The Catch Twenties-Two (The Choice That Makes Your 20’s So Tough)

The Catch Twenties-Two (AKA The Main Thing That Makes Your 20's So Tough) | Maya UnMarketed

Today, my newsfeed “memories” showed that it’s been exactly 3 years since my husband and I left San Francisco.

Wow.

Three years!!!

I have to admit, when we left I thought a “new adventure” awaited me in the South. Instead, I faced a period of waiting, struggling, and feeling behind all my friends who’d moved back to their hometowns after school and immediately started building a career/life at the age of 22.

Being back in the city that’s the closest thing I have to a hometown (my family of origin moved a lot) didn’t feel like an adventure. Honestly, it still doesn’t. It feels wonderful. I feel at home. I feel like I’m finally building a life. But it doesn’t necessarily feel like an adventure.

Building a life and living are such very different endeavors.

Here’s the thing. At this point in a lot of blog posts (or even instagram “micro-blog” style captions like what I did under this photo) the author launches into a righteous millennial rant about living the moment and living your dreams (whatever that even means… does it mean that every four year old boy is actually meant to become a firefighter?!). But I’m not going to talk about the value of living. I’m not going to regurgitate all the “take a risk,” “do the thing that scares you,” HASHTAG WANDERLUST HASHTAG LOSE YOURSELF TO FIND YOURSELF cliches you’ve read countless times.

I have done all those things, taken all the risks (although to be honest, at the time I had no idea just how risky some of those risks actually were). I’ve taken all the grandiose advice, chased the dreams. I have the interesting Life Resume. But sometimes I’m not so sure I’d do all those things over again.

Okay, okay, I would. I’d do them all over again. The triumphs and pain and travel and moves changed my personality and life outlook in a way that I would never risk sacrificing.

But if I have one regret in life, it’s not investing in myself at a younger age. It’s not coming up with a concrete career plan during college. It’s how short-sighted and naive I was with my goals and dreams.

Every now and then (and I know I’m not doing myself any favors) I can’t help but wonder: would I have learned all those life lessons if my ass had been kicked by something a little more productive than modeling? I mean, guess what else kicks your ass? Law school. PA school. Getting an MBA. The list goes on. 

I honestly don’t think any of those aforementioned career paths would have even remotely been for me, but it’s hard not to wonder what life would be like if I had invested more in a traditional, not-so-risky, long term career at an earlier age.

I try not to think like that. I’m sure there’s a blonde, 5’10 physician assistant/attorney/high power businesswoman out there wondering what life would be like if she’d gone for her modeling dreams. “What ifs” are such a waste of time. But sometimes the “what ifs” of the past can help guide your decisions of the future.

I think if you asked most 20-somethings “What’s better, building a life or living?” they would pick the latter. We’re the instant gratification generation, and we tend to associate adventure with being cool. We feel like living is the right answer.

But if you asked me right now, I’d say I’m prioritizing building a life. Sure, the “office, sleep, repeat” cycle isn’t the most enthralling thing I’ve ever been a part of, but I’m happy. I have a good job and a sweet little family. We have a spacious, upgraded apartment and are closer to homeownership than ever before. We finally have the dog we couldn’t adopt when our life was more nomadic. We’re building the life foundations for having non-fur babies within the next few years. A comfortable life doesn’t just appear in front of you. It has to be built.

Never Stop Peaking

My little sister once told me that her life philosophy was to “never stop peaking.” Don’t be the high school cheerleader who stays in her hometown rather than going to college because she can’t handle not being the small-town celebrity. Don’t be the sorority It Girl who’s still incessantly reminiscing on her Delta Gamma days when she’s 34. Always have something exhilarating and energizing in your life. 

I try to live my life that way. But sometimes in a moment of weakness, I wonder if in the eyes of others, I’m the young woman who peaked in 2015, the year she modeled in NYC and Milan, the year she got married in a long sleeved V-plunge gown (a good 1-2 years before they were in style, just saying’ 😉 ) on a stunning white California terrace.

Lately I have been a little restless. Craving change. Craving adventure. Craving something as ‘grammable as things used to be.

However, I’ve learned that the outcome isn’t always what we hear from those “take risks #lifeisshort” types of bloggers, influencers and motivational speakers.

I listen to a podcast called The Ladygang and they always ask celebrity interviewees what their “almost gave up” moment was. Frequently, they refer to it as “the moment you almost moved back to Iowa and became a schoolteacher,” as if being a teacher in Iowa was some hellish life in an adjacent universe that the given celebrity had so narrowly escaped. 

(I’m sure that offends teachers in Iowa.)

The thing is, we’re not ever privy to the stories of people who were so afraid of normalcy and hell-bent on **dreams** that just weren’t meant for them, that they beat a dead horse for 3 decades and then they blinked and all of a sudden they’re a 50-something bartender in Santa Monica (commuting over an hour to work, of course, because they can’t afford to live anywhere near that bar) whose only claims to fame are having been an extra in a Miller Light commercial 27 years ago and being a snob to the people who stayed in her Iowa hometown.

Those people never get interviewed.

We never hear their stories.

