Hustle culture snatched you up after high school, its venomous claws turning your head the way it wanted. Its mantras replay over and over, a twisted, cyclical trap.
Life's for achieving.
Money is for collecting.
Everyone's opinion matters.
Reputation must be guarded.
More is your standard.
So, woman in your 20s, you keep chasing it all like a discombobulated chicken. You constantly try to improve your looks because pretty girls get ahead. You make sound career choices and never say the dreaded "no." You collect the Instagram photos from worthy locales but also try to remember to save for retirement. You have fun so you can hoard those "wild party moments" to retell later in life but you're also wise because one slipup could mean disaster for your reputation. You make friends and do the brunches. You keep an eye on the biological clock like everyone tells you to. You network and pick a house. You decorate it like you're Martha Stewart and try to keep up with the household while working all the hours. You fall in love and win his heart. You win over his Mama, too. You play house and buy a house and climb the ladder only to climb it again and you never, ever stop for a breath because to pause, even more a moment, is to be left behind.
In short, you run yourself ragged until you barely recognize who you are or even what the hell you want anymore. Because that's what we're supposed to do.
Modern Women Don't Quit
You do it all because you're a modern woman--and then poof. One day, you realize the "best decade of your life" is over, and it wasn't all that great. You realize you didn't use enough sunscreen like your Mama told you and now you've got too many wrinkles. But more importantly, you realize that you spent so much of your 20s doing what everyone else wanted you to do--that you forgot to live for yourself.
You hoarded the things, the moments, the achievements. But you stand in your cluttered house of knick-knacks and collectibles and ask yourself: what does it all mean? What does it matter?
And that, my friends, is how so many of us wake up in our 30s dazed, tired, and quite frankly, lost.
30s are the New 20s...?
I used to be that hustle girl, always reaching for more. I chased the full-time job and the path I thought would lead me to happiness. I collected money and things (and also cats, to my husband's chagrin). I tried to be the "good girl" who did all the things and never let anyone see my frown. I chased the hustle culture, always trying to level up. Most of all, I spent my 20s fearing my 30s--because according to society, 30 was old for women, was the point where you had to have it all figured out.
I cried copious tears over the 30 candles on my birthday cake and fell for the lie we're told in our 20s--we become convinced that success is life's currency, life's true measure.
For some, we measure that success with our bank accounts or the number of designer bags we can afford. Others accumulate job titles. Some of us use houses or cars or lovers as our marker. Regardless, "More," is our mantra, and hustle is both our motivation and our curse in our 20s.
However, as a 34-year-old, I've gotten far enough to learn this: the real currency in life isn't money, fame, or success. It's peace. Because peace is the only thing that can add up to real, genuine happiness.
Peace is that long, slow breath when you look failure in the eye and know you'll be okay.
It's rest and grace for yourself when the world keeps shouting "Not enough."
It's acknowledging that collecting all the bags, money, and titles in the world doesn't mean shit if you're too burnt out to enjoy them.
Peace is understanding second or third or tenth best isn't losing.
It's living in the moment and inhaling the beauty of stillness, of calmness, of satisfaction.
Peace is having the courage to say: I'm enough. It's enough.
Peace is the currency, the true goal, the true answer.
A Lesson of Decades
Sometimes, I think maybe we have to go through the hustle of our 20s to learn this lesson, to really learn it in our bones. Sometimes, I think it was because I was so lost and tired when I got to 30 from trying to be everything for a decade that I finally understood.
But to the women who are in your 20s right now, maybe this doesn't have to be your plight. Maybe you can learn from us. Maybe you can find the answer sooner. Maybe you already have.
I hope so. I hope you can rise above the culture that demands more. I hope you say "yes" to less, to being enough, to living with enough.
I hope you know life is more than collections and money and material things. I hope you find the value of peace early on and understand how many possibilities open up for you when you truly embody it.
To you, women in your 20s, I say: find your peace. Find it early. And then, never let anyone tell you any other way to live.
USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books