The awkward and unsettled feeling of halfway adulthood

These are the best years of our lives—the joys of our twenties.

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At this liminal time in my life—the ‘twenty-somethings’—I’m often hit by waves of sentimentality. Walking through Surry Hills on my lunch break, I bump into friends from various circles who all seem to echo the same feelings as me. Feelings of powerlessness to the symptoms of adulthood in spite of the opportunities the future can hold. We’re like children wearing adult clothes; working 9 to 5 but bringing home-packed lunches. Climbing the corporate ladder with shaking hands, networking semi-confidently while spilling tea from a styrofoam cup on our one good pair of work heels.

We’re halfway adults, and it feels hard to reconcile how we got here. Even whilst taking joy in my achievements, I’m constantly aware of my own inexperience. It’s a battle of what’s next before even getting through what’s now. The duality of this life period keeps me up at night.

It’s common knowledge that the brain continues to grow after puberty and well into our 20s, making the biggest changes in the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum areas. Curiously, these are the regions involved in emotional control and higher-order cognitive function. If our brains are still works in progress, so too are our lives. Clinical psychologist Dr Meg Jay writes about the still-developing brain at this age as the best opportunity to make life changes while it’s still relatively easy. Her advice to twenty-somethings: don’t take this decade for granted amidst the fear of getting older.

It’s a strong fear, but I’m not going to give in to itbecause there’s also a lot of joy in getting older too. The intense pride that comes from watching friends succeed in their chosen fields grows stronger with every story I hear. It starts as an encouraging smile and moves to a ball of warmth in my chest, listening to a friend I’ve known for a decade describe the high she felt from a successful cross-examination, not yet a lawyer but ready to roar. It moves to my fingers as I respond to an exclamation heavy message from a friend building up her art business, sharing in her excitement at her newest collection. It extends to a hug with a mate I haven’t seen in months, because we’re just too damn busy getting our lives on track to see each other. I’m proud of them, and they feel the same for me.

This decade feels like a soft trial at being an adult, almost a practice run. Young enough to change paths without regret while maintaining the assertion that we are travelling in the right direction. Who’s going to say otherwise? No one really knows what they’re doing. Which is a real joy of this decade, straight from the songbook of High School Musical: we’re all in this together. We’re all just figuring it out as we go, which is why there’s so much pride when someone breaks through the barrier, gets a new job, or moves out of home. It stems from the realisation that there’s so much more to life than we can ever begin to imagine.

Strolling back down the streets of Surry Hills as my lunch break comes to an end, I’m reminded of advice my nonno used to give me. He would tell me about his work on the farm, when he was around the same age as I am now. It was a lot tougher back then, with no time to spare thinking about being twenty. Instead, he and his generation would just get on with it, knowing their hard work would pay off in their future. For us in our twenties, in a world that’s changing rapidly, the future feels largely uncertain. But there’s a silver lining to not knowing what’s next: the best may well be yet to come.