How to deal with the anxiety of approaching my late 20s
August 19, 2014 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Turning 27 - help me make the best of it.

In the last 7 years -- I earned a degree from my dream university, lost my beloved mother to cancer, passionately built a startup with a business partner, returned to Catholicism, discovered I had playwriting aspirations, gotten my heart broken 3 times. Just lived and learned.

Currently I work as a copywriter for a marketing company and, though it's not full-time, I manage to save $1,000/month. I rent a room and I'm too lazy to get a mattress so I've been sleeping on the floor. I'm taking a long hiatus from dating. My social life is decent. Overall things are fine, but a part of me feels like I'm stuck in a rut, like I still don't have it "together."

Turning 27 gives me a bit of anxiety because I think it's a make-or-break year. How do I make the best of it? How do I make sure I'm not squandering opportunities? What do you recommend I try/do/pursue? Given the chance, what will you tell your 27-year-old self?

Thank you very much for your time.
posted by tackypink to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Save money. Compound interest is your friend, if you start saving early rather than late. You've got that one covered. Not that many people do.

That said, don't be a miser. Get a mattress. As you get older, you're more likely to get things like back problems, and sleeping on the floor probably won't help with that. You don't have to get the Platonic ideal of the perfect mattress, just get one (a new one, not a used one, too much risk of bedbugs with a used one).

I'm dealing with my own impending turning 40 (yikes!) by telling myself there is no list of things you must accomplish by a given age lest you be a failure. I don't think there's any punishment for "not living up to your potential," either. If I'm wrong, and you can go to hell for not living up to your potential... well, I'll be seeing you there, I guess.
posted by Anne Neville at 1:50 PM on August 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I promise you, no single year is make-or-break, for anything. You set your goals, and if you don't achieve them, you keep trying. As you yourself say, live and learn, and then live some more.

There is a fun milestone you can celebrate 138 days into your 27th year: you'll be 10,000 days old!* Do something fun for yourself. But don't fret about it, no one is going to come checking on your progress on day 10,001.

* Depending on leap years, it might be a day more or less. But if it matters, you can figure it out pretty easily.
posted by ubiquity at 1:50 PM on August 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

I think it's a make-or-break year

It's really not. There's really no such thing.

How do I make the best of it?

The same way you make the best out of any time: identify the things you want out of life and do them. If you'd like to start dating again, do it. If you want a bed, buy one. If you want a full-time job, start looking. Congrats on the savings, though!

How do I make sure I'm not squandering opportunities?

What opportunities are facing you now? You can't squander opportunities that don't exist, so get out there and find your opportunities. Trust your gut and question with your brain, and keep living and learning. Keep doing the things you were doing before, with the startups, the degree, and the playwriting.

Given the chance, what will you tell your 27-year-old self?

Everyone is different, so this isn't a great question for me, a stranger on the internet, to answer FOR YOU. If I were talking to myself, I would tell myself not to change a damn thing. But I'm not you! Can you ask some older friends who know you better?
posted by functionequalsform at 1:52 PM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

This may or may not be useful. Consider volunteer work. The benefits are:
- It gets the mind oriented towards the world and away from self-examination.
- It exposes you to people you wouldn't otherwise meet in your social circles.
- It gives you perspective.
- And it's useful.
posted by valannc at 1:52 PM on August 19, 2014

Forgive yourself.

This kind of "wait, what is this I'm doing" kind of thinking you're having is actually common in your late 20's, I've found. Think of it - you spend your early 20's in a state of flaily panic, because you are now suddenly an adult for real and you're out of college and omigod now you are all on your own about all of this and you have to pay rent and pay your student loans and make money and find a job and somehow still find time to have a social life and deal with your parents and aaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuughhhhh.... So your early 20's is one long panicked scramble while you're trying to suddenly learn how to juggle all of that.

And then your mid-20's, you're finally getting the hang of it - you've figured out how to work up the ladder at the job you're in, get the whole money thing sorted out, you've made had a couple of social tap-dances you've had to do - whether because of a romance situation or a friend situation or whatever - but you're not panicked and scrambling any more, your'e getting the hang of it. Yay! You've figured out how to juggle!

