Twilight Zone
June 12, 2007 7:07 AM   Subscribe

How do you just move on with your life and grow up?

I'm 25 right now, but I feel as though I'm stuck at 16. It was sort of a case where two roads diverged in a road (to quote Robert Frost), and I took one path, only to regret not taking the other.

I decided to go into a health sciences field in high school when I would much rather (and my talents and abilities and interests seem to indicate) have gone into the arts (such as writing). There were a bunch of extraneous factors involved, such as parental/cultural pressure and such. So I entered a professional undergrad program and failed out five years later--I couldn't handle the pressure and my inner conflicts. I was very passionate about writing and literature also and saw it as a big part of my identity, and trying to pursue that along with my real studies (they involve two completely different ways of thinking) meant I made sacrifice after sacrifice in my personal life for success in my program, and it took its toll, I guess. I switched to English, graduated, and now I don't know what to do with my life.

I can't seem to move on from that period of my life when I made the choice. I was pretty spirited and full of opinions and plans and dreams back in high school, but now I'm broken? I spent my last uni year almost physically sick from memories of my previous years in that program, and I haven't been interested in anything since the switch. I didn't make a friend while I was in the professional program, and the people I consider friends are those from my high school days--and they've moved on. They live the kind of lifestyle that I think I would have followed too if I had taken that first path. I think there's envy involved, because it's what I aspire to and want for myself, but they're not talking to me now anyway, because their own lives and group of friends had evolved in the meantime.

I also spent all my time studying, so I'm really lacking in the social skills and general knowledge that one typically picks up around this time. For example, I'm really uneasy around alcohol, because I'm completely inexperienced with drinking and feel very embarrassed about making goofs when I try to order a drink at a bar. Personal development is also a little lacking; I basically lived in a cave, and it seemed all my growth had stopped then, including branching interests. I didn't have time to pursue my own interests or make new ones; consequently all my interests are those that I had at 16 (I was a nerd, so it's not too bad; art and writing and history and psychology), but that doesn't mean they're valid or right for me now.

I was depressed throughout those years and suppressed who I was and my real thoughts and feelings about everything. It's only in the last year, now that I'm finished school, that they're coming back.

I saw a counsellor, but she seems to think I'm all right and simply blowing things out of proportion. The people who know about this really do think I'm making a big drama out of it all. They don't take me seriously when I try to tell them how I really felt during those years. I think it's a problem because a) I really do feel stuck, b) I can't seem to relate to or see my friends except how they were in high school, c) everyone around me _treats_ me like a 16 year old and they can't seem to relate to me in any other way--that includes relatives, parents, friends, and acquaintances. Along with the assumption is also that I think like a 16 year old, and that's definitely not true.

I'm not immature--I'm very perceptive about myself and I can take care of myself extremely well. I come across great in writing. I also have good insights. But when it comes to exchanges with the world and inter-personal relations in general, and showing myself to the world, I'm about the most stupid person that I've ever come across (I'm socially awkward and can't read cues very well. For example, I only learned not to take people's words at face value at 22--that was a harsh lesson). I've been looking for a job for six months without success, and I think this probably has something to do with it.

I don't exactly know how to deal with this. I think the past 7 or 8 years in virtual isolation had done something to my brain. It's like I have a replay button, and the only things that I respond to are those things that I responded to at 16--but I'm not learning anything new and I'm not interested in anything new. The world reads like I went to sleep in 1998 and woke up in the mid-'00's. I just want to keep going back to who I was and try to move on from that persona--but circumstances have changed (heck, this isn't high school anymore, or even uni), my circle of acquaintances have changed, and I've changed--I'm an adult now. I tried doing something adventurous like go backpacking solo (to teach myself independence), but it's effects didn't last long.

I feel like a basket-case and like life is passing me by, and I hate it. What can I do to get out of this? How can I go about learning all this stuff I seem to have missed during what apparently were formative years, or skip it altogether and just live as my 25 year old self?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
First of, as a 37 year old, I advise you to do this IMMEDIATELY:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND SAY TO YOURSELF: I am 25 I am still a baby and my whole life is still in front of me.

