The money of a real job combined with the frivolities of youth. On paper, your twenties are supposed to be the absolute time of your life while you’re surrounded by like-minded people and are doing your best to burn the candle at both ends. However, for many people your twenties can be the exact opposite. Stresses like rent (especially in London – I’m looking at you, Clapham), professional and personal competition with your peers or even seemingly trivial things like commuting can exhaust and isolate you. It can be depressing to see people your age popping up on Facebook drinking champagne on a rooftop bar on a Thursday night while you’re watching Bake Off Extra Slice on iPlayer on the sofa in your work shirt and pants. With all of the ways of staying super-connected to everyone you know, half-know and added as a friend that one time you were pissed and they looked pissed, it can always seem like everyone out there is having a much better time than you. Well, friend, I have been there and all I can say is, undo another button on the work shirt, stick the kettle on and heed my words – you are not alone.


Coming out of university with a severely damaged liver and a 2:2 in Politics, my options were limited. I ended up in recruitment on a tiny base salary with large commission incentives for placements (though unfortunately I was absolutely crap at it). Meanwhile, I watched people I had been to Uni with walk into jobs with £35K base salaries. A few years down the line and even after I’d got out of recruitment, the difference in salaries was even more stark. I was green with envy and furious at myself for being such a useless lout at University. However, the more I hear about the lifestyles of those who earn a lot of money, the less I like the sound of it – being on call on weekends to talk to analysts on the other side of the world, 7am starts and 10pm finishes… nope. Not me. Admittedly, my chosen professional working hours would ideally be a 2pm start and a 5pm finish, but my real point is more that if I had gone down that road, I probably would have ended up miserable a few years down the line when the money is irrelevant.


You have to ask yourself, “Would I rather my twenties be the defining years of my life where I pursued my passions and tried to find out what I was desperate to do, or would I rather have a pot of money at the end of them at the expense of living some of the best years of my life in an office?” One counter point – I am a middle-class white man, so money isn’t as much of a concern to me as it is to others as I’ve lived a very lucky life… but is life really about money? Ask my friend James. James left University with a 2:1 in Natural Sciences that he had fought tooth and nail to get. He ended up working at a company in the Business Tech department (glorified IT) for reasonably tidy salary. He enjoyed it for around two weeks. Sadly, he worked there for around 18 months, which started noticeably taking its toll on his happiness and wellbeing (and being from Wigan, he wasn’t exactly Spongebob Squarepants in the first place). He would have left far earlier were it not for the fact that the company recognised his unhappiness and tried to plug the gap with promotions and salary increases. Eventually enough was enough – he resigned, took some time to himself, regained his mojo and has since been working with a start-up in New York, gaining some incredible experience in the process. To me, he is the epitome of the phrase “Money can’t buy you happiness” – no matter how much one can be swayed short term by the allure of sweet, sweet dolla, eventually, you will be caught out. James, thankfully, figured this out before it was too late.


This highlights one of the things which some people find hardest about life in your 20s – while you may have been housemates at University, in the same tutorial group or same hockey team, you were all equal as students. The second you are put into a wage bracket or a fast-track a wedge is driven between you and your friends, both in practical terms of activities you can do but also in terms of the hyper-competitive nature of the world we live in. Inadequacy can creep into your head and play with it in subconscious ways, making you feel ashamed, jealous or angry towards your friends – it’s natural. We are constantly asked to compare ourselves to one another by the aforementioned Facebook photos or by the progression ladder at work. There is no respite from being told explicitly or implicitly that you must compete against your peers to be the top of the ladder. No-one ever stops to think about whether or not it’s the right ladder in the frantic race to clamber to the top of it, so you’re drawn into this competition with your friends that can leave you feeling isolated or left behind.


However, one truth it took me far too long to realise is that no-one ever gives you the whole story – I always gave everyone the full details of my life willy-nilly because I enjoy making people laugh, and I feel like I often find myself in situations where I come across as slightly hapless but would be entertaining to others (e.g. I have been concussed by a pigeon. A PIGEON). So, when colleagues and friends at work asked what I’d got up to the previous night, I would always answer with the truth, the truth once being a two-hour binge of Barbershop Quartet covers on YouTube. I always thought my friends were doing the same, despite them laughing along with me, and when they spoke of this incredible party they went to I would think “Well why am I not going to these amazing house parties and am instead listening to close-harmony versions of the Beach Boys?” and go into a decline. However, in retrospect, “this awesome party” may have been a slightly lame house party that wrapped up at midnight; the girl or guy that they had a mind-blowing evening with may only have lasted 3 minutes and an awkward shuffle to the nearest bus stop; the holiday they went on with their partner may have been paid for by their parents. There are some people out there that may seem enviable, but who is to say they aren’t envying your ability to laugh at yourself, or your own self-worth?


My point? If you don’t feel happy in yourself, trying to fit into a corporate competitive system only suits the businesses that hire you as you fight your way to earning them more profit. Your peers may not always be telling the full truth either – those that aren’t are just trying to fool both you and themselves that they are superior, a feeling most often derived from a feeling of inadequacy itself. I’m not saying working for a company is inherently bad, nor is competition in and of itself – you should always strive to be the best that you can be. But if you keep trying to hammer your circular little self into a harsh triangular hole, you’re going to end up chipping away at the bits that make you who you are – the 9-5 is not for everyone. The second that you start competing against yourself, to push yourself to be the best you can be, is when you become most productive. Don’t try to play others at their own games – write the rules for your own game and dominate it. You won’t have to lie about your weekends then.


And nor should you ever feel guilty for listening to this, even for 2 hours; Barbershop Quartet God Only Knows  




M. Underhill