So where you are now is: you've had a couple years of relaxing into "yay, I know how to juggle", and this is the first chance you've really had to stop and ask yourself, "okay, hang on, now that i know how to juggle, lemme take a second look at the actual things I'm juggling." You've worked out the broader-strokes concept of "how to be a grown-up" and gotten that under your belt - and now you're brave enough to start fine-tuning it.

And just about everyone in their late 20's does this, so you're actually in extremely good company.

And you seem to have things under control, you're just feeling a sense of wanting to do a little something more. The good news is, so far your choices have been getting you to a good place, so - there's no reason to doubt that your choices won't continue to get you into a good place. So listening to yourself about whether you want to take on more risks or do different things or what not seems like a decent thing to do.

Good luck. You're doing better than you think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:04 PM on August 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm 42 - from my perspective, no year in your 20s (or 30s) is a "make or break year". What's important is that you consistently pursue your interests - stay engaged, active, and open to new experiences. You'll want to do this for the rest of your life anyway, and in your 20s it can open doors to long-term work opportunities and relationships that will set the tone of your life in the coming decades.

If I could lecture my 27 year old self, I would say:

1) Sit down and make a list of what genuinely interests you right now. Then figure out at least some ways to pursue these things substantively over the coming year or two. Don't be passive and wait for ideal experiences to come your way - you can't underestimate the power of serendipity and simply being engaged in making aspects of your life come "together".

2) Start exercising regularly. Also, take good care of your teeth (really). This will save you pain, fatigue, and expensive doctoring later on.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:07 PM on August 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

Seriously, get a bed/futon/sleeping set up that is conducive to a nice sleeping experience. Don't be stingy about bedding and sheets either. It's one of life's luxuries and if you can save $1k/month you can afford to not sleep on the floor. It sounds like that is your only problem. I'll be 37 next week.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:08 PM on August 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you go buy a mattress tonight you'll already be miles ahead of where you started this morning.
posted by lydhre at 2:12 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm going to go against the grain here and say if you're in reasonably good shape and don't have any back problems, a cheap mattress or futon might do more harm than good for your back. You do want at least a bit of padding (like a bedroll) between you and a floor, though.

That being said, when you do start dating again, "why don't we go back to my place" doesn't work too well if there's no bed at your place.
posted by griphus at 2:12 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can save 1K a month, you can afford a mattress that's not a piece of shit - 40 year old you will thank you.

I'd tell 27 year old me to:

1) Pull back on some of the sports/activities - some of the injuries you've incurred have guaranteed you a future with arthritis and probably pain killer dependency.
2) Keep saving at your current rate - that 4K you've got to your name right now will be an amount you never thought you'd reach when you were 18.

You are going to be just fine.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 2:17 PM on August 19, 2014

Travel. Change careers. Start that thing you've been putting off. Gather experiences and learn to stop saying no to yourself.

Your late twenties is the first time in your life with your own disposable income, and few responsibilities to anyone else. You are in one of the freest times of your life in many respects. You have a job, a responsibility to yourself to start thinking of the future, sure, but you still have the energy of youth and a lot more resilience than you may give yourself credit for. It's the perfect time to explore and try new things. Responsibility will come soon enough.
posted by bonehead at 2:19 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

27 is not a make-or-break year. No year is a make or break year. However, owning a mattress is an accoutrement of adulthood, so if you're worried about where you are in life, go buy a mattress for crying out loud.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:41 PM on August 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah, make the most of your free time. First, I would probably tell my 27-year-old self to break up with my boyfriend (so good on you for taking a dating hiatus. be thoughtful about it!)

+ Invest really hard in friendships. Nthing other suggestions that now is a time when you have a bit of disposable income and before you have children or other responsibilities. Use it to build solid friendships with people whose company you enjoy AND who lift you up, are trustworthy, and have your back.

+ Save money. Obvs.
posted by magdalemon at 2:44 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

27 wasn't make or break for me, but it was the year that I realized I wasn't precocious any more—I was a full-fledged grown-up (even if I didn't feel like one) who would be judged on experience and skills, not on potential. That changed the things I focused on.