I know how it feels at 25 to think everything has been screwed up by the past and life is ruined, but trust me, 12 years on from that I know better. At 25 you have barely started. Now, you clearly need some help from an actual decent therapist who will take your concerns seriously, as opposed to the clown who said your blowing things out of proportion, BUT, a very good first step is to relax and get some perspective on what 25 actually means. Allow yourself to float for a while and let things go. There is more than enough time to make a worthwhile life. You just have to START.
posted by spicynuts at 7:24 AM on June 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

The most important thing is action. You have to do things or they will not get done. Break down exactly what it is you want to do, or be (even if just for that moment) and then do it. Try to achieve happiness on a moment by moment basis. If you want a drink, have one. If you don't, don't. If you're hungry, eat. Do your best to keep things simple at first, and then move on from there to some longer-term goals.

Just try to be comfortable with who you are right now, realize that if you work at it you can be anything you want, and then get crackin'!
posted by Caper's Ghost at 7:26 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you already know what you need to do but are scared to do it, which is just grow up already and make some decisions. I was in therapy for a while for something completely different, but one thing the therapist told me and has always stuck with me is: wake up every morning with the intention of living the life you want to live and make a conscious effort to behave and think differently. I tried it, and it actually worked. Change is a slow process, so don't expect that your life will suddenly be different. Real change and real growth is hard and takes conscious effort.

You love to write, so find a community writing group in your area. You'll meet like-minded people who will help you with your craft but you may even make some new friends out of it. I belong to one and I've met a whole new circle of people I never would have known. It seems to me that you need to just get out into the world and live. Start taking some yoga classes, or continuing ed classes through your town in flower arranging or whatever you are interested in. The best way to make new friends is to get out into the world and just be genuine. People will want to talk to you and be around you if you are real.

I know it doesn't seem like it, but 25 is so young. You're really not that different from most people your age in terms of where your head is. At some point we al struggle with the reality that being an adult is so much different than being a youngster, and most people I know (I'm 38) aren't doing what they went to college to study!!
posted by archimago at 7:38 AM on June 12, 2007

You have an english degree and think because you cant get a job there must be something wrong with you? Err, no offense, but liberal arts degrees are almost worthless when it comes towards employment. Its a nice way of saying, "I went to college" but not that much else. What kinds of jobs are you trying to get into? Just like anyone you're really going to have to hustle to get that first entry-level position. Have you been looking at temp or retail work to hold you over yet?

I've known some people like you. THey're fresh out of school or grad school with a liberal arts degree and get very dramatic when life doesnt hand them a 50k a year job for being clever, young, and cool. Sorry, the real world is very rough and competative. Aim low and climb the ladder.

Also, that first job is the hardest to get and very few people are honest about how difficult this is. You just have to keep working at it. Employed people have a hard time remembering what it was like to be unemployed and looking.

Lastly, I dontk now anyone who had a normal childhood and had normal "formative" years. Dwelling on this kind of thing is blowing things out of proportion. You're also in your mid twenties which is the age where you lose many friends due to movings, careers, relationships, etc and you have to pretty much start over with new people. THis is hard on people with good social skills, so you shouldnt feel bad that you dont have many friends. Everyone has to deal with this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:40 AM on June 12, 2007

In the past, Nike had a slogan. It was "Just Do It"

That is my advice to you. You are bright, smart, capable person.

You are just overthinking this all.

Just start doing things with other people. Choose a hobby with other people involved, try a sport, take a road trip, etc. Go do things you are interested in doing, things that make you happy.

The time you spent writing 9 paragraphs of navel gazing could have been used to look up the next get-together that anonymous is interested in.

Don't overanalyze your situation, it's of no help. Focus on doing interesting and fun things for you that widen your circle of friends.
posted by Argyle at 7:43 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with the comments posted so far. I remember feeling like my life was over - I blew it - at fourteen. It turns out that in my case it was more clinical depression and the ineffectual self medication thereof rather than a realistic view of my potential - who knows what you will think fifteen years hence but I bet it won't be "yeah, I was all washed up at 25."

The way to move on is by ... moving on. Do something. In this case any action is better than none. I used to not want to go to the gym before I got in shape, because I didn't want people to see me out of shape. That is just self-centered fear and you can safely ignore it. Accept where you are and find an action to take.
posted by shothotbot at 7:45 AM on June 12, 2007

I'm 45. If I thought I couldn't start new things I would shoot myself. You are only as "stuck" as you believe.
posted by The Deej at 7:55 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Write a young adult novel. Get the life you wished you'd lived out of your system. Then start living the life you have.
posted by headspace at 7:55 AM on June 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

I also had to majorally adjust my mental frame around social stuff. I had this incorrect idea that college you should be this intellectual hermit (which I so wanted to do during highschool) after which you emerge to join the "real world". For me it was semi-conscious theme, didn't really decide it just behaved that way. Eventually I discovered I was much happier when life wasn't fenced into strict phases.

