Think about when you were young. How easy everything was then — how easy it was to meet new friends, new loves, new everything. Remember how it all felt like a shiny new opportunity. You could always change course. You could always do something different. Vividly remember the afternoons spent googling “should I move to Bulgaria?”
Think about how your friends have changed because even if you still feel young your friends tell you otherwise. They are a benchmark of your progress towards “old.” Even if wanted to go out and have tequila shots and meet strange men and dance on tables like you used to, who would you call? Your partners in crime are someone’s wife now, maybe even someone’s mom. They are grown up. They belong to other people now.
Watch your younger relatives age. Feel defeated by the successes of people younger than you. What took you eight years only takes them two and despite (finally) being happy with where you are at, you label yourself a late bloomer anachronistically.
Start worrying about your health more. Now that you are Almost Old and you are (finally) not constantly worrying about young 20-something things like how to pay your bills and how to get a real job, you’ve freed up the mental space in your brain to worry about exciting new topics like when you are going to die and whether you are eating enough kale.
Realize that all the existential crises of your young 20’s were comical in retrospect. Of course you would finally figure out all the adult stuff, it’s unavoidable. All that stuff falls into place whether you want it to or try very hard at it or not. But then you have it and you wonder what it really means. What is your life going to be About. What is The Point. Realize that every single thing you spent your young 20’s worrying you wouldn’t ever get — love, success, family — is achievable and it was silly to worry about to begin with. That’s not the problem. The problem is that once you get it you still have to answer the why. Is having a great job enough to justify your existence? Is having a family? Is anything?
Watch as milestone birthdays pass without the fanfare you assumed they would when you were younger. For 28 you just have a last minute dinner with a few friends. 29 is a small party held in the shadow of the impending more symbolic birthday. You tell yourself you have a year to get it together. Remember being 21 and laying in the grass with your best friends and planning a trip to Greece for your 30th birthdays. You would get your naked bodies immortalized by some cheap art student you find on the Greek version of Craigslist. That’s what you said then but it seems unlikely that any of you will mention it now.
Think about how life is not what you expected it to be. It is not a glossy magazine with pretty photos. You have (more) cellulite now. The mistakes you have made are not fun movie mistakes that come with an important lesson where everyone forgives you and you move forward together. You have hurt people. You have been the bad guy sometimes. You’ve lost faith in things you said you never would and there’s no triumphant music playing in the background.
Whatever your life is going to be like is a lot more like what it is today than what it is in your imagination. This, at least you have learned. You aren’t a person who needs things to be fantastical anymore. You once needed the excitement of the forest and now you are finding enough to marvel at in one particular tree. Your tree. Your life. Your tiny, insular life. When you weren’t looking you became a star instead of a constellation.