Broadly speaking, experience as broadly as you can. You should try anything that interests you. I'll never regret that I worked on lots of different things, dated lots of different kinds of people, tried on lots of different personas for myself. It gave me a much clearer picture of what I want and who I want to be for long-term, and let me do it at a time that was fairly low-risk and low-responsibility. And the wider my network and interests got, the more opportunities presented themselves. The great luxury of your 20s is that you're old enough to do the things you're interested in, and young enough to do them for only as long as you're interested. Like, at 22, it doesn't feel like a "waste" to spend a year or three doing something that doesn't pan out. I'd argue that time spent in passionate pursuit of something is never wasted at any stage of life, but as your life gets fuller and commitments pile on you will start to feel like the number of Things you can pursue is finite. So take full advantage of it now.

You should get yourself sorted out if you have any health stuff going on, physical or mental. And you should get in shape now if you're not already—bone density and cardiovascular health are like the money you're socking away (congrats! keep doing that!) and are worth more later the sooner you can start. It will only get harder to catch up as you get older.

You should travel, volunteer, all the personal growth stuff you are interested in. Build and nurture strong friendships.

Start making plans for the future. Not in a rigid schedule kind of way, but in a general milestones/personal goals kind of way. If you're a woman, it makes sense to think about if you want to have kids, and when-ish, and how that intersects with working. Someday you may want to be more intentional about your career choices—what can you do now to set yourself up for that?

At the same time, cultivate flexibility and the ability to roll, so you can be ready when opportunity knocks and resilient when plans change.

Basically, keep doing what it sounds like you're already doing. "Live and learn" will always be true, but it's easier to live with a lot of variety in your 20s (and pack in a lot of learning, from things both good and bad).

Happy birthday, and good luck!
posted by peachfuzz at 2:58 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

27 is not really a make or break year :-) When I turned thirty, a friend of mine told the only reason anyone cares about thirtieth birthdays is because our numerical system is in base ten. He converted my age to base 8, which was some arbitrary number. 27 is an arbitrary number.

I think you should get a mattress because it sounds sort of important to you as a piece of having it "together." Also put money into your 401k. And floss every day! And if you wear sunscreen and don't smoke it really will make you less wrinkly when you're old.
posted by mermily at 3:12 PM on August 19, 2014

Here's the thing I wish I'd figured out around age 20 or so. You can't do everything. So decide what it is you want to do, and do it. Perhaps worry less about keeping your options open. You're at the perfect age now to say to yourself "okay, by age 33, I want to be [doing X]" and then make a plan for that to happen. X should be really specific. It should be that one dream that is uniquely yours, that thing you'd love to do if you could actually make it work. I would tell my 27 year old self not to stress over "omg I don't know what I really want to do." If you're like me, you probably do. You probably just don't believe you can, or you don't think it's a legitimate idea, or you think those two things you want to do are mutually exclusive, or it has downsides you may not know if you can live with. Start surfacing your wants, the tradeoffs you see, and your priorities. Then start getting input and thinking pragmatically. Okay, goal X can't be done by age 33; it's more like a retirement plan. Goal Y will require a trustworthy business partner. Goal Z ... yeah i can't handle manure enough to actually become a farmer, I'll let that one go. Or whatever. Age 27 is a great time to take stock and make some plans.
posted by salvia at 3:16 PM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Take care of your skin, starting with sunscreen, every single day.

If you can save 1K a month, you can afford a mattress that's not a piece of shit - 40 year old you will thank you.

Good lord, yes.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:21 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Looking back 28 is basically the same age as 27, and I could have totally tread water for that whole year and ended up in basically as happy as I am now (and I am only 33, so I am not even that much older than you). So please let yourself relax a bit.

I know several people who always seem to act like whatever year they are in is make-or-break, and in general it seems to cause them unhappiness without making them more productive. Building a happy life is a long-term project, and the happiest people I know seem to be the ones who can figure out how to pace themselves and quietly chip away at their goals every day at a sensible pace instead of working themselves into a frenzy about how they need to have accomplished everything NOW.

So the first step for right now is just achieving one small unit of work that you think will move your life in the right direction. There is no one right answer here--maybe it's buying a mattress, maybe it's doing an hour of playwriting, maybe going for a run or making a healthy meal, or maybe even just taking some time to relax and recharge your brain if that is what you need. Just pick something and then do it. Then when you are done, do another thing. Try not to worry too much about all the things you could have done instead as long as you like the things you did pick. This is the secret to how happy and productive lives are lived.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 3:27 PM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

27 was when I had my first (and *knock wood* so far only) major health issue*. So as others have mentioned, consider making some space in your life now for taking care of health related things -- get your teeth up to snuff, have a baseline physical (including blood work & such).

*My health issue involved back surgery. So in addition to making me more aware of taking care of my health over all, 27 was the year I made the move from a fold-up futon to a proper bed. So maybe this is the year you make the move from the floor to a fold-up futon.
posted by macadamiaranch at 3:28 PM on August 19, 2014

I'm 47. No year is a make-or-break one-shot deal. Be sure your finances are on track and that you have or develop good-health habits.
posted by harrietthespy at 4:11 PM on August 19, 2014

27 was a huge year for me; I finally finished my undergrad, moved across the country and took a terrible job. I'd tell past me to get on that ADD medication kick much earlier (maybe not applicable to you), to listen when everyone you will work with tries to hint to you that the job will be terrible and that they are all terrible people, and that when you live with someone and it's just you two, that means that any chores you don't do, the other person has to. I'm still working on that last one, but the more I could reinforce it, the better.

That all said, I was crazy anxious about this shit too, and ultimately it hasn't mattered all that much. I have a job I'm moderately happy with now (despite always being on the lookout for someplace else that doesn't have our dysfunction) because I do work that I care about. I have a good relationship with my fiancee in part because of a conscious effort to be a better partner. I never did go to grad school or write that novel that I hope to someday, and I still have a couple tabs of acid for Disneyland if I can ever make those gears align, but I'm pretty good with where I am.

What I might do for you is try to reframe it: What would you tell your 35-year-old self? Remember, you'll see through most of your bullshit and anxiety then (because most of your fears will end up being not a big deal after all, and you'll probably have some legit unexpected tragedies in that time), so what would you say you're working on, what would you say that you don't think is that big of a deal?
posted by klangklangston at 5:32 PM on August 19, 2014

Hi, I'm an actual current 27 year-old. Things I have done for the first time this year include but certainly aren't limited to.

-Purchased my own health insurance, and dealt with all the bureaucratic headaches therein myself.
-Moved to my own apartment, put all the utilities in my name.
-Had my best-paying job to date. (Only a temp contract gig, but still.)
-Calmly and gracefully helped a friend through a mental health crisis.
-Gotten into a semi-regular, structured exercise routine I'm pretty happy with.

By the end of the year, I'll also be able to add "applied to professional school" to this list. Whee!

Thing is though--aside from the school applications, which I've been working toward for a while now, I didn't specifically set out to do any of those things this year. Even the apartment, which feels like it should be a milestone of adulthood I'd been working towards forever, came about suddenly and unexpectedly. I feel much more grounded and stable and adult, but that's not a magical function of being 27; it's a function of all my previous decisions, good and bad, that led me to the place I'm at now.

My 27 year-old self is jealous of your 27 year-old self's ability to save money. Keep that up. But your 27 year-old self doesn't have to match my 27 year-old self developmentally in every way. The only thing I'd strongly suggest for you, based on the things I've done this year, is to take a Mental Health First Aid class if you can find one locally. That crisis intervention I mentioned above is the 'adult' thing I'm most proud of myself for this year, and I couldn't have done it without the knowledge from Mental Health First Aid.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:13 PM on August 19, 2014

First, congratulations on accomplishing all you have so far!!