My teens (10-15 yrs) was a really rough patch socially & I felt like I lost some impt formative years there too. I eventually did the "throw yourself into" approach -- studying abroad, then moving to a big city and being immersed into the thus far unknown dynamics of Group friendship with a capital G (via my bf). You'll have one or two people make fun of you a little, but there's usually, if the people are worth hanging out with, one person that'll help you out and check in on you, having been in the same position. Drinking socially usually just involves figuring out your limit, trying to use body language that doesn't say go away, and finding a preferred drink or two. It quickly gets better, and soon you have to start getting out of the rut of social habits you've formed, instead of the hermit rut.

One of my friends who had a lot more style sense/makeup sense than I'll likely ever have, once relayed how many hours upon hours she had spent as a teenager reading fashion and teen magazines for beauty tips. I probably spent a 10th of that time in my later years, but got to a point where I could pass as typical enough. Maybe read Paul Graham's article on popularity/nerds to see how much effort some ppl put into it.
posted by ejaned8 at 7:55 AM on June 12, 2007

I'm not immature--I'm very perceptive about myself and I can take care of myself extremely well. I come across great in writing. I also have good insights. But when it comes to exchanges with the world and inter-personal relations in general, and showing myself to the world, I'm about the most stupid person that I've ever come across (I'm socially awkward and can't read cues very well. For example, I only learned not to take people's words at face value at 22--that was a harsh lesson). I've been looking for a job for six months without success, and I think this probably has something to do with it.

Hang feel that you're perceptive about yourself and have good insights yet you think you're broken and somehow missed some vitally formative stage? That doesn't quite compute.

I completely disagree with damn dirty ape that an English degree is worthless. Uh, of course I do -- I majored in literature myself. UNLESS, you think that an English degree somehow should get you a job reading books or writing. That's not what it's for.

You're likely not getting a job because you're coming across as insecure and perhaps not very practical. Take some baby steps -- concern yourself with getting an entry-level job and concentrate on doing it well. Any aspect that's boring or annoying can be translated into great fodder for writing -- you're lucky that you have a creative outlet.
posted by desuetude at 7:58 AM on June 12, 2007

For the job apps/interview, focus on what they need -- the business purpose of what you'll be doing -- not what you need. Also, write thank-you letters to everyone you talk to. If you feel like there was something you could have expressed more clearly, you also then have a chance to clarify.
posted by ejaned8 at 8:05 AM on June 12, 2007

You have plenty of time. Time is not running out. At seventeen, I thought I had killed my chances at a bright future. Kind of easy to do so, especially after being surrounded by glowing articles and what-not about all these successful people, who just knew their life's calling since age five. Kids who got into college at 12, then became chief of brain surgery at 22.

And then I thought - when I'm 27 and I look back at 17, I'll consider 17 pretty young and fresh. And what about 47 looking back on 27?

Of course, there will always be the "!!!! Time running out!!" feeling. But, take everything in stride.
posted by Xere at 8:06 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your mid 20s is prime time for being a basket case. I suspect your friends have or have had similar feelings, but you're not hearing it because they seem more with-it than you are.

Things to do:

1) Stop regretting things. Accept that you have no power to change the past, and that you can't accurately predict whether you would be happier now if you had made different decisions then.

2) If you don't have a job, create one for yourself. Set a schedule that has you working 9-5 on something -- volunteering, job-hunting, starting a business, writing a book, whatever. It may be easier to get a menial job; nothing demonstrates your maturity to yourself and everyone you know like manual labor. Given two otherwise-identical candidates, most employers would preferred the one who dug ditches over the one who calls him/herself a "hard worker."

3) Consider that your ability to know what other people think of you is extremely limited and is usually based more on how you're feeling at the moment than what the person actually thinks.

4) Think about setting a period of time, like a year, where you're only going to focus on improving yourself. All the social and economic stuff tends to work itself out if you have confidence, and confidence comes from overcoming your weaknesses.

5) Take pride in your accomplishments, not your abilities. The fact that you graduated after such a bumpy ride is much more impressive than your self-assessed writing and perception skills.
posted by backupjesus at 8:10 AM on June 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

"You have an english degree and think because you cant get a job there must be something wrong with you? Err, no offense, but liberal arts degrees are almost worthless when it comes towards employment. Its a nice way of saying, 'I went to college' but not that much else."

