Life in your 20s


"Little heartbreaks, romantic and platonic, stack on top of each other. You shed bad friendships like winter clothes." – Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen.

“Little heartbreaks, romantic and platonic, stack on top of each other. You shed bad friendships like winter clothes.” – Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen.Credit:Felix Trinh

TWENTY-TWO

You get offered a job from your internship and you work for $17 an hour, cash-in-hand, but it feels worthwhile when the free magazine comes out once a week and you see your name in print. You wonder if there’s a future in that, if you can rise through the ranks and become something more than $17 an hour, cash-in-hand – if there’s even a career in music writing. You become a little jaded, and you try to talk to your boss, but he belittles you, so you quit without a plan. Anything other than that is fine. A month later, you get offered a job interstate, and you leave it all behind.

TWENTY-THREE

You move to another city – away from your family, away from your boyfriend and friends. You’ve never lived out of home before, and the meals you cook the first year are almost inedible. You are scared all the time, and then suddenly you aren’t. You force yourself to make new friends. You try really hard at your new job and you do really well at it. You have what you want, finally – a full-time job in music writing in a city you’ve wanted to live in since childhood. Your boyfriend moves to be with you at the end of the year and you feel like a grown-up.

TWENTY-FOUR

It wasn’t there and then it was; every day you wake up and you wish you were someone else, or maybe nobody at all. You’re good at your job but your responsibilities keep increasing and your pay never does. Your boss tells you that’s just what you deserve. You resent your boyfriend for being so kind to you when you feel like nothing, and you begin to wonder what it might be like to be with someone else, anyone else, even though you still talk about forever. You feel like you’re lying to yourself and everyone around you, like you’re wearing a mask that peels away only in the dead of sleep.

You try online dating for the first time, and a lot of other firsts, too, that aren’t so foreign to most other people your age.

You begin seeing a psychologist for the first time since you were a child. He’s nice and he’s funny and you fantasise about being friends with him, getting brunch, text messages. You get home from work every day and lie down, wordless. You know this is the same age your mother was the year she came to Australia as a refugee, the same age she was when she got married, and it makes you hate yourself even more.

TWENTY-FIVE

This is the year it all falls apart. You quit your job. You break up with your boyfriend after five years together and it feels like slipping off a life raft. You get a new job which, somehow, you hate even more. You try online dating for the first time, and a lot of other firsts, too, that aren’t so foreign to most other people your age, like drinking regularly rather than a timid sip once a year. Little heartbreaks, romantic and platonic, stack on top of each other as you seek comfort, over and over, in strange beds from strange people.

You feel detached from your body. You shed bad friendships like winter clothes. You travel overseas alone for the first time and stay with an old family friend in New York – a lawyer, your dad’s dream for you. But she’s been working pro bono the whole nine months she’s been there, unable to find a paying job, and so has her partner. Their rent for their shoebox apartment makes you gasp when you hear it and you begin to wonder if there’s even such a thing as stability. But then you get an article published for the first time that has nothing to do with music and everything to do with sharing your own fears to help other people feel less alone, and a shaky idea forms in your head of what a career might look like for you.

TWENTY-SIX

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TWENTY-SEVEN

You have a cat now. He’s anxious, which makes you more anxious. After landing and then losing what you thought was your dream job, you start taking antidepressants. You begin writing more and getting published more, sharing your innermost thoughts with strangers. You land a new job in a field you actually care about, with people you respect and admire. You get published in a book of essays about feminism and sex and you start speaking publicly about your work. It feels so precarious but it also feels exciting, like becoming new, or getting to know yourself in a way that you’ve never dared to before. You read a lot of books. Your old forever is with someone else and you feel genuinely happy for him. You come out as queer, and realise your parents would have accepted this part of you all along. You breathe.

TWENTY-EIGHT

You enter the freelance life full-time, and you feel so fortunate, sometimes guilty, to have a parental safety net that others don’t. Your friends are creatives, doctors, lawyers, activists and teachers, but the ones with jobs that are well-paid and steady are burnt out, and the ones with less stable jobs are also burnt out from trying to keep it all together, and you wonder what the cost of success really is, when no one you know has held down the same job for more than a few years anyway. Still, days are lost where you lie on your bed thinking about all the ways you could be better and what your life would be like if you did that law degree. You scroll through Facebook and look at your classmates’ weddings and babies and sold signs in the suburb where you grew up, a thousand kilometres away, and retweet bad memes and caption them SAME LOL.

You wonder if this is it forever – just a back-and-forth between fine and not fine, content and despair, and you feel bad, considering how lucky you are.

You get a part-time job at a bookshop to stave off the isolation and balance your writing income with something a little more stable and, importantly, social. Direction still feels like a foggy and distant stranger, but you force yourself towards it, and when your parents ask you what you’re doing with your life, or where you want to be, you say you don’t quite know yet, but that begins to scare you a little less.

TWENTY-NINE

You finally learn how to keep indoor plants alive. You exist one day at a time.

THIRTY

On the first day, you wake up hungover. Your family is in town visiting and your parents drive you and your sister to a winery for lunch. You ask your mother to pull over for McDonald’s hash browns and she rolls her eyes and laughs, and you laugh, too.

You think of all the people you’ve been this past decade – and you imagine all the people you might become still.

You think of all the people you’ve been this past decade – daughter, sister, traveller, girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, Tinder date, writer, hermit, cat mum, bookseller, friend, ex-friend – and you imagine all the people you might become still. You’ll probably never be a lawyer, and maybe you’ll never have marriage or kids or dogs, and you’ll always have anxiety and depression, and the earth is racing towards a climate explosion…

For all those things, other than that last one, you feel not resigned, but accepting, quietly. Anyway, you think as you take a delicious, oily bite into a hash brown, you’ve got a whole decade to figure the next part out.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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