Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Dear confused 20-something, 

It’s OK to feel like a walking dichotomy. 

It’s also OK to let go of society’s expectations and love yourself through every moment of your life.

If you wake up feeling incapable or incompetent, so be it! You’re still adjusting to this new adulting thing, so it’s OK if life feels complicated right now. The echo of internalized expectations may sound, but your love’s resonance can sing right back. 

Just because your life doesn’t feel as exciting or fresh as you anticipated doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong path. It’s OK if life feels like a struggle right now. 

It’s OK if you think you have life figured out, then later fall flat on your face. It’s OK if you don’t know what to do or which direction to go in next. Feeling confident that you can succeed but then struggling to even get by does not make you a hypocrite. It makes you human.

Life is a process, and it’s a messy one, so embrace the mess. 

I, too, am a walking dichotomy, and I’m walking right beside you. 

When I turned my tassel this May, I viewed the moment as a symbol of change. I saw graduating as the beginning of a new chapter in my story. I thought that receiving my degree would somehow wipe the slate clean and magically improve my struggles.

Six months later, though, I proudly admit that my life is just as messy as ever… and I am OK with that.

Yes, I’ve now proudly displayed a diploma on my bookshelf. But the girl sitting at the desk next to that reminder of her achievement still wonders what the future holds. I’m still afraid. I’m still anxious. I’m still doubtful.  

And that’s perfectly OK.  

Despite my uncomfortable feelings, I feel proud and hopeful. I know that I’ll work through my doubts and uncertainties, then transform them into the groundwork for the rest of my life.

Achievements like finishing school, landing a job, or moving to a new city are just that: achievements. They’re no more and no less. Yes, reaching a major milestone provides a momentary sense of satisfaction. The internal wins, however, are the ones that last forever. 

So today, 20-something, celebrate who you’re becoming right now. Show up for yourself in this mess called “life” because you will find who you truly are right in the midst of your chaos. Our achievements last for a season, but our personal evolution lasts a lifetime. 

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More on Thrive on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis