I'm 22 and I Feel Like a Failure, Even Though on Paper I'm Anything But

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I recently graduated from college, and while everyone keeps telling me how exciting this time in my life should be, I don’t really believe them. It’s been a lot more difficult than I care to admit. I’ve been suddenly thrust into a world where I feel expected to be resilient, all-knowing, and “on” at all times. I feel like I should be adult enough to know what I’m doing but constantly battle with thoughts of regret and just wanting to . . . go back. Though on paper I’m the furthest thing from a failure, I can’t help but feel the exact opposite.

How is this possible? How can I, a young, 20-something with a great full-time job within my field of study and a college degree, feel like a failure?

We all talk so much about finding our purpose without remembering that each stage of our lives has a different one, and it takes time to find that.

It’s hard to put into words what exactly it is. Sometimes it’s more of a restless and confused feeling, and other times, I chalk it up to the discomfort of normal growing pains. On one hand, I feel like I’m ready to start living my life, but then I ask myself, “Am I not living my life already? What am I waiting for?” And on the other, it’s feeling stuck in the false realization that this is it – this is the rest of my life, and it’s looking a whole lot different than I thought it would.

Related: What I Wish I Knew About the Transition Between College and Postgrad Life

I’ve often wondered what I would have done differently if I could turn back time. And while there are different dreams I might have pursued and different choices I might have made, I also know there was no getting around feeling this way. As isolating and scary as it sometimes seems, it’s normal and needs to be talked about more. I know that it’s not so much my personal feelings completely as it is the feelings that the world has pushed onto me. We all talk so much about finding our purpose without remembering that each stage of our lives has a different one, and it takes time to find that. Not to mention that in this day and age, comparing ourselves to others and wishing for the successes they seem to have comes as second nature. We’re too hard on ourselves, myself included.

The truth is, whatever you’re measuring your success by, not feeling like enough right now is normal. Whenever your life changes and evolves into something new, like when you graduate college and enter the “real” world, you’re growing. And growth isn’t always meant to be comfortable. It’s that discomfort that will propel you forward into finding what excites you (or in my case, what doesn’t excite you). It helps you get out of your previous comfort zone and settle into a new one, and that might take a long time.

Related: This Is How I Moved to New York City After Graduation

My question remains: should the mantra be to constantly go after your dreams fiercely, or wait for the universe to send what’s meant for you? Though the answer isn’t clear, I think it falls somewhere in the middle. I don’t want to discredit this time in my life. It’s OK to be working a job you’re not totally in love with just to save some money to set you up for your next move. It’s OK to be living paycheck to paycheck in order to live in a city that excites you. And it’s OK to make mistakes in order to find a job and path that you truly have a passion for. Reaching for too much too soon isn’t fair to ourselves. While graduating college is seen as becoming a “real” adult, baby steps are still OK.

If you feel like I do sometimes, just know you’re not alone. This in-between stage is crowded with people who have no idea what they want to do and feel crappy sometimes for not knowing. But we’re in it together. This is not the rest of our lives – it’s just one tiny step.

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