The Panic Of Not Being Successful In Your 20s

Nmesoma Okwudili


February 8, 2024

Welcome to the “Oh-no-I’m-not-a-teen-anymore” phase, often known as the panic years, when the race to accomplish life goals before turning 30 feels like a sprint on a slippery banana peel. You can see people living their best life, climbing the success ladder, and amassing wealth as you browse through social media or take a look about you. In the meantime, you find yourself in your 20s, feeling a little stuck, and wondering if hitting the gym today was your greatest success. It feels like you’re stranded in a cosmic waiting area and you wish you could just go ahead to your life’s happy ending. 

We reside in a society that applauds youthful success, where ambitious millennials can be CEOs of their enterprises. Knowing that Malala Yousafzai began advocating for girls’ education at eleven, while Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his college dorm, it’s easy to feel inadequate, harbour insecurities, and accept that our achievements may not measure up.

Nowadays, the expectation that one should succeed in one’s twenties is as common as an infectious illness. Pessimistic thoughts, a critical inner voice, and unsettling energy are some of the manifestations of this pressure. There are many examples of people dedicating themselves, believing they have accomplished all in life and have nothing more to offer, or expressing disappointment over the absence of a well-established career.

Mark Zuckerberg emphasizes that feeling uneasy in your twenties is acceptable and adds that this is a time for learning, growth, and self-discovery. Psychology says that the twenties is a critical decade for young people, as they become self-sufficient and discover new hobbies, values, goals, and viewpoints that set them apart from the crowd. While a significant portion of this period is spent negotiating unknowns and considering options, some obligations are expected to be completed in the 20s.

According to Havighurts and Maricopa, the twenties are a crucial period for exploring and defining one’s identity, achieving emotional stability, and initiating career path decisions, education, forming meaningful relationships, community integration, and personal space establishment. It is critical to remember that every decision we make, every error we incur, and every experience we have throughout this time profoundly impacts who we are.

The pressure on individuals in their twenties to stand out and accumulate numerous achievements and accolades is intensifying. The question of our worth arises when faced with the prospect of failure. The comparisons with notable examples, like the Forbes 30 under 30, and prodigy stories, and narratives of early success, often leave us feeling inadequate or trailing behind. Societal expectations for extraordinary achievements contribute to the stress of navigating this formative period, making it crucial to navigate these challenges with a balanced perspective on personal growth and societal expectations.

In reality, your twenties are the prime years for self-discovery; a time to discern your interests, build memories, forge new connections, explore different places, invest in personal development, make decisions about your future, and gradually work towards your aspirations. Much like the proverbial saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day, the realization dawns that your goals, particularly when you’re in the early stages of adulthood, unfold gradually.

It is important to recognize the significance of the process in various aspects of life, such as choosing a profession, landing the perfect job, building a house, or just learning to accept who you are. This crucial element frequently escapes our notice.

Prosperous individuals are those who take the time to discover their true selves, identify their goals, and strategize how to achieve them. They differ from those attempting to achieve all their goals in their twenties. Embracing the journey as a process rather than a race is crucial, as achieving all your goals now might lead to doubts about what else remains.

Comparison is the destroyer of all joy. It’s an unhealthy habit to measure oneself against other people. It opens a black hole that will torment your fears and insecurities for eternity. Thus, if your primary activity on social media involves comparing yourself to a high school acquaintance pursuing a PhD at Harvard while you’re still in the same job you’ve had for years, it’s time to take a break.

Remind yourself that your current position is exactly where you should be. This doesn’t signify stagnation; instead, it’s an essential element in the ongoing process of learning. People in their 60s and 70s still struggle with the uncertainties of life. Accept the importance of lifelong learning in the never-ending search for your purpose. When you find yourself in a circumstance that calls for self-discovery and navigation, there’s no reason to give up. Have faith that everything will work out for the best and you’ll be alright.

Remember, life is an ongoing journey of self-discovery and growth, where uncertainties and the process of figuring things out are constant companions. Embrace the ongoing learning process and trust that your path will unfold as it should.


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