Originally published in The Journal News as part of my monthly “How We Live” Column.
July 16, 2015
A friend of mine recently shared with me a Facebook post — inspired by Thought Catalog — that reported on what four individuals were doing at the age of 23.
According to the post, “At age 23, JK Rowling was broke. Tina Fey was working at the YMCA. Oprah had just gotten fired from her first job as a TV reporter and Walt Disney had declared bankruptcy.”
The list could go on and on. And in fact, it does. An article from Bustle also shares what nine powerful women were doing at the age of 23. They weren’t so powerful at the time.
At age 23, Hillary Clinton, now campaigning to receive the democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election, was saying no to marriage proposals from her now-husband, former President Bill Clinton. In an article published about the political duo’s love-story, Clinton said, “I was desperately in love with him but utterly confused about my life and future.”
Jane Fonda, at 23, was years away from becoming the iconic fitness guru she is today, as well as a pioneering women’s rights activist, writer and award-winning actress.
And Taylor Swift… Oh wait, she’s an exception.
But I digress.
The post that my friend sent me a few weeks ago now has over 42,000 shares. And that number is still climbing. That means that over 42,000 people from all over the world — whether they’re 22, 24 or 44 — feel, like Hillary Clinton did, utterly confused about life. What resonated with each of them was the idea that though things may be rocky and uncertain now, they can and will get better.
The post went viral not because everyone cares what Walt Disney was doing over 90 years ago, but rather because it’s relevant, it’s relatable and it gives us hope.
And as 23-year-olds, it gave my friend and me hope.
Today, there’s a certain lifestyle that’s often associated with the post-graduation years: an apartment in the city, a full-time job, happy hours. It’s hard not to get caught up in that idealized vision of what our 20s are supposed to look like — and for many, what they do — and realize that that’s not what mine looks like right now.
I’m happily learning at my unpaid internship this summer, but sometimes when I tell people that, yes, I’m living at home, because no, I’m not making any money, I feel like I have to explain myself.
Others may not catch it, but I see it — I see that look of pity when I share that my current everyday job is learning. Unpaid.
Many of my friends are fully employed and sometimes it feels like I’m in a race to catch up to them, counting each missed happy hour and pay check.
I’m not sure when life sped up, when fast track MBA programs became not only routine, but encouraged; when young adults like us spent less time figuring themselves out and more time earning money in the workforce. I don’t know when that happened — probably around five years ago according to a 2009 article from The Wall Street Journal — but I don’t like it. I don’t like that today, being unsure or confused, or wanting to spend more time learning is considered unsuccessful.
I don’t like that we need viral Facebook posts to make us feel OK about our unpaid internships, our living situations, or our confusion about the ways in which we want to contribute to the world.
Success isn’t just a steady salary or a newly signed lease in the city. It’s also learning, transitioning and realizing the things that make us feel confident, accomplished and happy.
After a little bit of weight lifted off my shoulders knowing I’m not the only 23-year-old who feels this way, I shared the post with a few of my other friends. “We’re going to be OK,” one of them said. And the rest of us echoed, “Yeah, we’re going to be OK.”