In exactly one point five months, I will turn twenty-five.
For some reason, this birthday feels particularly significant to me. 25 was always the age at which I assumed I’d have everything figured out. I’d be a high-powered career woman, making bank in the big city. Or I’d be a stable wife and mother, capable of keeping other humans alive.
I didn’t expect to be where I am at 25 – working a cool job, living in a cool city and generally supporting myself without issue – but still lost on a lot of small-scale things. Still struggling to figure a lot out. And still discovering new things about myself with an alarming frequency.
I’d say I wish I had more figured out as I approach a quarter of a century – but if I’m being entirely honest, that’s a lie. It’s ultimately the not-knowing that keeps things interesting. And so here is a non-comprehensive list of the things I still don’t have figured out at 25 – to remind you that it’s okay if you don’t, either.
1. How to cook anything more complicated than eggs. Or, how to stop spending $20 a day on fancy salads because my metabolism can’t process mac’n’cheese the way it used to. Maybe I’m just supposed to marry someone who can cook? Does that count as a way out of this mess?
2. How to be a good daughter, to my parents who are getting older and going through challenges of their own. I’m not sure how to be someone my family can count on for support, while also being someone who still needs to call her mom and cry sometimes. Because we never stop being our parents children. No matter how badly we want them to know that we have grown up and are doing okay on our own.
3. What I want out of a relationship. Whether I’m ready to be in it for the long haul or if I still want five more years to be on my own. Whether I want lovers for a decade or only for a night or two at most. Whether I’ll ever be sure. Whether I just haven’t met the right person yet, or whether investing in love is just a decision I’m going to have to put on my big-girl pants and make one day.
4. How to live consistently, rather than in bursts of six months of productivity and inventiveness and then six months of reclusiveness and reflection. How to manage my energy and life plans like an adult, rather than a child who runs in circles for hours and then wears himself out and needs a nap (but like, for months at a time).
5. How to ask for help or admit weakness when I just can’t figure things out on my own. How to still respect myself if I do accept help from other people. How to respect myself more, even, for doing so.
6. How to put together furniture that doesn’t fall apart. I think you’re supposed to superglue it as well as nail it into place if you get it from Ikea? That sounds vaguely like some rule my dad taught me, which I promptly never followed, and now my dresser drawers fall out of my dresser once a week. But no, mom and dad, I’m not asking a BOY to come help me fix it. Because I’m a feminist. Just a lazy one, who has a lot of socks on the floor right now.
7. How to define my sexuality. Or whether I even NEED to define it, or if I’m just allowed to let it be this fluid and changing and sometimes very confusing thing. Whether any of us owe ourselves or one another those labels at all.
8. How to let happiness be louder than pride. Or, how to let myself make uncool and unimpressive decisions that may cause me to be judged by others, because those decisions are what I actually need to feel fulfilled in life. On my own terms. Not anybody else’s.
9. How to be a good aunt to my niece as she grows up, even when I don’t have all of my own stuff figured out. How to be someone I’d be proud to have someone else look up to – particularly someone whom I love to pieces and want only the absolute best for.
10. How to drink responsibly instead of abstaining from alcohol for months at a time and then binging on it. How to drink without needing a full day to recover afterwards because my body is just not nineteen anymore.
11. How to fall out of love with people and actually move on with my life, instead of romanticizing all my ex-partners and refusing to give anyone new a fighting chance. How to empty those rooms in my heart that are too filled up with the past to let the present in.
12. How to mail things. I am twenty-five and I don’t know where the nearest post office is and to be honest I’m pretty sure I’ll never know. Does mail even still exist? Besides Amazon prime, I mean?
13. How to prioritize money. Is it more worthwhile to get my own apartment or go on a trip once a year? Is it better to live in a thriving city or have a padded saving fund? Somehow each choice feels just a little bit wrong when you stop to consider its opportunity cost and I can’t seem to work out what the right answer is.
14. How to network in a way that is professional but also genuine. Or at least, how to not visibly shudder every time I hear the word ‘networking’ said aloud.
15. How to be a good friend to the people I don’t see every day. How to support people emotionally when there’s a physical distance between us, and how to balance those long-distance relationships with the ones in my immediate environment.
16. How to dress myself so that I look like a human being, and not an eighteen-year-old who just bought all the cheapest things they could find at H&M, none of which are flattering, stylish or even remotely say ‘I’m trying to be taken seriously.’
17. How to like myself when I am not at my best, instead of holding myself to ridiculous standards and only being kind to myself when I fleetingly meet them. How to let myself just be the best worst version of myself sometimes, because it’s impossible to always be on top.
18. How to like people a normal amount, instead of liking them WAY too much right away and then waking up one morning and suddenly feeling nothing for them ever again. Maybe because my brain is already too full of all the people I once loved and can’t let go of. I’m not really sure how that works. But it seems as though the success of my future relationships hinges on me figuring it out.
19. Where to put all of my existential angst. Do I write it out? Run it off? Distract myself from it with a series of arbitrary goals that don’t give me time to consider why we’re here and where we’re going and what the point of it all is? Still unsure about the protocol here.
20. How to toe the fine line between asking for what I want and demanding things I don’t necessarily deserve. How to understand what the word ‘deserve’ even means, for that matter.
21. How to slow down and appreciate life as it’s happening, instead of frantically rushing through it. Because I think that’s how you wake up one morning fifty years from now, realizing you missed out on all the things that actually mattered as they were happening. Or as they could have happened, had you been present for them.
22. How to master winged eyeliner without smudging it all over my face and looking like a hungover raccoon by mid-afternoon.
23. How to love my body, even when it doesn’t look the way I want it to or act the way I wish it would or snap back into shape the way it did when I was eighteen years old. How to appreciate the fact that it keeps me alive and that’s pretty damn cool, if nothing else.
24. How to forgive myself for all the things I didn’t figure out sooner.
25. What the hell it means to be 25. What I’m supposed to have figured out by now and what it’s okay to put off until later. What I may spend my entire life trying to figure out. And what will, eventually, with time, become clearer – because at the end of the day, there’s still so, so much time left to keep learning.