6 Things You Learn At 25
My mama always told me (I swore I would someday find a reason to start a piece of writing like that) that the year you’re 25 is an important year wherein you — not the details of your life, which are constantly in flux, but the very filters with which you see things, the principles that guide your existence — will change. You’ll realize who you are, make decisions about who you keep company with, solidify your priorities, and generally see yourself in a bigger context than ever before. When my mom was 25, she had three children, two of whom were fathered by an alcoholic she was divorcing at the time. Seeing as I didn’t predict myself ending up with anything close to those things on my plate when I hit the big 2-5, I always wondered how her universal truth about this magic age would manifest itself for me. Well, here I am — unmarried with no children — so it seems I was right. It turns out, so was she.
I’m inclined to think it’s a coincidence that in that year, everything I believed, every relationship I held dear, every truth I thought I could rest on, the very filters through which I viewed the world shifted: painfully, awkwardly, awesomely, and so on. But then I observe every other goddamn 25-year-old ever –and hey, look! It happens to everyone. We might have different ways of experiencing the change, and varying degrees of even being cognizant of it, but it’s palpably present. This is the best I’ve done so far at breaking it down.
Disclaimer: Any of all of this can, and often will be, applicable at many stages of life. In no way is any of this uniquely constrained to the age of 25. But 25 is, like, notoriously a real bitch for hitting you hard.
1. You don’t know everything.
But you know a lot more than you used to. The most distinct accomplishment that marks this milestone is that it’s not about distinct accomplishments at all. 25 is all about acquiring the quiet, vague but incredibly important awareness of where you are in life. For the first time since probably ever, you aren’t perpetually distracted by your everyday life, enough to occasionally see the bigger picture: you’re no longer the distraught, flighty, eager young thing, incapable of anything resembling prudence or consistency that at 19 years old, you thought you would be forever. You either loved or loathed your own gorgeous dysfunctionality at that age, and either way, you likely defined yourself around it. But now, your life is only partially about starting in the same bars and ending in different beds each night. You sometimes pay bills on time. Your periods of employment sometimes are longer than your periods of unemployment. You are still a long way from where you want to be. But you probably have a much clearer idea of where it is you want to be, and possibly a more solid plan for getting there. The idea here is that you finally have a little self-awareness about where you are in the process and for once, you’re cool with that. You’re starting to understand the importance of confidence and humility and you’re at least making an attempt at balancing the two, and not just sweating things quite as hard.
2. Our generation is not (necessarily) better.
Oh, right, also the world still sucks. When we were growing up and learning the sugarcoated versions of the various atrocities that plagued the world, our inherent American arrogance — or maybe our youthful optimism — convinced us that those problems belonged to the past, or at worst, to other, more distant countries. Either way, us and our friends? We were going to do better. We were going to treat each other with respect and show older, discriminatory, backwards-ass generations how it’s done. Problems like socioeconomic, gender, and race inequalities, horrible tyrants assaulting people’s basic human rights, brutal diseases without cures — pssh, that noise was not for us. Except that it turns out that it really, really is. By 25, you’ve come to recognize that we still live in a country where all but a few rich, white, straight dudes have a bitch of a time gaining access to even the most basic level of respect and rights, many people are still downright heinous to each other, getting nutritious food and adequate healthcare is nowhere near a given, and the world beyond our borders can sometimes be an even more exhausting, depressing sh-tshow than that. You’ve also come to understand that it’s important to not embrace apathy in order to sleep at night, but that it’s also counterproductive to progress, and dangerous to your personal wellbeing to care too much. In short, you know you need to give enough f-cks to help make the world better, but like, not so many that it makes you hate life.
That’s not to say you’ve yet figured out how to accomplish this balancing act, but the realization that it’s something you need is damn good progress. I mean, we’re still trying to figure out how to effectively work each other’s genitals and not accidentally destroy each other’s feelings; solving world issues, or even figuring out to exist simultaneously in awareness and defiance of them, is a tall order right now. But this is when you realize that growing up is as much about adding important items to your Big Life’s To-Do List as it is about crossing them off.
3. Your parents screwed you up.
This is a great time to face the white hot epiphany that the majority of your neuroses, insecurities, inexplicable sore spots, prejudices, and self-delusions can be traced back to the psychological damage that your parents inflicted on you during your childhood and tender adolescence. Even if you think you’ve realized this for years (you have a doctorate in deflecting blame and your parents were the subject of your thesis, thankyouverymuch), 25 is the moment when this truth stops becoming a reason to hate your parents. Being pissed off at them is finally boring, as is being a neurotic mess full of excuses about daddy issues and parentally-induced feelings of inadequacy that make you utterly incapable of healthy interpersonal relationships. You understand that we’re all a jumble of ill-fitting pieces that our parents slapped together when they were raising us equipped with little more sense — if that — than we currently possess ourselves.
