The only thing that’s roaring about the 2020s is disappointment!
Most of us can agree that the 2020s has been a pretty turbulent time thus far. We’re almost three years into a pandemic and a global economic recession. The Taliban took over Afghanistan, plunging the nation into terror and poverty. The climate crisis saw Australia’s forests burning to a crisp. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions of ordinary people and further fractured international relations… You get the point, we all read the news. Everyday it’s depressing as fuck.
Growing up as twenty-somethings in the 2020s, where only uncertainty is certain, is arguably a peculiar and contentious experience. We’re at an age where we’re not only figuring out our identities, purposes, passions—but also our relationships with others around us. We’re not as sheltered or naive as our younger high school selves. Nor wise and experienced like our parents. We’re told we should be taking risks and making mistakes, but we lack the insight older adults possess when it comes to navigating the difficult and complex consequences of our actions.
The expectation and glorification of our “twenties” as the “time of our lives” only contributes additional stress to our already chaotic lives. Endless films, TV shows, and songs craft unrealistic narratives that depict being twenty-something as a carefree and exciting time of experimentation and exploration. They scream that this is THE time to travel the world, party ‘til sunrise and fall in love a million times. You better savour every precious moment of your finite youth before you hit 30 and are tied down with snotty kids, a spouse you’ll inevitably cheat on, and a corporate job you hate!
For women, the pressure to date around and capitalise off the “peak” of our looks is especially pronounced. The patriarchy tells us that our value as human beings exponentially drops after our late twenties, so we better bag a man before it’s too late! It’s also ridiculous to think that in 5 years when I’m 25, I’ll be too old to be girlfriend material by Leonardo Dicaprio’s standards. Not that I’d want to be caught dead holding hands with someone who’s only won one Oscar anyways.
While subscribing to these manufactured expectations stem from a place of privilege and are not attainable for every student, it still doesn’t erase the longing of young people to escape the rigid and monotonous routines we’ve been subjected to since we entered institutionalised education. However, the pandemic has significantly jeopardised our opportunities to discover and cultivate a personal identity outside of our study and work. Saleha feels that with the impact of Covid, she’s wasting her “peak” years. “It feels like that after the pandemic ends, we will all just go to our big girl jobs,” making it almost impossible not to be defined by our degree or occupation.
For many students, this semester will mark our fifth semester that has been disrupted by the pandemic—hardly the picture of the frat parties and sports days depicted in our beloved coming of age films. Especially for a university with a reputation of having a non-existent student culture prior to Covid, Zoom classes have only intensified the disconnect between ourselves and our peers. Online uni has not only impacted student culture, but also the quality of our education. Saleha feels that she is missing out on vital opportunities because of remote learning—“how are we supposed to network? How are we supposed to get work experience when we literally join team meetings for internships?”
On the flip side, Zoom uni has opened up unique doors for students that would not have been traditionally available if we were on campus. Grace feels that “it’s a privilege to have so many opportunities available to me that weren’t available to my parents and grandparents when they were my age. For example, it’s possible to study anywhere in the world, but from New Zealand.”
The constant uncertainty of the 2020s has also elicited a wide range of responses and corresponding coping mechanisms from young people. For Grace, she feels that there is an overwhelming pressure to do something meaningful—“to help save the world from the climate crisis and fight for social justice because I don’t want everything to still be a shit storm for my younger siblings.”
Julianna feels that with the current climate of chaos, she needs to “romanticise life in order to be content”. She actively focuses on self-improvement by working on her studies and gym goals because “that’s all we can do” given the current environment.
For Maddy, she feels that the unpredictable nature of the 2020s has halted the momentum she had been building, pushing her “into a much less social and productive couple of years.” Consequently, she has thoroughly contemplated how the pandemic has impacted the early years of her twenties—often wondering if her “path has taken a turn away from what it might have been.” However, Maddy finds turning to her closest relationships as a great source of comfort when dealing with the uncertainty of the future, bonds she feels she might not have appreciated “as much if not for the state of things.”
Fortunately, not every young person’s experiences of their twenties has been completely ‘woe is me’ thus far. Arela feels that he’s pretty happy that he “lasted this long and in the body I’m more comfortable with.” With all of Covid’s disruptions, it is “weird not to be going out as much” but he’s starting to accept that as part of the uni lifestyle. On a more positive note, Arela has reportedly entered his “hipster kombucha drinking introspective phase” a little earlier than anticipated—which honestly sounds super ideal. After all, it’s never too early to show some TLC to your gut microbiome!
For everyone that’s feeling the FOMO or disappointed in their twenties, Naomii has some wise big sister words of reassurance. Her take is that being in your 20s during the pandemic “might honestly be one of the longer straws. Because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you’ll probably be depressed as hell at some point during this volatile time and the pandemic at least gives you an external reason to project onto.”
It’s time we stopped propagating the idea that our thirties will magically have us all playing golf for fun and “needing” a glass of wine every night to not leave our husbands. Like in Naomii’s words, “when we’re in our thirties, we can hoe it up as much as we want and truly claim our Sex and the City vibes”—we shouldn’t let silly little numbers, the media, or other people’s expectations, dictate our judgement of what kind of lifestyle we should be living. Let’s also dismantle the idea that our twenties are the “peak” or the créme de la créme of our lifetime. Like c’mon, we all know we peaked in primary school. Life is never going to be better than our days of bull rush and Kid Pix.
So, instead of letting disappointment and uncertainty control your future, take it from Naomii, who earned her life coach license through being white girl wasted from the ages of 18 to 22, “being in your twenties is a volatile time and I kinda think the 2020s just matches that vibe.”