The “I Can Do Anything,” Freedom in Your 20’s

2009 May 7
by Grace Boyle

A friend recently passed me this article from Newsweek, titled “I can do anything, so how do I choose?” It really hit home for me in a time of change. Albeit an older article, the topic will always be timely.

Columnist Jenny Norenberg talked about the freedom in her 20’s, bouncing from job to job, moving from city to city and the mix of fulfillment and the feeling of loss through it all.

Like many women in their mid-twenties, Jenny and myself are unmarried at an age when many women 40 years ago, already had children. Jenny references her mother where “she may have had the opportunity to go to college, but she was expected to marry soon after.” I agree that the years between college and marriage “are in many ways far more self-defining than any others. They’re filled with the simplest, yet most complex, decisions in life: choosing a city, picking a career, finding friends and a mate–in sum, building a happy and satisfying life.”

I’m one to choose a risky path, pursue a career that drives me and not settle in one place — just yet. When I graduated college and walked off the stage with my diploma I remember thinking, there are no boundaries. If I really wanted to, I could pick any city in the world and make it happen. So therein lies, “the more choices you have, the more decisions you must make–and the more you have yourself to blame if you wind up unhappy.

I wouldn’t exchange this freedom for anything. I’m grateful and floored by the power and opportunity that I have. Mind you, I pay all my bills, own a car, have a successful career and I have obligations and commitments. However, was there less pressure for our  mother’s and grandmother’s years ago? They would traditionally marry early maybe follow a traditional career path spending 40-years at their respective company and retire safely? To me, this ensued stability but not freedom of choice.

As I’ve mentioned, new cities, new faces, new jobs lure me. I feel the desire to find change and when I’m out of my comfort zone, I often find my greatest strengths and weaknesses, then I am humbled. I crave this. It doesn’t mean I have to build relationships and friendships from scratch, not know my way around, put myself out there and feel vulnerable and lost sometimes. This is all part of the process and it makes me responsible for the life that I am creating.

Although this path isn’t for everyone, I’m not saying one or the other is bad, but this is my experience. My fulfillment. In my previous post for choosing my location, then career I could have taken the safe route–gone back home, stayed in my college town, or even in the neighboring cities where many of my friends went back to after college. But I wouldn’t trade my wild adventures for complacency.

I believe through these changes and even in times of being alone, I have gained a sense of identity and self-assurance. With resolve and strength Jenny concludes, “I know someday I’ll look back on this time–before I had a spouse, a home and children to care for–and be thankful for the years that just belonged to me.”

I can’t help but agree. These wonder younger years, are times to discover, to lose, to learn and grow.

Are you thankful for the freedom in your 20’s? Do you gain strength through experience, challenge and loss or do you feel a sense of overwhelm?

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  • Rebecca

    Grace, have you read the research from Daniel Gilbert? I love this quote from him:

    “When our ambition is bounded it leads us to work joyfully.”

    If you don't want to wait to get his book, check out this TED video here –

  • Grace Boyle

    Rebecca- I have heard of Daniel Gilbert but haven't seen his TED video or read enough of his research. Thanks for the tip, I think I'm going to enjoy it!

  • sameve

    As I've said before, I truly admire your courage and sense of adventure. You are the embodiment of someone who is taking advantage of freedom in your 20s, and I think it's awesome! It's true that this is the time in our lives to do what we want, take risks and explore our options. Though our mothers and grandmothers may have had more stability than we do, so many of them felt unfulfilled. Personally, I would rather a bumpier ride if it means greater happiness and contentment.

    That said, I'm kind of in the middle of where our mothers were and where some 20 somethings like you are today. When I graduated college, I had been in a long distance relationship for three years, and one thing I knew was that I didn't want to deal with the distance anymore. Though I wouldn't have given up a great career opportunity, I wasn't exactly able to throw caution to the wind like you did. But, I'm perfectly happy the way things turned out.

    Unfortunately, I think the state of the economy is limiting people's ability to fully enjoy the freedom of their 20s. You can't be too picky or too adventurous with your job search at a time when you're lucky to have one at all. So, that's my two cents. Thanks for sharing this, great post!

  • Kiersten

    Absolutely! I'm blessed that I have parents who realize it as well. They encourage me to use my twenties to experiment with jobs, locations, etc and they always support me–even when I mess up.

