reality into an identity sized box. We forget that the world exists outside of our perception of it, and we either attempt to force others to see it the way we do, or we dive deeply into depression, as we feel misunderstood or under appreciated.
The need for identity has always been characteristic of young adults. It's nothing new. But in the age of social media and personal branding, it is particularly obvious. We are all not only now seeking meaning through our identity, but also social currency in the form of 'likes'. In the social media realm, 'likes' are dollars, we are products, and our posts are our advertisements. It's a noisy world our there in the social media sphere. So the call for extremes is even more apparent. So in the digital world, our already exaggerated 20-something year old selves up the ante just that much more.
The point in me writing this article is not so much to present a solution. I believe that the search for identity in a young 20 - something is both inevitable and necessary. From what I've heard from those a bit older than I, it's a natural part of living to find a million things to clutch on to for dear life when you're young (money, career, religion, romantic relationships, etc...) and then discover a bit later that the best way to actually enjoy these things is to let them go entirely. And while I wish my head knowledge of that idea could apply at 21 and put me 10 years ahead of everybody else my age, I don't think my mind will fully embrace that as truth until I've experienced enough heart break chasing the wind.
Ultimately, my point is, we're all in this together. For my friends in their 20s, just trying to figure things out and make sense of who you are, I am in your corner. I see you. I really do. Good luck out there, defining yourself. I think you'll do a great job.
A quote I've been thinking about all week:
"Nothing is corny if you mean it."