Written by Leah Sinclair
From careers to relationships, many millennials and Gen Zers are trying to navigate the stage of life where they’re working towards their future while unsure if they’ll get where they want to be – also known as the ‘TBC’ stage.
If there’s one thing in life I constantly need to work on, it’s practising patience.
Whether I’m waiting on someone to make a big decision that is out of my hands or queuing in a particularly busy coffee shop for a much-needed oat flat white, my patience often wavers and I have to reluctantly remind myself that it’s OK to surrender to the unknown.
Having to be patient amid the chaos is something that many millennials and Gen Zers can relate to. Our lives are shaped by forces out of our control, not least a dire economy, which makes it difficult to plan and prepare for the future (according to Deloitte’s 2022 global Gen Z and Millennial Survey, a third of Gen Z respondents worry about the cost of living above all other concerns, highlighting how the instability of the economy can take a toll on your wellbeing). Meanwhile, a survey from First Give found that Britain’s young people are failing to feel inspired by their future as two in five (40%) admit to feeling scared for what’s ahead.
These concerns reflect the ongoing uncertainty many of us feel in different aspects of our lives. With everything from our finances to our housing and our relationships hanging in the balance, many of us are trying to navigate life when it feels like we have no solid ground to stand on. No outcome seems secure or guaranteed. Instead, everything feels ‘TBC’ – to be confirmed.
As someone who has just turned 30, I’ve spoken with many women in their 30s who have shared their experiences. I’ve often been told that your 30s are “the best time of your life” because things start to come together after the chaos of your 20s. But it makes me wonder if the uncertainty of your 20s is merely replaced by an immense amount of pressure in your 30s to tie up all the loose ends and for everything to make sense. It’s a scary place to be.
“I’m at a stage in my life where I’ve just turned 30, which is super exciting (and daunting), but I feel like I must make things happen now to set myself up for the future,” says Laverne*, a 30-year-old artist from east London.
“I’m single, which I’m fine with, but I understand that dating for me looks a little different than when I was 23 and I also feel an immense amount of pressure to get my career where I want it to be. It’s a lot to handle.”
While Laverne recognises that things take time to come to fruition, the waiting period is a constant struggle.
“I find myself overthinking what my future will look like and whether what I’m doing is helping me get there,” she says. “I also feel a lot more anxious on a day-to-day [basis] because everything is so up in the air. It’s more manageable when it’s one thing in your life you’re unsure about, but when it’s multiple things like your career, finances and relationships, it can be a scary place to be.”
Emma, a 25-year-old publishing assistant from Sussex, agrees. “I feel like being in your 20s should be surrendering to the chaos and uncertainty of everything,” she says. “But with the cost of living crisis affecting all aspects of my life, it’s hard to just embrace it for what it is.”
Emma has always wanted to work in publishing and is excited about the trajectory of her career. But living with four other people and struggling to make ends meet means the desire to expedite her career and finances is at an all-time high.
“In my mind, I’m like ‘I need to be in my successful era now’ and in a way, I’m robbing myself of acknowledging the accomplishments I’ve already got,” she says. “But living in a city like London means I’m so focused on going from one thing to the next that it doesn’t leave much room for accepting and acknowledging what I’ve accomplished so far while desperately trying to get to the next stage.
“It means that accepting the‘TBC’ stage of life is that much harder because there are so many external factors that make day-to-day living harder and so I spend a lot of time thinking how to make it easier.”
Being proud of what she’s accomplished while desperate to reach the next step is something Emma and many others struggle with – and it can manifest in numerous ways.
“Humans like predictability and certainty as a way of feeling emotionally and physically safe,” says counselling psychologist Dr Rina Bajaj. “When we don’t feel safe, we can develop behaviours to create the illusion that we have more control as we can fall into the trap of expecting the worst-case scenario. These are called safety behaviours and they are governed by a set of internal rules that we create to help us navigate and live life by.”
Dr Bajaj says some of these behaviours can manifest both physically and emotionally, from prolonged low moods and negative thoughts to unexplained physical health symptoms like headaches and stomach aches to changes to your normal routine. “The behaviours can be linked in with our beliefs about ourselves and the world and the pull to engage in some of these behaviours can be stronger for some people, especially if they have experienced uncertainty or change to be unsafe, distressing or destabilising in the past.”
Dealing with uncertainty and its effects can be distressing – and Dr Bajaj says finding ways to ground yourself and relieve the stress and pressure of the unknown is key to getting through the ‘TBC’ stage.
“Focus on what’s in your control in the now,” she says. “This includes your own emotions, thoughts, self-care and asking for support. It’s also important to re-ground yourself as a way of managing your stress response.”
Dr Bajaj adds that a large part of navigating the ‘TBC’ stage is being kinder to yourself and where you’re currently at in life. “It’s important to work on your internal self-talk, and increase levels of self-compassion,” she says. “Make sure your goals are realistic and chunk them into digestible solutions and this will help you to focus on your strengths.”
The uncertainty of life can come in waves for us all – and at a time when the economy is unstable and the future of the planet’s sustainability is shakier than ever before, it can be hard to ground yourself.
But where you are now is a step you were once far away from. And if there’s one thing we can acknowledge, it’s that the ‘TBC’ stage can be scary – but it can also bring about unexpected truths, surprises and moments that we never saw coming. And that is something to hold onto during the chaos of it all.
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