    I can say that a lot of twenty-something's struggle with the freedom because they don't have a support system. It's not that they don't want to, but they don't have a net at the bottom of the tight rope.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Sam I think that middle space between our mother's and 20-somethings is a good landing spot. You have some adventure, you're in a new career, but you're close to the people you love which is very important. There have been times when I wondered, “Why did I leave all those people I cared so much about?” I don't know if it's because I'm stubborn or too adventurous for my own good, but the most important aspect, is to be true to yourself. I know that you are and that is awesome.

    @Kiersten Good point about the support from family members or parents. I definitely had support from my family and not monetary support, but also support in the form of encouragement. I have to say, this really helped me. I think it's important (especially in our 20's) to recognize and not always rely on our parents for help. My parents have now turned as my mentors and close friends, versus running to them with a money issue. This was a big, important turn for me and although I know if it were to be an emergency, they could help out, but sometimes others don't have that luxury.

    I suppose my point is, that devoid of the money, 20-something's can still pursue their goals. Their learning curve and challenge might be more steep, but it's doable. Thanks for bringing this point up, it's very important :)

  • Akhila

    Great post, as always, Grace! I totally admire you for your energy and adventurous spirit, and I sympathize with you. This year, I used the opportunity my school provided me to study abroad for the entire year in London. I used London as a base to travel around Europe, and this summer I will be doing an internship in Geneva, Switzerland. Next year I'll be back at my school to finish up and graduate, but I am already thinking of new countries to go to after graduation!

    I think your 20s is really the best time to travel and do something different and daring. You won't get the chance to do this once you are married and settled down. The thing is, though, I am still somewhat tied down because like Sam I'm in a serious relationship. So that might limit my options after I graduate. Still, I've been able to maintain it while abroad, and I hope that if I do go elsewhere after graduation I can still hold on to it and make things work. I see no reason to tie yourself down at a young age or do something safe & traditional. We have the most amazing opportunities in front of us. Why turn them down? Live doing what you'd do on your last day on earth.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Akhila Thank you for your enthusiasm and support! I've been in awe (and living vicariously) through your travels and life abroad this past year. I am so happy that you took this International opportunity and that you're getting work experience abroad. I think it's irreplaceable!

    As I mentioned to Sam, I think there's a lot of beauty and strength when you have found someone that you want to be with and are willing to make it work. I completely respect that and have been in that situation (but life and my journeys have somehow gotten in the way). I would say, it's not “tied down” but rather involved with someone with a sense of adventure, ready to run wild with you. Shared experiences are beneficial, too. Thanks for the comment Akhila!

  • Carlos Miceli

    Maybe this freedom follows the same rule that goes for everything:

    You don't appreciate it until it's gone.

    I have to say though, that i don't relate challenges, losses and learning with freedom. I don't think that one is “free” when young, since everything has a consequence, and what seems like freedom now may imprison us later. Successes and failures are just a part of life, no matter the age.

    The freedom comes from what we lack, not from what we have.

    Great post Grace, really got me thinking.

  • Nisha

    A lot of what I wanted to say as already been said, but I will say that I completely agree with you that the freedom of your 20s should be exciting, not scary. Sometimes it's hard to look at it from that big picture perspective though, which I think holds people back.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Carlos I like this alternative view-point that you bring up. However, there are certain things when you're young (ie: having a family and children) that in my case, isn't part of my life currently. I have freedom to pick up and move because it's only me involved. I don't equate challenge and loss with freedom, but I also think that I am reprimanded less because I am still learning. You're so right though, success and failure happen no matter what the age. Thanks for making me think even further, Carlos.

    @Nisha You're so right. I wonder if looking at it from a big picture perspective is hard because there's a lot of uncertainty when I'm 23, versus if I was 30 and have developed more, traveled, worked out the kinks, etc. Age is so damn relative…Hmm. Either way, thanks Nisha: “Exciting, not scary.”

  • Matthew

    Great post Grace – I think some of us, though, depending on our circumstances, financial, relationship, etc. are sort of forced to grow up sooner. Yes, I still have relatively less responsibilities than a full grown adult with spouse, kids, a house, stable career, etc – but at the same time, I still have to support myself, marriage isn't too far on the horizon, etc. But with all of that being said, these are still times to take a step outside the box and take some risks – move to a new city, try a new career path, start your own business, and so on. This time in our life, if nothing else, should be a time of soul searching and an opportunity to try new things – as we move forward figuring out who we are, and what we want to do with the next chapter(s) of our life.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Matt Thanks for the support on this post. I think that I am more mature and grown up than many of my friends in their 20's and even older than me, but I still think that I have some freedom. The biggest piece here is that I'm not married and don't have children. That is a huge responsibility that morphs your life and often in your 20's many are in the same boat of just having themselves or a significant other.