And there are a hell of a lot more bartenders out there than there are Emma Stones or Jennifer Lawrences. 

The Catch Twenties-Two

I think the thing that makes your 20s so hard is that, at some point during this challenging decade, you realize you can’t have everything. You waltz into your twenties thinking you can… and life takes you down a notch. No matter who you are or what decisions you make, there’s always a sacrifice.

The people who graduated college in their home state and then graduated grad school in their home state and now work prestigious jobs in their home state might wonder what would have happened if they had moved to LA to pursue that elusive music career. Sometimes they say things like, “I can’t believe I’m almost 30 and I haven’t moved out of Florida.”

Personally, I love Florida. But only because moving away gave me the chance to love it

Then there are the people who followed their fiance’ to San Francisco and enjoyed a stint in the high fashion modeling world, or had some kind of similar adventure. Those people wonder what would have happened if they had pursued some type of strategic higher education, or entered their current career path in a laser-focused and determined manner 5 years ago.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

You sacrifice the adventure.

Or you sacrifice the stability. 

Life in your twenties is a Catch 22.

I hate writing that because I feel like people want to read uplifting things, not worn words of wisdom their grandmother may have delivered with a smug look on her face. I hate writing that because I feel like I’m going to post this article on Facebook and it’s going to get 6 likes and I’m going to say to myself, “Maya, why don’t you try to appeal to the masses a little more?”

But it’s true. 

You simply can’t have a ton of adventures, take crazy risks, and simultaneously have the financial security that comes with being a successful attorney by age 30. You get to do one or the other. You can chase one of those “only one in a million will make it” types of dreams like acting, film, photography, music, art, or modeling by age 26 or you pass the Florida Bar by age 26. It’s an OR not an AND, folks.

By the way, I’m talking about crazy life adventures here. I’m not talking about a financially comfortable couple going to Europe together (although that’s 110% the type of adventure I hope to have next.) Adventure without massive risk. Comfortable adventure. Diet adventure. Adventure lite ™. 

When I say adventure, I’m talking about risking and losing what felt like everything. I’m talking about stripping to your underwear on a street near Grand Central Station behind nothing but a flimsy white reflector because the chain-smoking French photographers (a tres chic couple) though it wasn’t a big deal, and you weren’t about to be a prude American. I’m talking about spending some of your last dollars on the slot machines and 3 am milkshakes in Vegas as you moved across country, nearly penniless and running on newlywed bliss in an old Altima containing your life’s belongings. I’m talking about those types of adventures.

I made my choice. In my early and mid twenties, I chose adventure. Devastating, soul-wrenching, balls-to-the-wall adventure. Heck, like I said earlier, I didn’t entirely chose it. Maybe it found my control-freaky, overprotected little perfectionist self because I needed it.

In my late twenties and beyond, I choose security and success. I choose going to Europe with the money to actually buy some of the insanely beautiful fashion in Milan (rather than the lack of money that made every trip to the grocery store a dreaded errand…although tbh that was partly the eating disorder).

Patience And Realism

You can’t have had insane amounts of adventure and insane amount of traditional success by the time you’re 30. Honestly, you’re blessed if you feel like you’ve truly yet had one or the other. 

Maybe that’s why people say your 30s are so special. I feel like you can be rich in both adventure and in traditionally measured career success by the time you’re 40. I hope to be in that category.

But in the meanwhile, I strive for patience and realism. (Speaking of wisdom your grandmother may have given!) Neither are glamorous, neither sexy, neither feel like millennial #goals. I try to channel those virtues when the need for a more ‘grammable life takes over, when I feel myself starting to itch for change without direction.

Those virtues help make you resilient and focused. Patience and realism help you internalize that it’s okay you haven’t yet achieved everything you want to. They help you realize that if you prioritized adventure first, you can still go on to have the career success you crave. Stop focusing on how behind you feel now, and start focusing on how you’re going to get ahead. Remain grateful for the perspective, humility, confidence, and worldliness those adventures gave you. 

Conversely, if you spent your 20s doing something like going to medical school, patience and realism can help you stop worrying that you spent what woulddacouldashoulda been your carefree youth behind textbooks thicker than Kim K’s booty. You know what’s great for eternal youth? Botox. You know who has VIP access to Botox? You do, girlfriend (or should I say Dr. Girlfriend, MD?!). Not to mention those physician-sized paychecks can pay for some amazing globe-trotting one day soon.

It’s all win-win. Just maybe not all at once.

In Conclusion

Over the course of your life, I believe you can have everything. The adventures, the success, the beautiful marriage and family life, the creative outlets, the moments when just petting your dog’s silky little ears feels like all you could ever need.

You just can’t have everything by the time you turn 30, even if your 19-year-old former self definitely thought you could.

Keep being grateful for what you’ve lived and achieved so far. Keep making life choices with intentionality. Keep those those “what-ifs” in mind (both those you’ve answered and those you haven’t) in a way that guides your present decision-making without letting regrets weigh you down. Keep being grateful for your dog’s silky little ears.

Ask yourself if right now your goal is building a life or living. Be okay with whatever your answer is this year. Be okay with it changing next year. And no matter what you do, never stop peaking.