How did I get here? Am I seriously 22?
A confusing concoction of 18 and 30 all at once /
Now, I’m [really] not a big fan of Taylor Swift but before her song ‘22‘, there really wasn’t much to celebrate about your 22nd birthday, right? Still recovering from the debauchery that was your 21st, you find yourself tempted to just call it quits on this whole birthday business. This particular milestone seems to just herald in the insecurities of our twenties. It’s time to a have a life plan. It’s time to be a real person. (Of course, being in a position to really feel this anxiety is actually a unique privilege of its own. Many twenty-two-year-olds have been members of the “real world” for quite some time, and the rest of us— myself included—would be well-served to remember that. Then again, I have been hurled down a couple of life’s gauntlets – that has to count for something?)
When we were growing up, birthdays were eagerly anticipated because they meant change. Another year older, another grade higher. A year closer to some idealised fantasy birthday with all its imagined privileges: closer to 13, closer to 16, to 18, to 20, to 21. We got a taste of the anticlimactic birthday when we turned 19, caught in between two real milestones, waiting it out for 365 days.
Now, it seems like birthdays are more about how much time has passed rather than how much time is ahead. But 22 is a bit young for a full-blown existential crisis of mortality. Twenty-two is more about a general sense of unease. Twenty-two is also, to put it frankly, kind of boring. Not a lot changes when you turn 22.
With these cheery thoughts rattling in my head, I watched the days of the calendar lurch bye and my own birthday draw closer. And now, here it is. I’m turning 22, and to be honest, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to write home about. My life is more uncertain than it has ever been. I’m a final-year student of university, who has no concrete idea what she’ll be doing next year, who has yet to see whether her design pursuits will pay off as an actual job, who also really isn’t sure what the next step ought to be. And while I know it’s an artificial distinction, 22 feels substantively different from 21. Twenty-two feels like the on-ramp to the highway of true adulthood, and I’m still riding a tricycle in my backyard.
BUT THIS ISN’T THE WAY I WANT TO FEEL ON MY BIRTHDAY.
It’s all too tempting to throw myself a pity party instead of a birthday celebration. As markers of time and age, birthdays are often caught in the uncomfortable space between the future and the past. Today, it’s easy to focus on the uncertainty of my future or to fixate on my nostalgia for the past.
It’s even easier to get caught up in the narcissistic cult of the birthday: This is my day, and I deserve it.
But instead, I want to spend today in the present. I don’t want to think about how far I’ve come or how far I have to go. I want to think about what this moment feels like. As twenty-somethings, we are often pushed to be constantly reaching beyond our present toward some idealised future. Sometimes, it seems like our childhood eagerness for the fantasy birthday—our belief that the next year will bring something bigger and better—metastasises in our twenties. We become so fixated on living in the future that we forget to breathe in the present.
So today, the day after my 22nd birthday, I’m going to breathe. And tomorrow, on the second day after my 22nd birthday, I’m going to breathe again. I am going to experience life before I analyse it and I am going to untether my self-worth from the certainty of my five-year plan. This will be the gift I give to myself to mark yet another year successfully completed: the chance to actually experience the present (all puns intended!) and the room to breathe.
I have been so focused on all the anxiety weighing on my birthday that I forgot how lucky I am to have people in my life who want me to enjoy it, and who are thinking of me at this time. That’s what really changes as we grow older. We can decide, decipher and hopefully accrue more and more people who love us, more and more people who want to celebrate us.
The adage that age is just a number rings true on my 22nd birthday. While I feel less certain at 22 than I did at 18, that’s actually OK. Life is more complicated now, and there are more options available to me. And that’s a good thing.
I’m not the biggest Taylor Swift fan, and I’d actually never ‘listened‘ to her anthem ’22’ until this very morning. While I’m going to refrain from commenting on T-Swift’s musical stylings (after all, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women [Madeline Albright/Taylor Swift]), I’m going to leave you with a nugget of genuine wisdom:
“We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.It’s miserable and magical, oh yeah.Tonight’s the night when we forget about the deadlines.”
Do what you love, and love what you do. Life is now about enjoying the present – which will determine your road ahead.
We are nothing without those around us to share the journey with.
Find, keep, explore, grow, experience and travel along with those who you love. Who inspire. Who give your energy. Who delight and encourage. Who set your spirit free. Who will always bring you back to reality. Who will dream with you. Who will enrich your life. Who give you constant stability.
These people will be the best life investments. Yet the first person you must be comfortable with, and rely on is yourself. With that, you will be able to give back ten times more than you receive – and so the cycle continues. All in all, love who you have become today – you have fought to become him/her! (remember the punishing years being of being thrown around as a teenager – they can’t have been for nothing!)
Dream Big! Love Wildly! Explore Hungrily! Set Goals! Accomplish! Inspire Others! Throw Your Cares To The Wind! Work With Your New Responsibilities (they’re going to help us even further)! And Let Your Youthful Spirit Run Wild
***Remember to enjoy the present. Especially if you’re stuck being twenty-two as well***