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20-Something by Stephanie Paradis

I. Being 20-Something, Broke, & Anxious

There is no singular path to success – no singular measure. How then, are the 20-

somethings of the world – fresh filled with knowledge and spunk – supposed to set their

compass for this hard to define, forever changing, and even possibly unattainable noun.

The short answer… you don’t set the compass, you make your own.

At the age of twenty-two, I graduated from a well-known private business school with

an expensive piece of paper, declaring my extensive knowledge in Business Administration,

Management, Marketing and Psychology. I was marketable, ambitious, and more than ready for all that the corporate world had to offer.

Skip forward to my twenty-fourth lap around the sun, being two years into my career.

And on paper, I was a high performer with already one promotion under my belt. On social

media, I was in a loving two year relationship with my college sweetheart. And from my family’s perspective, I was being independent and “successful”.

In reality, the workdays were hard to get through without tears or doubt. Any extra

ounce of energy left at the end of each day was given to my then boyfriend, and family hardly received any of my time and attention.

Struggling is a word most prefer not to use as a description of their state of being. But,

here and now, on the other side of the hill, I say it with a badge of honor. You see, to everyone else, I was doing the damn thing. I was using my degree, I was achieving in my career, I was seemingly navigating a long-term relationship. To others, dare I say, I was being “successful”.

Having followed the path to success, as defined and measured by a college degree and

familial expectations, why was I filled with anxiety and questions about my future? And why was my internal dialog different than that of those around me?

It’s simple… I followed someone else’s path, and measured myself against someone

else’s definition of “success”. In doing so, I found myself sitting on my bathroom floor in my 500 SQ FT studio apartment in New York, several states away from home, living pay check to pay check, professing my unhappiness to my Mother while gasping for air.

II. The Journey

Rock-bottom. It’s a term most know, and hopefully few have to experience. At twenty-

four, I had officially hit my first rock-bottom moment. Everything I had worked towards,

everything I had achieved, no longer mattered – the only thing that mattered was finding

balance and peace again.

So, I set out to do just that. I like to call it “choosing the journey”. Journey, as defined by

myself, is the effort in seeking a truer, more grounded, more raw and genuine self. In other

words, stripping away all the things that you held to be true about yourself, and instead, seeking other things that align more authentically with who you are at the core.

I started slowly. First by seeking career shifts that would better align with my passions.

Then I built up some courage and left the two year relationship behind. And finally, made the

conscious decision to move to a new city - Boston. These changes all happened in a matter of two or three months. Albeit quick and chaotic for those on the sidelines, for me it was like

running to the finish line.

I might add, without getting too spiritual, that it isn’t always your choice to begin a

“journey”. In fact, I may stretch here and say it is never yours alone to choose. I believe the

universe (or any outward source) is constantly trying to move you closer to your truth, and your path, if you will. And in my case, I had traveled too far down other’s paths and had lost sight of who and what I was meant to be.

After moving cities, I spent the first six to eight months reconnecting with close friends,

making new, and even shaving a few off the list. I made a vow to myself that year, that I would start treating myself better. That I would listen to my intuition, my gut. And that I would only spend my energy on the people, places and things that brought joy, balance and peace.

III. The Mental Diet

It is extremely easy to consume large amount of anything in today’s world. While

nutrition and dieting are widely spoken about, there is little conversation about maintaining a

healthy mental diet.

Several months prior to my quarter life crisis, I started become acutely aware of my

mental health as it related to those I spent time with. Whether I spent time with family, friends

or strangers, I began cataloging through journal entries the impact of these relationships on my mental health. It became so important to me to understand how these relationships affected my life.

What you start to realize as you age in your twenties, is that most people are following

the path of least resistance. Most people are making connections with others based on

proximity and convenience. Some are even staying in situations out of laziness or fear of change.

This level of awareness forced me to evaluate the reasoning behind all of the relationships in my life. Was I keeping friendships out of convenience? Was I not speaking my truth with family out of fear of change?

As a result of this self-reflection, an inner desire started to burn. I needed to step away

from my proximal life and spend time objectively looking at it, with no distractions, with nothing to consume or persuade me. It was then that I decided to embark on a 4,000 miles solo road trip along the east coast to find answers to some of the burning questions I had. Allowing time and space between all the people, places and things in my life, gave me control over my mental diet.

Those two weeks on the open road, with my cellphone turned off, gave me all the clarity

on who should be in my circle, what types of energy I should allow, and where I wanted to be


Given my experience, I’d go as far as to argue there is an imperative need for all 20-

somethings to take the time to objectively examine their life, and make conscious decisions about all of the pieces of their life. For most, these nuggets of advice will not translate into

packing up and moving to a new city, nor even setting out on a solo road trip. But, what I hope it does, at the very least, is give permission to those that feel stuck, confused and anxious, to examine their life against their own inner metrics of “success”. And to reject anyone else’s measure of “success” all together.

IV. You Be You

Now, as I live out my late twenties, I make conscious effort to continue to build my own

compass. Finding time to check-in with my true self has become a habit. I take time regularly to audit those that surround me, and I graciously readjust away from the people, places and things that don’t bring joy, balance and peace.

Most importantly, I stopped defining and stopped trying to measure “success”. Instead,

I’m thoroughly focused on being exactly what I am – myself.


Written by Stephanie Paradis

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