I do take offense. The idea that learning skills such as clear and concise writing, critical thinking, and the appreciation of different forms of cultural knowledge and interaction is not useful or even "employable" is laughable at best.
posted by contog at 8:16 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

The answer to the question "is it too late?" is clearly no, not by a very, very, very, very long way, as many others point out. Even better, though, would be to realize that the question is the wrong question to ask. Cheesy and a bit New Age as it is, I suggest the book The Power Of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, which will give your brain a good refreshing twisting, at the very least. In a sense, to believe "there's still time" is to make the same conceptual mistake as "it's too late" - it just replaces regret with living in a future that never arrives. IANABuddhist, but the days I almost manage this approach are definitely the best ones.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:26 AM on June 12, 2007

You're not broken. You're normal.

Your therapist sounds like a doofus. Find a new one.

Get a job at a bookstore. Really. Working retail will help your social skills, and bookstores are good places to meet interesting people. If you've got a good independent bookstore in your area, start there. The money probably won't be great, but you'll get a discount on books, which you probably spend money on anyway.

While something like a solo backpacking trip might "unstick" some people, I'm not surprised it didn't work for you. Change is ongoing, and a discrete event like a backpacking trip is not necessarily going to carry change over into daily life.

Nthing what others have said - you will get unstuck by unsticking yourself. You don't have to do Everything All At Once: start on a smaller, less overwhelming scale. Pick a thing you're afraid to do, and do it. Then do it again.
posted by rtha at 8:47 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not so sure that I didn't feel really quite similar to the way that you do when I was 25. I say that because even though it was seven years or so ago I can't really remember. I agree with those that have said that one's mid 20's are a prime time for feeling like this. Get on with life, pursue your goals and do what makes you happy. The rest I'm sure will fall into place.
posted by ob at 9:07 AM on June 12, 2007

You sound like you would benefit from a little cognitive therapy - find a therapist (and I do think you'd benefit from talking to one again) who is into that approach.

As for writing and literature as a serious pursuit: stop looking for/asking for permission. Pick up a pen and get to work. If it's as much a part of your identity as you think it is, you'll feel a lot better just by getting something down on paper.

Liberate yourself, anonymous.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 9:08 AM on June 12, 2007

I know how you feel. But it's hard to figure out what people *mean* practically when they say "just unstick yourself." The bookstore suggestion is a good one, though: it's a concrete plan of action.

Here's another one: how about volunteering at a rest home or a day center for retirees. This accomplishes three things: first, it means you get to have some human interaction. Second, people who have lived a long time have a lot of great insights on what it means to live, what kinds of stages we go through in life, etc. They may give you a sense of perspective on "living" life. And third, unlike your buddies who want to drink, old people don't care much about being "cool" and they won't judge you in the same way. They've been around.

Oh, and an English degree is not worthless! Check out this site: Sure, it's not the same as having a professional degree, but it sounds like you're into life for more than just money. Good luck.
posted by media_itoku at 9:31 AM on June 12, 2007

The idea that learning skills such as clear and concise writing, critical thinking, and the appreciation of different forms of cultural knowledge and interaction is not useful or even "employable" is laughable at best.

The problem isn't that the knowledge represented by the degree isn't worthwhile, it's that having it (assuming it's not from an extremely prestigious school) does absolutely nothing to distinguish you from the gazillionty-leven other people with a liberal arts degree.

Oh, and employers have figured out that having an English degree does not necessarily imply writing skill or critical thinking ability.
posted by kindall at 9:38 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

all your old friends who seem so normal and happy probably aren't as happy as they seem, for starters, and they probably harbor all kinds of regrets too, they just don't have the luxury of time to think about them as much with kids running around, a nagging wife, house payments, a job that sucks etc


you have a clean slate, for god's sake that's the best thing ever, you really can do whatever you want starting today, and most people would give anything to be in your position

you really are about as free as you were when you were 16, but you know all the things that a 25 yo knows, that's so great! think of all these problems of yours in a positive light because believe me, they're not bad problems to have

and read this

Stumbling on Happiness

it's not a self help book but it really gets to the nuts and bolts of being happy, and the perception of happiness

it talks about the grass being greener, and regrets, memories all this stuff, and sheds a lot of light on the things you're concerned about

i think you'd like it

good luck
posted by Salvatorparadise at 10:05 AM on June 12, 2007

A job is what you do to eat and pay bills. A passion is your life purpose.

They don't have to be the same thing.

