Following Different Paths Than Your Friends
a perspective on setting your own pace in your twenties
Growing up is hard, there’s no doubt about it. In your twenties especially, it’s easy to live in a constant state of internal debate. We find ourselves fighting between an empowered, stereotyped “millennial” mindset—the one that tells you that you can do whatever you want and be whoever you want to be—and that nagging societal pressure to already have our lives sorted out by now, on a successful career path, and plans to settle down as our thirties approach.
At least you can find a little bit of solace when your friends and peers are also struggling with the same conflict. You can all lament about student loans, job searches, dating lives and hookup culture, and other things that plague our generation. But what happens when your path diverges from the ones that your close friends are on?
It’s natural to rely on our friendships for support, through school, break-ups, new love, career transitions, regrettable haircuts, drama, and other moments...the good and the bad, the funny and the serious, they’re there for you. But now at this phase of our lives, we all seem to be moving along at our own paces. It may seem like one or more of your friends have their shit more together than you, pieces falling perfectly into place; despite being happy for them, you may be left feeling like you’re falling behind, either because you want different things or maybe you want those same things, just not right now. It can be a really difficult, confusing, and emotional thing to navigate.
I like to call this ‘the adjustment period’: you’re adjusting to a lifestyle in which your friendship group is changing, possibly multiplying or subtracting, and your relationships are developing in a way that can’t be seen—it’s maturing along with you and your friends. You’re adjusting from seeing your friends all the time to just once or twice a month in between work and other responsibilities. You’re no longer going on spontaneous nights out, but instead spending a full two weeks going back and forth in the group chat to work around everyone’s schedules. And often, once that date gets set, there’s a chance it’s rescheduled yet again. Add even more complications to the mix if you and your friends live in different cities, have alternative schedules, or are expanding their families.
Having this lack of in-person connection can make you feel even more distanced from your friends who are on different paths. In my personal experience, ‘the adjustment period’ dawned on me slowly, rather than in a flash. It sent me through a whirlwind of emotions as I sat there annoyed at my friends for what appeared to be absolutely no reason at all. They would be touring potential homes, making plans with their partner, or otherwise starting some new chapter in their lives, and I struggled to express the excitement I knew I had for them deep down inside. Slowly, this annoyance started to turn into sadness. Whenever I would hear about the progress they were making, I felt immense loneliness and jealousy, two emotions I don’t often feel. Eventually, after sitting with my thoughts for a while trying to decipher them and my change in emotions, I remember my heart sank at the realization that I felt left out for not being able to relate. At that moment of realization, my heart sank.
But I also realized this ‘adjustment period’ doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Here’s how you can make sure you get through this time with your mental wellbeing and friendships still intact.
remember that not everyone wants the same things as you do
It took a lot of time (and a pep talk from my work friends who had already had similar experiences) to understand that you don’t have to want the same things as your friends. This doesn’t make you ‘weird’ or ‘naive.’ It doesn’t make you or your life any better or any worse than your friends. It’s okay if you don’t want children (soon or ever), if you’re not in a relationship yet, or if you’re not married. It’s okay if you know you’re likely to spend the next two years working a full time job (and a side hustle) in order to follow your dreams, while they’re getting promoted. Being different is okay; if everyone wanted the same things the world would be a damn boring place. You will end up where you are supposed to be, but if you stop worrying if things don’t go as planned and you’re okay with allowing things to happen freely. Forget about where you’re “supposed” to be or where you think you’re heading. Live in the now! If you do want the same things as your friends, but you know you can’t have it now, then remind yourself that it’s okay if you get those things a little later in life. The most important thing is to remind yourself that there is no deadline.
try your best to maintain your friendships
One thing you hear a lot is to surround yourself with like-minded people. You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, after all. So does this mean you have to give up any friends that don’t have the exact same aspirations as you? Not quite. What this means is that your different friendships might serve different purposes, and that's okay. We all need our tribes, and the best tribes have people of different skillsets, ideas, and personalities. You don’t have to ditch your old friends to make new connections who have similar goals to you, or who are at the same stage in life. You might have friends to talk ‘work stuff’ 24/7, and others who are your break from thinking about work. It’s important to have relationships from all aspects of life. The only reason to break off a friendship is if they outwardly and purposely make you feel bad for your stage in life or do not support the path you are taking.
If there’s one piece of advice I want you to take away from this, remember that there are no real rules. It’s okay to want something different (you should!), so surround yourself with people who get you no matter where you are at in life. Stop comparing yourself at every step, and remember that you are on a path unique to you—claim it and enjoy it!