I'm in the middle of my quarter-life crisis and trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have a job but not a career path. I date, but I have never had a serious relationship. I hardly feel like a grown up and I get really embarrassed when people ask me questions about my life and its direction. I hate not having answers to these questions and feel tremendous pressure to say the right thing. So much so I either end up lying or tripping over my words. How do I answer all the questions coming at me?
- Without answers, 26, Florida
Dear Without Answers,
During your twenties, it's inevitable that people will ask questions like, "So what's next?" or "When are you going to get a real job?" or "Who are you going to settle down with?" As human beings with egos, we all waste a lot of energy worrying about what other people may think and often calculate our responses based on impressing who is listening. It's dangerous to get so consumed with impressing or pleasing others because you can lose sight of yourself. When you are concerned with fitting in and saying the right thing to others, you are distracting yourself from discovering your own answers.
So how do you respond to the questions? It's simple. You have permission to say, "I don't know" or "We'll see." Or better yet, answer the question with a question and turn the focus on the other person by asking something like, "Not sure -- so what were you doing at my age?" Most people love talking about themselves and what they have done. Remember, just because someone -- even a parent -- asks you questions about your life, does not mean you are obligated to know the answer. Stop caring so much what other people think and think for yourself.
This pressure to offer the right answer is extremely common among twenty-somethings. So much so that I dedicated an exercise to dealing with the feeling of being without answers in my last book, 20 Something Manifesto.
To offer you a little more insight on this issue, take a look at the following exercise and determine if you are losing at the "Right Answer Reflex Game":
"How do you respond when someone asks you a question about your future? Is your automatic reflex to spout out what you think you should say or what they want to hear? And if you don't, do you feel guilty, ashamed, and/or incompetent? If so, then you probably suffer from a twenty-something syndrome I call the "right-answer reflex."
So let's play... The Right-Answer Reflex Game!
Welcome to our game show! The contestants we have today are your fellow twenty somethings, and our host is the most judgmental figure you can imagine (perhaps a parent, a family friend, an older sibling, a competitive peer, or whoever thinks they know better than you). To play, the host will pose a variety of questions about your future, and you and your fellow contestants are expected to hit the buzzer as quickly as you can with your answer. Ready?
Here come the questions: What are your career goals? How many interviews have you set up? When was the last time you updated your résumé? What are you planning to do with your life? What are you doing to network? Who are you dating? What is your five-year plan?
Do the other contestants beat you to the buzzer? Do you answer fast to score points? Can you picture yourself winning this game? If so, I'm sorry to tell you that the Right-Answer Reflex Game is rigged. In fact, it's a game you can't "win," except by refusing to play. Instead, when any kind of "host" poses a question to you about your life and future plans, and you feel that temptation to hit the buzzer and say the "right" thing -- stop! Don't touch that buzzer!! Resist regurgitating what you think someone else wants to hear to win their approval. Count to three, take a breath, and give yourself permission to lose this game by saying, "I don't know." Only press that buzzer when the true answer is going to come out of your mouth. The Right-Answer Reflex Game is always played by someone else's rules -- and you need to play by your own."
(From 20 Something Manifesto © 2008 by Christine Hassler and New World Library 2008).
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