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experimentation, struggle, self-awareness/confidence, wisdom, vindication

Am I a good boy?

I don’t have a specific best memory from my 20s; it’s more like a culminating realization of what I’ve learned in that decade. Fresh out of college at 22, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or what I even planned on doing, other than some vague inclination on which direction I should go.

Practicing Chinese calligraphy by using water on the ground, led by my grandfather.

It troubled me that some people seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where they wanted to go (or, at least they were good at giving the impression of that). It was only years later after meeting many people and working in various jobs that I realized that many people’s blustering self-confidence (or even arrogance) actually masked terrible insecurities and personal failings. The truth, I realized, was that NOBODY really knew what they were doing. This realization became enormously comforting for me. It became the starting point of the wisdom I gleaned from the experiences of my 20s—though I had no idea what I was doing (nobody does at first); through hard work, dedication, a bit of courage, and a lot of help and luck, I could l teach myself to become competent. This was true, whether it was training for and completing a marathon, taking on a new job in a completely different field, getting into and completing graduate school, or taking and passing the bar exam. In all, the best memory from my 20s was learning to become comfortable with myself, with all my strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and quirks. Only time and experience can bring one to this realization.

I know now that everyone in their 20s was probably just as lost and bewildered as I was, and I wish I had known that from the very beginning. It probably would have saved me a lot of pain and confusion.

More stuff in my area of major.

However, looking back, I realize that I needed that period of confusion to eventually bring my life into focus: setting realistic goals and learning the discipline to make the incremental steps towards self improvement. By experimenting and trying new things out, I learned what I didn’t want to do, what I was good at, and what I was lousy at. I couldn’t have learned these things unless I endured this humbling period of self-discovery.

I don’t have any advice other than to simply learn to be comfortable with yourself— don’t ever let people get you down or tell you otherwise. They’re just as lost and confused as you are, whether they admit it or not!

Study hard and train.

For me, this is something I spent my entire 20s learning, and the process continues to this day. Nobody is perfect, and nothing ever quite goes according to plan. You might even have your life completely mapped out, but things get in the way that may take you in a wholly new and unexpected direction—and it might end up being the best thing that ever happened to you. Sometimes, even silly childhood dreams may become a reality—it certainly did in my case. So yes, experiment, try new things, start climbing and see just how high up you can go. But also be prepared to struggle, sacrifice, and work hard—nothing worth doing is ever easy. It takes time to find out what you’re good at, what you’d enjoy doing, and how exactly you will end up contributing to society. These things are what your 20s are spent finding out.

Anonymous, 30

Ivan Zhu, 22 31

Profile for Shirong Gao


A compendium of people's accounts of life in their 20s.


A compendium of people's accounts of life in their 20s.