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Alexis Sclamberg Headshot

Taking on Your 20's -- What You Need to Know Now

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It seems that most of my friends are having meltdowns. In these final years of our restless 20's, we're wrestling with some big ticket items -- getting married, finding better jobs, moving, settling down, having kids. And it seems that some of us are swept up in storms of uncertainty and confusion without an umbrella or sensible coat.

(Hang on -- I have a nice, new pair of galoshes to help you weather the storm. More about that later).

It's hard to believe we're even here, at this point, talking about the disruptions of an infant to our budding careers (not to mention our sleep), seriously considering a move to the suburbs, or redefining the nature of our relationships.

But here we are, disbelief or not, compelled to make decisions amidst overwhelming chaos.

Some of us are melting into puddles, stuck in a miserable status quo. Some of us are straddling the line between what we should do and what we want to do. Some of us have turned up the volume on fear and doubt so loud that we can't hear the voice of our hidden courage and deepest desires.

Most of us twentysomethings just aren't sure exactly what we want to do with ourselves.

We ask question after question -- searching for clear and definite answers. Should I move closer to my family? Can I really quit this job and try something new? Is this guy really the one? What will people think of me? How will I feel if I turn my world upside down?

And then we reason away, making lists of pros and cons, approaching our troubles like logic problems, as though we're racing against the clock to fill in the correct bubbles before the buzzer sounds.

As we scramble for answers, most of us have been known to throw our hands up a time or two, convinced we'll never really know what we want. I've sat with countless girlfriends analyzing next steps until we're run ragged and raw, ready to give up. We resign ourselves to another glass of wine and wallow awhile.

But I have a better idea.

The other day a friend called, depressed and despondent. We hadn't spoken in months when she dropped her bomb: She's debating a big cross-country move and an even bigger break up with her very long-term boyfriend.

"I don't know what to do," she repeated, like a mantra, in our hours-long conversation. Her angst spilled out at me, rushing in an uneasy interrogation of right or wrong, good or bad, stay or go.

I tried to comfort her. "Be patient," I advised, "be gentle." "Give yourself the time you need, and the permission to not know," I told her.

Then I realized that I was wrong.

Because here's the thing: She actually knows what she wants. Deep down, we all do.

We've just been pushed so far from our answers that sometimes we forget they live inside us. It's only reasonable to expect this, given how bogged down we are by expectations and judgments -- our own and everyone else's. Sure, we get lost, confused, discombobulated and terribly upset. We mistake the world's approving nods for our own internal mandate and drown out the inner opposition saying no when the crowd advocates yes. We all un-learn the distinction between choices that feel good because they're good for us, and those that feel good because society, or our families or our not-intentionally-ill-meaning friends tell us so.

But with the right tools, we can get back in touch ourselves and find authentic answers.

Don't worry. I'm not going to simply tell you to listen to your gut. Though we all know that our gut feeling is our most trusty advisor -- looking out only for our best interests, attempting to keep us aligned with some inner, inexplicable wisdom we carry, its messages are sometimes muffled, if not entirely muted. Leaning into our intuitive guidance is a process -- not an easily swallow-able prescription.

My favorite way to get touch with my inner knowing/wisdom/gut feeling -- whatever you want to call it -- is becoming aware of my physical body. It's less daunting than meditation (a practice I'd also advise) and it's a perfect first step towards finding answers to those lingering, frustrating, wish-someone-else-would-just-decide-for-me questions.

Here's how it works:

Check in with your body symptoms throughout the day. Does your neck tighten up on your way to work? Do you get headaches every time your boss nears your office? Does your stomach form knots when you text that guy from Match.com? Does your energy pick up when you meet up with a good friend or make it home in time to have dinner with your boyfriend? Do your backaches miraculously disappear every time you get out of the city?

You'll find that your body has been giving you answers to your questions all along.

When I take stock, it's undeniable that my physical self rebels when I deviate from the path of my inner wisdom and it leaps and soars with energy when I'm listening to my heart. I've gotten sick when I start jobs that are wrong for me, broken out in rashes when I take misguided turns and I routinely feel queasy when I'm around certain people.

If this is not clear messaging, I'm not sure what is.

Your body is speaking to you, too. It could be screaming like mine, but it may be subtle. You just need to pay attention to it.

Of course, we sometimes suffer migraines just because, or come down with the flu thanks to a bad virus going around. (My husband tells me to emphasize this point so I don't risk losing you altogether). But there's something to all this somatizing -- especially when you're having trouble hearing your inner voice.

Distinguishing between your heart's messages and just a bummer of a cough is a skill you can cultivate, over time, by finding patterns and calmly reflecting. They may not be obvious, but our answers are always there inside us. It's like Proust said: we don't receive wisdom, we discover it.


Alexis is at work on her first book about pursuing an inspired life as a twentysomething.

Find Alexis at www.alexissclamberg.com