Ketut Subiyanto

Here’s What Social Media Gets Wrong About Your 20s

There’s this feeling I have. It has been pretty consistent since at least middle school. The feeling that I need to prove myself to other people. Prove that I have friends. Prove that I’m cool enough to hang out with. Prove that I’m worthy of their time. It seems silly even as I write this. I feel foolish for even thinking about it. But it’s true. Social media specifically feeds off of the shy, timid 12-year-old inside of me. 

The internet loves to emphasize romanticizing your life. Take pleasure in the simple things, be present, quit your job, travel the world, say yes to every adventure life throws your way. A healthy amount of that is good. But we all already live with rose-colored glasses on. We are overwhelmed with the presence of curated profiles of picturesque lifestyles layered with deceptive filters and topped with carefully crafted captions. We are constantly surrounded by edited versions of other people’s lives. 

You open any social media app and you’re bombarded with sensational views of vacations you can’t afford, candid shots of friends and acquaintances going on all sorts of adventures, smiling, laughing, and enjoying their 20s. You scroll through your feed at any time of the day, and suddenly you’re spiraling. You look at the life they’re living and think, “What am I doing wrong?” You go back to your own page, and you second guess everything you post, down to how awkward your pose is or if the post matches the aesthetic vibe of your feed. Then there’s the new job announcements, the engagements, and the gender reveals, and you wonder, “When did we get here?” 

You graduated from high school, took the next step, and went to college. You picked a major you had an interest in, and you studied, wrote analytical papers, and never missed a class. You made new friends, lost some along the way, and you had fun. You met all kinds of people, discussed your interests, and debated over silly things like tv shows and who has the superior taste in music. You went to parties and pretended like those years were the best of your life. But then, four years later, you found yourself walking across that stage, switching your tassel, and soon enough, you were thrust into the real world. You were expected to know what you were doing and to have a post-grad plan, whether it was grad school and beyond or plunging headfirst into a career. 

After years of education, what they don’t tell you or prepare you for is the difficult transition from student to unemployed college graduate. The media and society thrive on the deception of what your 20s, especially your early 20s, look like. Not everyone gets the dream job right out of college. Not everyone lives on their own, goes out every night, and finds and falls out of love as often as your favorite shows and movies depict. Life post-college, for most of us, is hard. We’ve taken all the required courses, browsed and explored the electives, studied, researched, and wrote. We did everything required to graduate with impressive marks and earn the degree, but we failed to think about what came next. 

Then before we knew it, the classroom was no longer our safety net. We were thrust into the world whether we were ready for it or not, with little or no guidance at all. We browse job postings and shrivel into microscopic versions of ourselves because it’s easier than facing actual rejection emails. We get a part-time gig because money is a necessity, and before we know it, we feel stuck. Remember the quicksand from your childhood? You’d be watching your favorite cartoon, and boom, the obstacle was some random quicksand in the middle of nowhere? That’s what your early 20s feel like. You step off the stage at graduation and you either jump over it, towards your next adventure, or you fall into it and consistently feel like you’re drowning, with no hope of making it out anytime soon. And with every new social media update from your friends’ and classmates’ seemingly perfect lives, you only feel yourself sinking further away from any sort of idea of what to do next. We all know it’s fake. It’s composed of fragments of other people’s lives. It’s only a glimpse of who they are, not the whole story. It’s not even a chapter: It’s a beautifully written, out-of-context sentence. Yet somehow, we still convince ourselves that we’re failing in comparison. 

Mixing social media and the pressures surrounding your 20s, you get a distressed, overwhelmed, anxious pre-adult. Because let’s be honest, we are all still messy teenagers who are legally considered adult human beings. Your 20s are the most transformative years of your entire life. Well, of my life so far, anyway. I’m 28 and still finding my niche in my own little corner of the universe, but I’m glad to be over the hump of my early 20s. The age of social media has not made it easy for us. Sure, it’s a great way to stay in touch, connect with new people, and even network. But, I know I’m not the only one who feels like they’re falling behind with every new update from someone I know or used to know and how well they’re doing, whether it be personally or professionally. We all love sharing good news, and we should be able to revel in our victories. Celebrate everything, the big and the small accomplishments. Because they matter! Regardless of what they are, they’re getting you closer to who you’re meant to be, and that is a reason to celebrate. 

But don’t let comparison steal your joy or keep you from lifting up other people. Their content may seem effortless, but makeup, filters, and the right angle are all a part of capturing the perfect snapshot. And that’s all it is: a moment in someone’s day. It’s not their whole day, week, month, or even year. It can seem like they have it all: the career, the relationship, the freedom of adulthood. But we never truly know how someone is doing. They could have everything society deems essential, and they could also be struggling to make it through every day of the 9-5. They could be living on their own, but the nights or days they post going out aren’t as often as it seems. Those outings are few and far between because, unbeknownst to their followers, they can’t afford to do much because of the cost of living. And on the subject of dating, it’s a battlefield for us all. Relationships take work and commitment, and they don’t always last, especially when you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what you want. I think that’s a challenge throughout your 20s unless you were one of the lucky ones who met someone and stuck with them. 

This is your reminder that none of us have it together. Your 20s are not like the movies, and your Instagram feed is not real. Whether someone has the fancy job or the relationship of your dreams, there is more happening behind the scenes than anyone ever lets on. Think about the process you go through before you decide to post about your adventurous day or that selfie you felt cute in. The perfect picture does not exist, and most of the time, it’s just luck. 

While you’re sitting there overanalyzing and debating whether or not to delete your last post, someone else, somewhere out there, wishes they were living your life. Someone else thinks YOU are doing better than they are. The minute you remember we’re all lying to ourselves and each other is the moment you set yourself free.