The Panic Years: Entering Your Mid-Late Twenties

Everyone refers to their twenties as the selfish years. The years in which you travel, make mistakes, fall in love, get your heart broken, party, make more mistakes and ‘create yourself.’ And while my early twenties certainly consisted of all of the above (more than I’d like to admit), referring blindly to your twenties as the same decade misses the mark of the complex, confusing and chaotic period which is your twenties.

In my first few years of uni, I would stay up until 5am partying, drinking, talking D+M’ing, going for nudie swims under the cover of dark, go clubbing, dancing and sleep in until 1pm. Now I don’t think that’s physically possible. I’ve somehow transformed into a morning peson who gets up at 5:30 to go to yoga or for a run.

What does this change mean? Is it biological (my body screaming at me to please please please have babies), is it societal (watching my friends get married, buy a house and have gorgeous kids), is it economic (thinking about how much super I will need to retire), or is it a natural progression of getting old and boring?

I recently picked up Nell Frizell’s debut book ‘The Panic Years,’ where she explores this overarching period of a woman’s life that ultimately results in panic. Whether you’re in your twenties, thirties or even fourties, most decisions are made in a state of panic. Frantically looking around and comparing yourself to your peers and friends, driven by the underlying question of ‘do I want children and if so, when do I have them?’

There’s a myriad of reasons why this simple question is so loaded and not so simple. And as someone who feels well and truly in her panic years, in the flux, at any given time I’m likely considering the following;

  • How will I know when I’m ready?
  • How much money do I need to have a baby?
  • Will my employer be flexible and will I have enought support for maternity leave?
  • How many more jobs do I want to have before I’m ready to plateau for a little while?
  • Where do I want to live? Where can I afford to live?
  • Am I ok with renting or do I want to buy something – how the hell does anyone afford to buy something?
  • How much do those cute little baby socks cost?
  • Do I need health insurance? What if something goes wrong?
  • Will my scoliosis worsen during pregnancy leaving me with a Quasimodo hunchback?
  • Am I fertile, can my body physically even have kids?
  • Is my womb even a nice little uterus where a baby could make a home for nine months?
  • Could I deal with the possibility of miscarriage – after all it happens in 1 in 4 pregnancys?
  • Do I really want to bring a child into the world that is arguably burning?

I understand that these are all privileged thoughts, many women don’t have the space, choice or freedom to have children on their own terms.

Lying under all of these questions is the dilema of career progression, personal goals and ambitions (can you raise a baby in Mongolia? I still really want to go there!), personal relationships, family… no wonder it’s called the panic years.

To me it’s insane the comparison and contrast between my early twenties, someone who was quite opposed to having children and was very present-focused. Within the past 12 months I feel I’ve undergone a total transformation of my outlook on life and what’s important to me. I’m so much more future focused and thinking about all of the things (see above), my family (which I’ve always loved and thought was important) have become even more significant in my life and play a much larger part in my life. I’m careful with how I spend my money and time, and following up at the doctors with all these little health concerns to make sure I can live a long and happy life. Maybe a positive take from the pandemic was making us quickly realise what’s important and not to put faith in the future just happening because we all know it can change in the blink of an eye.

This transformation has caught me completely off guard as I grapple with the loss of my early twenties Adelaide but a quiet confidence as I navigate my mid-late twenties. It’s a privilege growing older, I just can’t believe how much you can grow, change and learn in such a short amount of time.

This post isn’t just about when I can have an adorable little red headed baby… but about trying to understand this period of time that I see a lot of my friends move into and navigate. The time where once in a blue moon you can stay out til 5am partying, but where you’re also researching investing in stocks and getting your skin checked regularly. So when I picked up Nell’s book, I knew immediately what it was about – this. The future-focused, somewhat responsible, somewhat decisive, somewhat confused mid-late twenty woman riding the panic and embracing the flux.

How to push your comfort zone in your mid-twenties

By the time you reach your mid-twenties (yes, I’ve just turned 25 and I’ve reached the next life stage of mid-twenties), you’re in a good swing of things. In your early twenties you tried new things, failed, succeeded, you figured it out and now you’re steadily moving through life quietly killing in. Your comfort zone is well and truly formed and you’re living in it. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but I’m not one for stagnating.

Earlier this year, whilst intoxicated at the pub, I somehow got caught up in a conversation where I signed up to play touch football. To many people, this may seem like a pretty normal conversation. But for me, I was immediately riddled with doubt, anxiety and fear. I had never played touch football before, I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know all the girls on the team, basically I didn’t know what I was doing.

I guess working in a full time job, you get in a bit of a monotonous routine. Plus I’d noticed myself becoming a bit lazy. So in that moment at the pub, I thought this was the perfect way to get fit, make some new friends, but most importantly, try something new.

The whole day before my second game I was riddled with anxiety

About 20 minutes before our first game, I was frantically watching YouTube videos of how to play touch footy, the rules and how it all works. The first game I spent most of my time jogging up and down the wings, seeing how the game worked and observing/participating/scratching my head/panting.

The whole day before my second game I was riddled with anxiety, thinking about the 7:15 kick off and how I was absolutely terrified to go. All of these negative thoughts flooded my head. ‘The other girls think you’re shit. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re too unfit to play. You don’t know the rules. The other team is targeting you because they know you suck. Why are you even trying.’ I somehow made it to half time before I started to freak out. I was on the sideline and was honestly on the verge of tears. Why was I putting myself through this?

As I ran back onto the field, trying to bottle up these feelings, my team mate threw me the ball and I ran. To my absolute surprise, I dodged the other team and ran through several players. I continued running, not quite knowing what had even happened. Before I knew it, I put the ball down on the ground (that’s called a try), I turned around, and my team mates were cheering for me. Holy shit, I just scored a try!

People are just stoked you turned up

Whilst I didn’t score a try for the rest of the season, my anxiety reduced dramatically and by the end, I was actually looking forward to our touch games. And I’m so glad I pushed through the feelings of being uncomfortable and being filled with self-doubt.

Isn’t it funny how I tried something new and I immediately expected to be good at it? Like hello….. people train and learn rules of games for YEARS! It’s your first time ever playing, people are just stoked you turned up! And this is the part I’m trying to work on. The voice in my head doubting my ability and telling me to take a step back. I think back to all of the times I supported my friends trying new things, and how supportive, encouraging and patient I was. Why would I expect my friends to turn around and not reciprocate those thoughts?

At the end of the day, you can’t be good at everything, and you certainly can’t be good at something the first time you try it! I think in our twenties, we’re so used to being good that we’re so afraid to fail, we’re afraid to even try. That’s why I think it’s imperative that we try new things, we fail, we learn how to learn again, and be kind to ourselves.

You may even surprise yourself and score a try!