My 21st Century 20-something Ennui

en·nui- Listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest; boredom

We’ve all felt this, right? Well, I’ve noticed that I’ve been feeling it more as I approach my quarter-century, and I think it’s worth discussing.

Between Sallie Mae calling me incessantly to an overall sense of is-this-really-what-I-want-to-do-with-my-life begging my attention in the depths of my brain, I find myself feeling border-line depressed. I have everything I’ve been working towards- I have a career in my field, I’ve been publishing, presenting, doing all of those academic things that I love to do, and yet I’m still not satisfied. I’m just kind of meh- Why?

Something happens in your twenties. Maybe it was moving 1600 miles from home to an uncharted territory, maybe it’s the inability to make friends my age (because where are they?), maybe it’s that 80 thousand dollars of student loan debt looming like the plague over my head (and strangling my soul).

It appears that this dissatisfaction, this ennui, really grows from the desire to accomplish everything all at once. It’s that pull to perform at perfection, to prove yourself to those library rockstars in LibraryLand. That you are WORTH IT, that you are equal, that you have accomplished something. I might not have all the wisdom yet, but I yearn for respect. Age is funny like that.

This 20-something ennui is exacerbated by technology, too. I know that I’ve felt extreme pressure (mostly self-created) to continuously check for things I should be aware of in academic libraries- to be an expert on ALL new technologies. I check and check and check for upcoming immersion programs, leadership symposiums, conference proposal deadlines, new hash-tags, MOOCs, anything and everything higher-ed. It’s overwhelming, people.

Why do I do this to myself? Could it be that I was so used to applying for jobs and checking for postings that I just haven’t shaken this habit? I’m just not satisfied with that answer 😉

I think part of breaking out into your chosen field is proving yourself, and for me, the only way to do that is to keep pushing, presenting, publishing, provingprovingproving. Building confidence is the first step, and that acceptance is what keeps me going- it’s addicting.

But then, just like that, I feel like I’m not doing enough. Or maybe, all of this isn’t for me, maybe I would be satiated by a PhD – my guess is: probably not.

The problem with living in a college town is everyone is 19 (or appears to be) or 45+. Nothing is wrong with either of these ages as most of my old friends and co-workers fall in-between there, but I have no other 20-something to share this melancholy, to blather around in the malaise of this modern wasteland. I’ve resorted to spewing my dissatisfaction [about everything] on Facebook and Twitter, hoping to make a connection, for someone to be like, “Yeh, right on, I feel you.”

But, when I get that affirmation – I jump the gun and think, “YEAH let’s start a REVOLUTION, let’s DO IT! Let’s change the WORLD” – and the vicious cycle of falling in and out of ennui, that eh-what’s-the-point-no-one-will-ever-listen-and-it-will-all-be-for-nothing feeling.

The existentialist in me suggests that life has no meaning other than that which we personally give it – and damn it, I haven’t come to terms with the absurdity of human existence. I suppose I will keep wandering, like Meursault, in hopes to find happiness in the “gentle indifference of the world.”


  1. I have a similar yet different problem. I’m frustrated and impatient with where I am at 25, and things such as facebook make it a million times worse. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my life, I have an idea but it seems nearly impossible to get it. I want to move up the ranks at my job, but that depends on the opinions of people who have seen me at my worst which can be discouraging. Everyone around me is settling into jobs and relationships and I feel like I don’t have either. My friends from college live far away, my friends at home are in totally different places than me. Everyone is married, getting married, or living with someone….I live at home with no relationship. The people I work with are either older or younger and the ones my age I can not socialize with because they are managers and we can not have friendships with superiors outside of work. I want the job and the family and I’ve been sooo impatient to have it.


    1. Krystle, I totally understand what you mean. I think, like I told ________, there is this pressure created by facebook, this gamification of EVERYTHING that there is this overwhelming need to compete with friends. And then you’re left with this feeling of, I’m not doing enough, or what the hell is wrong with me? It’s like no matter what I do, I just don’t feel like it’s enough – I’m not good enough, I’m not DOING enough.

      I think that the relationship thing you are dealing with is easy for me to say, ‘eh it will come in time,’ but I know that it’s not that easy. I’ve been there, too. Single with a child – It’s hard to make it. There’s no one to go at this thing called life with, and that sucks sometimes. I wish I had any circle of real friends, but even the ones I considered to be close have grown apart. The sad thing is, we’re aware of that, but it’s still hard, and we still don’t know how to deal.

      I’m just hoping sometime soon, we’ll be able to look at posts on fb and not take it personally, not feel that pit-of-the-stomach ache for acceptance. I dunno, maybe that makes me an optimist.


  2. Yup, yup, yup. But also: no. I mean, I think I get how you feel. But 20-something me thinks no, I will not be a part of that whole career business. I expect my career to follow where I go which is pretty much always somewhere else. My problem the is that I’m way too scared to actually go to somewhere else. I can’t seem to grow fully gently indifferent to the world. But I wanna!!!


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