Think on that.
posted by konolia at 10:06 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

You'd probably get a lot out of Steven Pressfield's The War of Art.
posted by JDHarper at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2007

My advice would be to give up trying to find satisfaction in a job or a career, and look for it in your friends.
posted by dydecker at 10:41 AM on June 12, 2007

“When we knew what we knew, we did what we did. When we knew better, we did better.” --Maya Angelou

Don't beat yourself up about the past. Focus on what you can do here and now. Speaking as someone who is only 29, you have no idea how much life there is after 25.

Feel free to email me. Address in profile.
posted by callmejay at 11:19 AM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm An English Major, Now What? offers practical advice and could save you a lot of time.

FWIW, I panicked when I graduated, got my first teaching job and realized it wasn't for me. You have PLENTY of time!
posted by misha at 11:24 AM on June 12, 2007

Your mid 20s is prime time for being a basket case


25 was horrible. I was in a completely different place than you (married, not a college graduate, etc) and still hated that year. It will get better. Take your time, learn to accept who you are becoming and do what makes you happy.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:36 AM on June 12, 2007

Get a different therapist. Lower your expectations and get any kind of work you can deal with. You can always change jobs. Read the 5 million AskMe threads about meeting new friends. The lions share of moving on is simply doing different things.
posted by nanojath at 2:11 PM on June 12, 2007

I'm 50. Started a new business last year, another one this year. Hard work, but fun. As someone wrote, just do it. Sounds like you're depressed: go and get laid maybe by someone who is worth your time. Etc. etc. Just do it, something, anything.
posted by londongeezer at 3:02 PM on June 12, 2007

I can really empathize with the exhaustion you're feeling right now. When I go through a really emotionally/spiritually stressful and/or exhausting experience, sometimes my body just needs to rest and process for awhile before I can pick myself up again. Don't fault yourself for that. You'll probably be glad later on that you let yourself recharge.

But it sounds now like you're ready to move on, quit hibernating, and create something new.

Do you live in a vibrant community with lots of young people? If not, consider moving to one. Melbourne, Edinburgh, Dublin (adjust to passport issues; I'm not suggesting a different country, just assuming things from "uni"). There are lots of people about your age who live there and hang out. Much easier to find new and currently interesting friends.

Try working in a bar or a club or a hostel or some other type of place where there will be young people hanging about. Instant social interaction. The jobs I've worked in restaurants and hostels have been some of the best places to casually meet and interact with all sorts of people. And in a big city, you'll probably run into other young artists (musicians, writers, actors) working those types of jobs.

Take it one step at a time! Don't worry about having your entire life in order RIGHT NOW. If you feel like you really need to recapture that chance at social development, work on that. Don't worry so much about career development; you can focus on that later.
posted by mosessis at 6:10 PM on June 12, 2007

All I can say is that I think I'm the one that posted this question, because that is ME in a nutshell.

I can't really offer advice on what to do to get "better", since I'm still trying to figure out how to socialize and not seem stuck-up around strangers and quit feeling inadequate around everyone. I just wanted you to know that you're really not alone in feeling this way.
posted by damnjezebel at 8:13 PM on June 12, 2007

So how do you still write now? If so, can you do me a favour? Please keep writing: don't ever stop.

I was quite good at writing when I was in my teens (won prizes, got published etc.) Then I completely dried up when I was about 19. I had no more stories to tell. For some reson I just couldn't do it anymore.

Write because you love to and because you can. Don't worry about the job you'll do to pay the bills. That will sort itself out. You're a writer, not a [insert meaningless job title here]. You are still young at 25 and have much ahead of you. For these small things I envy you. (That is not to say I am belittling or dismissing your current state of depression, confusion and loneliness. It sounds like the past few years have been difficult for you and you have been far too hard on yourself over it. )

Regrets sting more when one measures oneself against the achievements of others. You can end up letting that consume you and prevent youfrom moving forward.

Get a new counsellor, one that will listen to you. Counsellors should not dismiss your feelings like that, that is ridiculous.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 4:27 AM on June 13, 2007

Just a quick piece of practical advice from someone who has asked (and continues to ask) many of the same questions that you bring up: no matter what, exercise. Particularly if your employment is irregular - you definitely have the time to spend 30 minutes a day getting your heart pumping, working up a sweat, and the benefits (physical, emotional, confidence-building, socializing) will be concrete and undeniable.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 6:35 AM on June 13, 2007

I can't believe no one said this: you need to travel. It will get you to grow up quick and in exciting, unexpected ways.
posted by milarepa at 9:42 PM on July 2, 2007

« Older how likely is sticking around eventually going to...   |   Why Pose As A Woman? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.