Second, what is the true reason why you don't have a mattress yet? You know, other than being too "lazy" like you said. I get that obtaining one can be a pain BUT you're someone who has achieved so many great things (and already at age 27!) I have a feeling that there's a underlying reason -- a secret hope to move soon, a sense that you don't deserve your accomplishments, a subconscious wish for more adventure?! I'm sure the reason, whatever it may be, has got some validity BUT figuring it out may provide some insight on why you're feeling this way right now. I encourage you to reflect and then start taking the steps to make the changes happen, even if it's simply accepting your current status quo as OK for now and acknowledging that a good night's sleep will help you get where you REALLY want to be, literally or figuratively.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:09 PM on August 19, 2014

OP, when I was your age I was more concerned about whether I'd even be alive at 30 (long story). When I managed to take steps toward making that a reality, simply achieving that dumb/awesome milestone made me feel like I was maximizing just fine. My situation partly resulted in a decade of deferred "adulthood," too (again, long story), so things like having a healthy bank account or credit card were also victories. Because of this delay, I'm only really experiencing the existential worry that you describe now, as in my late 30s.

What helps me through this? Well, realizing that there's no set schedule for this stuff, for one. And realizing that there's no set definition of the stuff that needs to be done within said schedule, for another. We all take different paths and learn important things at different times. Your idea of what makes for a maximized 27 year old adult is going to differ from mine, and anyone else's; I'll add a vote for getting a damn grown-up bed, however (just finally got mine this spring!)

How do I make the best of it?

We can't tell you. The best answer is that you'll recognize what "the best" is as you make it -- or allow it to -- happen.

Some actions or choices are just going to feel like the right ones. For some, these might be radical moves, commitments to things out of the mainstream, etc. For others, things that tick a conformity box will feel good (as someone who spent years rebelling against conventions, doing "normal" stuff like buying beds and talking about marriage feels surprisingly correct). Most of us will fall somewhere in between, and your personal mileage will totally vary.

Don't get caught up in some arbitrary idea of what you should have done, or should be doing, at a given point in your life. (And without further context, 27 seems like a very arbitrary point.)
posted by credible hulk at 11:28 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's true that no year is make or break, but I remember 27 feeling pretty great and terrifying for the sense that adulthood was really setting in.

The main thing I'd tell my 27 year old self would be to start therapy sooner. I waited till I was 32, and I wish I'd realized earlier that things don't have to be awful to merit a little professional help. So take stock of your whole health: physical, teeth, eyes, mental, and see a professional for any checkups that could help.
posted by ldthomps at 9:14 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would tell myself trust has to be earned, don't give it away freely. How the fuck I wish I'd known that. Don't be too dazzled by people too soon, all that glitters is not gold... the best finds can be the less obvious ones.

If you wind up in the abyss for any period of time get therapy sooner rather than later - 27 is old enough to be starting to figure some big stuff out about yourself and probably young enough for change to be less of a monumental task.

Learn that people with more life experience sometimes really have picked up a thing or two worth listening to, but also could still be talking shite.

27 for me was when drastic and painful changes began happening in my close social circle.. those deep bonds.. people moving away/settling/distancing emotionally. I found this incredibly tough, but I think it is probably part of the process of life. People come and they go. It's not necessarily a rejection of you per se, perhaps more what they are going to and getting absorbed in now.

Think about what didn't work for you in romantic relationships so you can dare to think what might.
posted by tanktop at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2014

Check this out too! Great advice!
posted by tanktop at 10:38 AM on August 20, 2014

Many thanks to everyone for taking the time to share your kind and very helpful thoughts. I look forward to turning 27!
posted by tackypink at 7:49 PM on August 20, 2014

Not having a bed is a good subconscious signal that you don't want a relationship, sex in your bedroom, or probably even friends in your room, because it would be awkward. Also, impermanence.

Which, if that is what you want, is cool.
If it's, supposedly, not? Hmmmm. You got some thinking to do.

Try and get an idea of what you're wanting out of life.
Then, look at your life with 'Outsiders Eyes'. Imagine you were Sherlock, just intuiting your life from what you do, what you look like, your surroundings - nothing from what you *think* about.

How much does your idea, and 'Sherlocks' ideas match up? Go with Sherlocks impression, even if you try and argue yourself out of it.

Act as if.
If you want a relationship, create a bedroom you'd be happy to bring a serious romantic partner home too. Or get a couch bed, and feel more comfortable about having friends round. Whatever it is, just, make your room like that. Cheaply.
posted by Elysum at 1:51 AM on August 21, 2014

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