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Pressure to be 'perfect'


Life and all its expectations can be difficult on anyone, regardless of age, race, culture or social standing. But in particular, the pressures we face in our twenties to have the ‘perfect’ life are becoming more apparent, especially with the rapid increase in use of social media and the ability to hide all truth behind a screen. But what does it mean to have the ‘perfect’ life? To most people it may be the same, to have money, a family and marriage. To others it may be entirely different but I believe the essence of this and what society deems as successful, is something that looms over the head of almost every individual in their twenties.

From quite a young age, many of us are conditioned into only seeing one cookie cutter version of life. We are raised with idea that a nuclear family is the end goal and to get there, you must also establish a successful career. In an age where strong independence is more apparent and people are breaking away from this mould, the idea of perfection and what it means to succeed has adapted slightly, but I do believe there is still that underlying expectation that you must ‘settle down’ and find success and happiness within a family unit.

So what are the main pressures we face in our twenties? As mentioned previously, the urgency to find a partner, get married, and then have children, is something I believe most of us are pushed into. This becomes an evident struggle when you reach your mid to late 20’s and everyone around you is either married or expecting. If you’re not on the same page then it often makes you feel like you’re behind; you’re left wondering where things went wrong. When will I meet that special person and have a family of my own?

Similar to this, the expectation to own a house is added to the growing list. In today’s society, the property ladder is certainly not in favor of the younger generation. Our parents and grandparents like to remind us that back in their day, life and growing up was challenging and they always needed to walk 7 miles to get to school every day! What they seem to forget is that young adults today don’t have the same advantages when it comes to jobs and the housing market. At the beginning of the 1970’s, the average cost of buying a home was around £4,057, compared to today’s rising prices of around £269,945. The likelihood of owning your own home in 2021 is significantly diminished compared to that of our grandparents time. According to statistics, among adults aged between 18 to 24, only 1% own their own home. I have come across what seems a rare example where one of my own friends owns their own house. They acquired this house through inheritance and Steph added “the only way our generation are getting housing is through this way”. I would agree with this as the chances of owning your own home in your twenties grows even more impossible.

Another particular pressure we face is the notion of making loads of money and ‘flexing’ on social media. I would argue that this idea mainly stems from social media with the rising fame of Tiktok stars and Instagram influencers. With the huge increase in teen social media personalities, this creates the question that if you’re not earning six figures by the time you’re 23, or you don’t have a brand deal with Pretty Little Thing, you’ve evidently failed at life.

This leads me on to the concept of having a successful career. One of the biggest issues I have with this is the constant pressure that we are put under from even the early ages of 16. From such a young age, you’re expected to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. From 18 you’re expected to either go to university or start an apprenticeship etc. My biggest struggle with this is the fact that we change so often. The person we become at 25 will not be the same person we were at 18. As we grow and change, so do our minds and personalities. The things we want for ourselves can become drastically different and our perspective can alter depending on life experiences we have. When I was in school, I wanted to go into acting; when I was at university, I was sure that I’d become the next great novelist! Now at 25, I’m just happy to be earning my way with a roof over my head and food in my stomach! Career paths can change all the time so this sense of having a successful career should be subjective and not dictated by what society seems as successful; however I know this isn’t the case.

It’s a typical example where the grass is always greener. We see the surface happiness that everyone wants to portray and believe that they have it all when in reality, we don’t see the other side of the screen. We see what they want us to see and in turn, we reflect in on our own life and wonder why things aren’t as rosy for us.

But where do these pressures come from? For many, family and the expectations placed on us when growing up create increasing pressures in adult life. We are frequently surrounded by typical families and the notion of getting married and having children starts to become something that is expected of us when reaching our twenties. Our parents want to know when they’ll be getting grandchildren and those awkward conversations at family gatherings of ‘do you have a partner yet?’ or ‘when are you going to settle down?’. Being encircled by families and friends that are starting their own leaves you feeling somewhat outcast.

Discussing the topic on hand with a close friend, the pressures that come from different cultures also impact on an individual’s life. Shamira comes from a Muslim family and background where religion and culture is incredibly important. She explained her thoughts that, “in today’s society there is a particular pressure for women to be dating or in a relationship. I think Instagram and Tiktok have made it so that it appears that living your life in your twenties is all about finding someone when it really should be about finding yourself.

I think in the Asian and Muslim community as well this is valid, especially since there is the cultural expectation to be married by a certain age, but that doesn’t ring the same for men”.

This issue can’t be discussed without detailing social media and I would argue that this is one of the biggest factors when it comes to the pressure to be ‘perfect’. Every day we see people of all ages showing off their successes, whether that be on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to only name a few. They have every right to show what they want but the dangers of this come when reality begins to blend into fantasy. I myself have come across one too many posts where people photoshop the way they look or even fake scenarios to make themselves appear better off than others. I understand that these things are not new. We have always lived in a world where aspects of life are ‘enhanced’ in order to look what is deemed more socially appealing, but I feel this has been pushed to the limit now that we are in 2021. As I mentioned earlier, the rise of social media influencers add to this factor. I would argue that this point in fact highlights the idea that any regular person can make it big online and reach influencer status but I would also add that this comes down to the luck of the draw. Algorithms and clickbait work against most of us social media users and sometimes it does simply come down to luck.

The affects these pressures and influences have on mental health and welfare become more and more apparent to me each day, not only within myself but those around me and who I have spoken to on this topic.  These certain factors can distort your perception of reality and leave you feeling like you’ve failed even before reaching 25. According to statistics from Mind, 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues of some kind each year in England, and 1 in 6 people have reported experiencing common mental health issues like anxiety and depression in any given week.

Furthermore, I have a few words from a close colleague who is now in their thirties that I felt important to share. Discussing the topic with her and reflecting back on her twenties and the pressures she faced, she had this to say, “your twenties are hard and no one tells you this, so you spend it trying to balance so much in your life whilst walking uphill with heavy baggage.

However, two years into being 30, although I’m glad to be in my thirties because there’s less surprises about people, society, the world, the injustice, myself and others in my age group are suffering from Millennial burnout”.

When asked what advice she would give to someone currently in their twenties, she replied, “your twenties are fun but prepare for them to be hard. Your training wheels are coming off and you will fall over.

Also take no shit! Just because you’re younger doesn’t mean you have to put up with anyone treating you badly”.

So will this ever be resolved? The honest answer is no unfortunately. It’s incredibly difficult to unlearn the whole history of what society today has been built on and break down the social norms. We grow up learning certain behaviors and ways of living that trying to change this and what you’ve always known is a challenge. I would say that no matter your age, race, religion or social standing etc., we all need to make the effort to understand that not everyone is the same and wants the same things from life. It’s easier said than done, but when you reflect on this and realize that all external expectations of yourself are irrelevant, you begin to focus on what’s more important to you and what will make you happy. You start to push away this idea of fitting in to what society deems appropriate and living a life that is better suited to meet your needs.

Equally, we must acknowledge that not everyone will try to understand YOU. The truth is that people will still judge you on your choices and question why you don’t want the same things as everyone else. We need to accept that not everyone can change their way of thinking or at least try and see your different viewpoint; some battles are not meant to be won. 

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