    I also support myself 100%, no parental money and even when I moved out here without a job my parents didn't pay for a thing. So I wrote this post as an testament that it's possible and if you want it bad enough, it's possible. I just wanted to clear up any misconception about my level of responsibility and that it's me supporting myself financially 100%.

    I do like however, the last part you mention for soul searching and trying new things. So very true. Thank you for your comment, Matt!

  • heartbot

    I'm just curious…what do your parents think about you moving off? My parents have had a really hard time with my moving out of state and there's constant pressure to move back home. Is this normal?

  • Grace Boyle

    @Heartbot Parental pressure is definitely a challenge, so I see where you're coming from. On the flip side, I was lucky enough that my parents encouraged me to “spread my wings” and travel. They too, did the same when they were young and believe that experiencing different cultures and living elsewhere (besides your home state) is advantageous.

    To directly answer your question, I think it depends on your parents and case-by-case for each individual. I am close with my parents and someday, really want to live near them/ home in the future. Maybe if you let your parents know that it's temporary and that you're using this time to explore. I know a lot of parents have a hard time letting go of their son/daughter, which is definitely understandable. I would do everything you can to let them know as they love you, they will also see that this is something you have to do for yourself, but don't want to “leave them in the dust” so to-speak.

    I hope that helps and I wish you the best in following your dreams, what you want and living your own life, while still respecting your parents.

  • heartbot

    I couldn't leave my parents in the dust if I wanted to. They'd find me. 😉

    But…it's been a real struggle for me. My mother especially is so upset with me (and my brother) for moving so far from home. She lives 10 miles from her mom and most of her family, and I just don't think she understands my desire to go so far away. It's not to get away from her or anything. I just want to see what else the world has to offer.

  • Matthew

    No doubt Grace – and I wasn't writing the above comment to toot my own horn or claim that you were NOT independent or in any way inferior – I don't think you took it that way, but just wanted to clear the air. My point was that so many of us want to be entrepreneurs and seize the world, but we have to understand that those real-life responsibilities are still there, for some of us more so than others – but that's why when I hear advice like 'quit your job and start your own company' I become this level-headed Gen-Yer and weigh the pros and cons, which right now, realistically and financially speaking, there's no way I could just up and quit everything and start something on my own with no funding.

    But we work our way toward that – we work our way toward our passions and dreams with the knowing that we'll get there, that we'll be totally fulfilled sooner rather than later, both personally AND professionally. Our entitlement is both a blessing and a curse – sometimes we want too much and think we're overly deserving without putting in any hard work, but that SAME entitlement drives us to do more, mean more, and change the world for the better.

    That's my little sermon – love what you're doing and what you inspire here at Small Hands, Big Ideas. Keep it up!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Heartbot I definitely know what you mean about your parents (always finding you). I meant that you're not forgetting about them and you still love them, you just don't happen to be around the corner. Your geography often has little to do with the love you have for your parents.

    I commend you for making the move and I know the struggle you're experiencing. I think if you're following your heart and really doing what you want to do, then eventually they will have to accept and let go. You can also say that you plan to live near them in the future, it's just something you need to work out.

  • Amy Segreti

    I totally relate to this post, especially when you say, “when I’m out of my comfort zone, I often find my greatest strengths and weaknesses, then I am humbled.”

    I feel that way when I travel. I find that I wind up being more creative and open to the world — I write more, I'm friendlier, I'm more willing to talk to people. And I always feel like it strengthens me.

    I think of traveling as a dual exploration: of a new city or place, and of the inner workings of yourself within that place. And the same applies when you move somewhere new; you allow your environment to facilitate your growth.

    Grace — do you still feel a kind of nerve-tingling excitement about Boulder, or is it a more settled feeling now?

  • Grace Boyle

    @Amy I like to hear agreeing and disagreeing, so thanks :) Traveling is very much similar to moving to a new city. There's a lack of comfort, however, I find my creative juices flow and I jump into the situation with vigor. Pertaining to your last question about Boulder, I still feel nerve-tingling excitement when I see the mountains or try something new but it has settled a bit. It's not so much illusive, but more of a validation for why I moved here…I feel that everyday.

  • Brett Borders

    When I was in my 20's I decided I wanted to travel as much as I could and backpack around the world. I left America for 4 years and it was an amazing, epic, astonishing journey that I am very glad I undertook and I will never forget,… but it left me somewhat unprepared for the career world I would face back home. I developed a taste for a mobile, hedonistic lifestyle that was not easily compatible with American working culture (2 weeks vacation, leave your job = lose your health insurance) – that is somewhat harsher than most other first-world countries.

