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The question

I am a woman in her late 20s. I did well at school, got honours and great grades. But since graduation I’ve really been struggling. I’ve had two jobs but didn’t last long in either before I was fired. I’m not lazy, I just had no feeling for the type of work I was doing. Then there were long gaps between jobs. I would apply for jobs but didn’t even seem to be coming close. Some people – lots of people – didn’t even get back to me. I had to move back in with my parents, which is embarrassing at my age. Meanwhile, I’m being harassed to pay back my student loans. Fair enough, but I just don’t have any money. I’m afraid I’m going to wind up a failure in life. Meanwhile I’m having no luck in my “love life” – hooking up with all these guys who only seem quasi-interested. I thought a person’s 20s were supposed to be some of the best years of their lives. What am I doing wrong?

The answer

I know how you feel. All throughout my 20s, it seemed like every time I walked into a new job, first day with fresh-pressed shirt and hi-everybody smile, an invisible hand would reach out and overturn an invisible hourglass, and the sands of my time would begin to run out.

Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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Applies to all of life, I feel, but particularly to one’s 20s.

Don’t be afraid of failure. It has a lot to teach us.

Of course there’s an entire industry churning out chuck-you-under-the-chin, you-go-girl, happiness-is-a-choice bromides about how in the face of any reversal or comeuppance you should pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep swinging.

But my favourite object lesson in this department, although, is the story of Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba – China’s Amazon, basically.

As a young man, he applied for 30 jobs, was rejected for all. Applied to Harvard Business School 10 times: rejected every time. He tried to become a cop. They told him: “You’re no good.” When Kentucky Fried Chicken came to his town, 24 people applied for jobs. Twenty-three were accepted. Only Ma was rejected.

Now he is one of China’s richest people, with a net worth of around US$35-billion.

Not that money is the measure of success. The point is: persist. Your 20s? You’re still a pup, a babe, a kid.

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For a lot of folks, one’s 20s are a time of experimentation, careerwise. Example: I have one friend who was a drywaller, a labour negotiator, a cottage-country real estate salesman, an editorial assistant for TV, all before finding his true calling, his métier: documentary filmmaker.

You have to find your calling, your métier. If you do that, I predict you’ll become absorbed in your work, get good at it – and will be much less likely to get fired.

Maybe even succeed! You say you “have no feeling” for the work you’ve been doing. Well, find something you do have a feeling for and go full steam ahead.

Easier said than done, I know. If you can’t find a job that suits your talents, maybe become an entrepreneur of some sort. What have you got to lose? You already live at your parents’!

From there the long-term goal, in my humble opinion, is to create a body of work, a lifework – an oeuvre, if you will.

So: métier, oeuvre. Got it? Go!

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As far as your love life is concerned, I think it’s all interconnected. Once you get good at what you do, you’ll probably start to make a little money, and then you can move out of your parents’ place.

Honestly, I don’t know how people date while living with their folks. You need an apartment so you can have candlelit dinners, watch a movie together, maybe sleep in the same bed – all the activities which shade and deepen a relationship. Otherwise, it’s bound to be a little fly-by-night.

Whatever you do, don’t get daunted. Go forth and conquer. Ignore and overcome all obstacles. In the words of Sir Sebastian Snow, one of the last gentleman explorers, who admitted he had no sense of direction, no bush-survival skills, all he really had was a motto: “Bash on regardless.”

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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