The panic years are our 20s.
The panic to have everything figured out by the time you blow out your candles on your 30th birthday.
The panic to grow up and fall in love. Settle down. Yet, you have to live in the moment because you’re only in your 20s once.
The panic to take advantage of every moment you have to be “young.” Yet the overwhelming panic when another friend from high school gets their dream job or you scroll past yet another engagement post on Instagram.
The panic to see the world, but remembering to spend time with your aging grandparents and little brothers who watch from a distance.
The panic to discover who you are, constantly self-improve, do your skin-care routine, workout, read more books, learn to knit. Do it all. Be superhuman.
The panic years. When everything around you feels hopeless and blissful all at once. When you still have your whole life ahead of you, yet it feels like time is running out faster than you can control.
The years you call your mom every night and ask her to find the answers, because after all, she has been through this before, right? It’s a rite of passage, right?
The years when the floor sometimes feels better than your bed. Too niche?
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The years where you move away from your college friends and feel like you’re 18 all over again, packing your car and driving away from the people who watched you grow up. Terrified of what is to come but exhilarated about the possibilities.
A word I feel best captures this feeling is ‘frisson’ defined as a brief moment of emotional excitement. The exact line between thrill and fear. You spend most of your 20s feeling a frisson of excitement, a frisson of horror, a frisson of panic.
But what do you do when your mom doesn’t have the answer? What do you do when floor time doesn’t solve all your problems? When that new and exciting adventure feels so luminous and overwhelming that backing out seems easier than conquering it?
I wish it were as simple as telling you to stop panicking about the panic years, but it’s not. The panic is inevitable.
However, here’s what I can tell you. Yes, the panic is a rite of passage. You’re going to panic whether you have something to panic about or not. The panic years turn us into who we are meant to be.
There will always be decisions to be made. You will spend all 10 years of your 20s trying to decide the right path. Decide whether to go out or stay in? Go home for the weekend or get caught up on your work? Read a book or hang out with friends?
In the grand scheme of things, these decisions don’t determine your life.
One tip I can give you when it comes to making these smaller decisions is to choose the one that is best for your mental health. At the end of the day, if you really don’t want to go out and party on a Saturday night, it’s okay to stay in and read a book.
The panic years are not worth destroying your body and mind.
However, I also believe those small decisions manifest into your big life decisions.
Are you ready to get married? Can you move across the country for a job offer? Do you go to graduate school or travel the world?
And once again, you are right back to where you started. The panic years.
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It can all feel overwhelming and crushing right now. It can feel like the panic years might never pass. Yet, as you blow out those candles on your 30th birthday, I am optimistic that you will look around and realize you have found peace and prosperity. That the life you have is yours.
That the panic years are just a small part of your life, and you are going to be okay.
Gentry Keener (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and political science.