    The realities forced me to stop looking for jobs and places to fit in, and do my own thing. Which is awesome, but demanding.

    Yes I am thankful for the freedom of my 20's, but as I go into my 30's – I'm having to catch up and “pay” for some of the freedoms and I made that caused me to postpone establishing a career path, family, buying a home, etc. I kind of wish I had all that set up now – but I wouldn't want to have traded my adventures in my 20's for.

    Was it worth it? Heck yeah. I value interesting experiences and challenges over comfort and security, so it was. But now I'm having to work overtime to catch up with some 25 year olds on the “American dream” scale.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Brett Sounds like many a story I have heard: escaping in your 20's, traveling and living a vagabond lifestyle. Sounds pretty amazing to me, however, I agree that the balance between career and life back home has to be somehow integrated.

    I really think this has a lot to do with the kind of person you are. Some people completely check out of reality and don't want to assume any responsibility, while others want to take on responsibility while they're traveling or are aware that they're soon starting grad school or have a job waiting as soon as they get back. It just depends.

    I'm glad to hear your perspective and that even through it all, you're still glad that you took a hold to the liberty and freedom in your 20's!

  • Toxic Brit

    I think the fact we dont know any better helps alot.

    I used to measure adulthood by getting older, then by getting married, then by having children (planned) and then I continued to push my own adulthood off for another 15 years and not worry :)

  • Grace Boyle

    @Toxic Brit It's interesting to see how we measure adulthood. I've grown to think of it less in terms of traditional milestones (marriage, kids, house, etc.) but through internal growth and who I become as a person. And you're right, the fact that we don't know about the future or what may happen helps us and often works in our favor.

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  • Traveller_Adventure

    Great post, really help me alot. Thanks.

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  • Traveller_Adventure

    Very very interesting post..I like this one. gotta bookmark this one.

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  • em13

    This totally hit home for me and I LOVE it. I am currently 'living my dream' by playing soccer professionally in Scandinavia. It meant leaving my friends and family behind and detaching myself from my comfort zone. Most recently, it has also translated into my four year relationship ending….but would I trade this experience in for marriage and a settled life back in the city where I went to University ? Absolutely not. Thank you for helping me to feel more satisfied with my decision.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Em13 I'm so happy it hit home for you. Writing this and reading the Newsweek article totally hit home for me, as well.

    It's so good to hear your story and kudos to you! Change isn't easy and it's good to hear you're satisfied with your decision. Things work out how they're supposed to. You're trading complacency for adventure, risk and reward. Nothing better than that…

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  • tomasz

    Great article.
    Looking back at my years when i dated in my teen years and early 20s, I can confirm that women do really put in a lot more effort. For me, the ones I did date and had a committed relationship with were more mature then me.

    However, as time went on, I am in my mid 20s now and I would say my maturity has increased alot probably to the point of it being above most people in my age group.

    One thing that stands true, is despite not giving it my all in my previous relationships. I did have a short relationship that I did give it my all and well it didn't work out in the end.
    Of course I learned from it and moved on. Point being in, in all these years, I have learned that naturally I am a person that sometimes cares more about others then myself, which could be interpreted as bad and good.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Tomasz Were you meaning to respond to Simon's recent guest post:… Sorry, just wanted to clarify as you were talking about relationships and maturity…

    Either way, I like what you have to say here. We learn from these experiences and hopefully, each time we move forward with relationships or life we can make each step better.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Tomasz Were you meaning to respond to Simon's recent guest post:… Sorry, just wanted to clarify as you were talking about relationships and maturity…

    Either way, I like what you have to say here. We learn from these experiences and hopefully, each time we move forward with relationships or life we can make each step better.

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  • Jamie

    No offense personally, but BULL CRAP! Why is it said everywhere, “You can do anything you want with your life and make your own choices.” It's never spoken what it takes to do these things. I did not choose to have 4 illnesses and disabilities. It wasn't my choice to be ripped off from a college that discriminated against me. Realistically, your life is controlled by either health issues, managers' judgements, amount of knowledge your college decided to give you, even the disasters nature does to us. So, just tell me how enjoyable it is to be 24!

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  • Richard

    Very well done Grace! :-)

    I too have struggled with this, but I'm with a man I love and we are totally different people, so it's even more fun!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Richard It is constantly a struggle, but I love to hear stories of other people and how it can work. It's very fulfilling to be with someone you love, while also being able to share in each others' differences! Thanks for sharing :)

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