“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s a question we’re often asked as we get older, and reach that age of independence. It’s something we’re expected to have set in stone, cementing who we will become in the future.
But the real question here should be: why are we expected to have our future written out at such an early age when there are so many drafts we still have to go through?
When people say the phrase ‘coming of age’, we picture a child transitioning to a teen. It’s that stage in your life when you feel like you're a grown up but you're really not, and when you start to be less dependent and begin making your own decisions (even the irrational ones). But to me, coming of age also refers to the time you transition from a teen to a young adult– to the stage in your life when you've graduated from school and you're left to sort out your future. There’s the sheer excitement of receiving your acceptance letter from a university, or the restlessness of an upcoming job interview. You're excited, but you're slightly lost; it's a moment of self-realisation. You ask yourself: what’s next?
Entering my 20s was defined by finding some self-assurance, and that continues to be so. I felt more comfortable with myself, finding my own sense of fashion and landing a permanent job while also studying. I started to truly come out of my shell. But a question constantly lingered: was I able to adjust to this new era of my life? Right when you think you’ve overcome one obstacle, another comes creeping behind you like a monster in a nightmare, ready to frighten you and jolt you awake. I had been so used to routine— waking up at 6:30 in the morning for school, anticipating the hometime bell at 3:30. Now, it was all up to me.
The thing about growing up is that you're never too sure, and even if you have your life mapped out, something can easily scribble all over it. I’ve heard stories about people who have attended university in hopes to pursue a career in their area of interest, only to constantly change courses or drop out completely--- from my sister telling me a friend of hers knew someone who had studied law for years only to earn a desk job, and to the encounters I’ve had with former classmates who have told me they’ve dropped out of university. Now with the current pandemic, things haven’t been easier. In fact, it has exacerbated the struggle.
At the brink of the pandemic, I was beginning my last year of university. I had high hopes; I wanted to focus solely on my studies and aim for the best results I could give. I wanted to be ahead, do the required readings, set myself a time and place to study. But within two weeks of my final year, Melbourne had gone into lockdown and I didn’t see the familiarity of my university campus for the next twelve months. I was missing the tentative chatter with other students in a tutorial, the campus cafe, and the hour long train rides where I would listen to music.
It was a long and gruelling lockdown that proved to be effective. However, it can take a toll on someone’s well-being and mental health. The isolation from loved ones and the struggles of coping financially are just some factors that contribute to someone’s mental state.
June of last year brought forward a feeling of unpredictability I hadn’t felt in quite some time. It was difficult not seeing friends, but the feeling that really struck was a loss of motivation— a constant procrastination when it came to uni work. I was more and more uncertain of my future and it was difficult not having the company of teachers to give me advice on putting my foot in the door. There wasn’t the comfort of sitting in a tutorial room with them and other students discussing the opportunities our course would present. It didn’t feel like a final year, like I was on the verge of graduating— it was anticlimactic.
I submitted my last assignment with much relief, but there wasn’t the feeling of “oh, so this is it.” It was more “so, that’s done.” Not being physically at campus and walking out of those gates for possibly the last time didn’t seem like much of a resolution.
The widespread virus has caused jobs and opportunities to become more scarce than ever before, with businesses hitting a bump on the road, shutting down or not hiring any new staff. But it has also helped many to self-reflect. Some have taken on new hobbies, gained new interests, made a big decision in regards to their future. It’s been different for everyone, and unfortunately harder for some more than others.
In particular, it has forced us twenty-somethings to feel this pressure to sort out our life because we feel we’re running out of time.
“I felt a bit lost because it was kind of ruining my plans on getting my first job in the field I studied for after finishing my course,” one of my friends told me. They had done a course for a certificate in childcare and despite the eagerness to find a job, they were receiving rejection email after rejection email, or sometimes even no response, as jobs were more and more limited.
Another friend of mine agreed, especially during what many consider a milestone, graduating university with doors wide open for opportunities. But COVID-19 had slammed them closed and this future just looked more uncertain than before. They told me, “…I was getting more worried about job prospects because the employment market was terrible.”
However, for some people, this state of lockdown has allowed them to reflect. A university friend of mine, who in fact had postponed a semester in the midst of lockdown, found it to be a cathartic experience. “I honestly felt like it was definitely a much needed rest. I got the time to actually get to know myself because I was finally spending time at home.”
The pandemic has truly taken a toll on many, whether that be a time of struggle or reflection. For people in their 20s, in the midst of having to sort out what’s next, it can be daunting or a moment of relief.
But everyone’s experience is different, and for us in our 20s still trying to sort out our lives, one thing I can truly say is: we shouldn’t feel pressured. Everyday is about learning and trying new things. It’s all about taking one step at a time. The pandemic may have been a setback, but it shouldn’t stop us.
About the Author
Amy is a freelance writer from Australia with a Bachelor of Media and Communications. Having studied film as a major, she’s a TV and movie enthusiast who falls in love with fictional characters a little too easily. Writing has always been her passion since she was young, first holding a great interest in narrative writing to then gaining an avid love for media analysis. Her essays are often through a cultural lens, particularly in terms of representation and identity. When she isn’t writing or analysing something she’s watched, she’s constantly drinking coffee or matcha, streaming story based video games and taking months to finish one novel.