With that in mind, you start to move past hating them for it, and toward compassionately accepting them as flawed humans beings. Even if you don’t have to take responsibility for the mess they turned you into, you do have an obligation to do something constructive with that knowledge now that you have it. Now is when you decide to use the awareness of your hang-ups and stop your lifelong tradition of letting them be the excuse for all your bad habits and unsavory behavior. Instead, you will henceforth use this powerful self-awareness of your problems as the ammo you need to disempower them. Maybe your parents did ruin the last decade of your life, but now that you really understand what that’s all about, and you really get the scope of it all, it’s on you — knowledge is power, so take 25 as the time to stop being an angry, sullen teenager and get down to the business of fixing yourself.
4. Expectations yield heartache.
Relationships, jobs, promising new apartments, moves to new cities, daring hair changes — all things that you have a long history of investing a lot of expectations in, and an even more consistent history of being massively let down by. So you stop doing that now. Obviously, as the ambitious, exploring, adventurous, young beast you are, you still plan, you hope, you work toward goals, but you finally see how dangerous it is to be entirely fixated on achieving one specific outcome. If you allow yourself to be pleased with forward progress in the general direction you were aiming for, you can save yourself a lot of bummed out feelings about not hitting things directly on the exact mark you were aiming for. This approach is also a great way to always allow yourself openness for the best changes-of-plan that more rigid folks would miss out on while they’re being disappointed in landing a few degrees off target.
5. You and your friends are on different pages.
At 25, you will feel drastically more mature than some people you know, embarrassingly less put-together than others, and acutely aware of these imbalances in lifestyle, career, and consciousness between you and the friends you used to feel absolutely in sync with. This can be isolating. Out of nowhere, you can go from feeling buoyantly held aloft on the tumultuous sea of life by friends who totally get you, to feeling… you know, whatever the opposite equivalent of that analogy is. Desert Island or whatever. Don’t fret. Your 20s is supposed to be a time of rapid growth and development in every area of your everything, but we don’t always — in fact, rarely ever — evolve along the same timeline. And so we lose pace with each other.
Maybe in the next few years, you and your former soulmates will end up in the same place again and be BFFs. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe your path will take you to a whole new group of friends who are more suited to this stage of your life, and hopefully your old friends find that, too. Regardless, don’t let the fact that you and your pals have less in common than ever become grounds for resentment, anger, self-doubt or any of that nasty sh-t. It sucks, it’s sad sometimes (social limbo is a lonely land, yo), but the best you can do is stand behind your own choices, stay focused on continuing to become the happiest, healthiest, most successful version of yourself possible, and try to retain a certain sense of social zen — people come in and out of your life, and that’s okay.
6. You’re not alone.
If you’re a 25-year-old who feels safe, secure, certain, well-adjusted, and unwaveringly sure of your amazing life, you’re either blowing industrial grade crack smoke up your own ass, or you’re a self-deluding baby whose greatest accomplishment will likely be getting voted Least Likely to Achieve Intellectual, Professional, Social or Spiritual Heights Beyond the Low Level at Which Their Own Self-Satisfied Apathy Permanently Stagnated Them Into a Life of Sad Mediocrity. It’s advisable to try to be happy with your life, but if at any point you think you’ve “got it all figured out,” and you stop seeking improvement, you officially suck harder than most.
If you’re 25 and going through the brutal process of seeing yourself honestly and the many implications that echo throughout every part of your life along with that, you’re going to feel all of the following ways in the course of any given week: bitter, angry, enthralled, amazed, in love, impossibly unable to be understood, impossibly unable to understand, empowered, serene, confused, motivated, refreshingly young, achingly tired, too alive, numb, drunk, sleepy, indulgent, lazy, unstoppable, fat, horny, and simultaneously frustrated and at peace with the overwhelming chaos and unbearable lightness of all of this. And that means you’re doing 25 the right way. This is all a helluva lot to feel. Uuuugggghhh, so many feeeelings. I know, boo. So as always, don’t forget the importance of blowing off steam. God invented tequila, weed, orgasms, and crying for a reason — besides, you’re old enough to not overdo it these days, right?
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