Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.
I’m not sure if this is a therapy-worthy question, but here it goes: I feel like a failure. I just turned 30 and I don’t really have anything to show for it. When my parents were my age, they were well-established and a lot more stable than I am now. For a while, I was on the same path, but in my late 20s everything kind of fell apart. My long-term relationship dissolved, I lost my job due to layoffs, and here I am. I know that the economy and society are both different now than they were then, but I’m still so angry with myself for not being able to be where I pictured myself. Can I ever get on track, or am I a hopeless case?
Right from jump, you’ve hit a few very key things: the world we millennials navigate as young adults is far different than the one our Gen-X/Baby Boomer parents did, and your story is common. You named yourself “Typical Millennial,” as if that were a slight to your identity or something you could control. I’m here to tell you that you couldn’t. You could not save that relationship and you could not skew the market to keep your job viable. But I need you to listen to this: not being able to control the whims of the universe does not make you inherently powerless.
Full disclosure, I’m a millennial too and I definitely do not have everything all figured out. I may have an advice column and a therapy degree, but I am not grizzled and wizened. My job is to look for opportunities in which we can change our thinking and thus our lives for the better. I do try to be a good example of a human being, but that’s more for my conscience than for anyone else. What I’m getting at, is don’t use me or anyone else as a barometer for how well you’re living your life.
I think there’s something inherently tumultuous about life between 20-30. I’m 29 now, and I make no assumption that after 30, 35, 40, or 97 that life suddenly all falls into place and makes sense. But from my experience, 20 to 30 is a wild fucking ride, especially the last few years.
I have a little story for you, and I don’t know if it will bring you any comfort, but it has always stuck with me. When I was about 7 years old or so, a family friend broke off her engagement. I was really confused by this. They were supposed to love each other and get married! Do people stop loving each other? This was some serious news to Little Ashera. I asked my mother why she had broken her engagement, and my mother, who might have just been exasperated with me, just answered, “Because she’s 27 and life gets weird around that age.”
I brought this up to my mother recently, and she has no recollection of this conversation. I held onto that memory for over two decades though, and, sure as shit, between the ages of 25-28, my life took some turns. Complete with relationship failures, job losses, housing crises, and a constant state of panic. But let’s not focus on all that crazy: during that time, I also found an apartment I really love, finished graduate school, wrote the better part of a book, traveled, and made tons of friends. It was chaos and it wasn’t always fun, but I have absolutely no regrets because I learned so much.
I have a feeling that during the chaos that has been the past few years of your life, you’ve probably learned some lessons as well. You may not have the white picket fence and 2.5 kids and a golden retriever, but you still can if that’s what you really want. You’re not on your deathbed. Imagine that you were still in that old relationship with that old job. Those things dissolved for good reason and even if you faked smiles for social media, you would never actually be that happy.
So, you’re here and you want move forward. How do?
Well, first you need to figure out what it is that you want, which is not a small task and will probably change and evolve as you change and evolve. This means it’s time to set small, actionable goals. Figure out different areas of your life that you want to improve, and then set about that task. If your goal is financial stability, finding resources on creating a budget or getting disciplined on putting money in a savings account are good places to start. If you want to be healthier in general, start trying to work out once or twice a week and then build from there. If you want to start dating again, figure out what your deal-breakers are and then don’t go back on them.
The key here is to create small, actionable goals. Reward yourself with your small gains, and then set new goals. Instead of looking at what you don’t have, look at all that you do. Finding time to be grateful is a far better use of energy than sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself. All of the upsets in your life were timely for your development as a person. One day I hope you can be grateful for the character your discomfort has given you.
You got this.
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