The infamous Ryan O’Connell once said,
“When you’re in your 20s, you change. A lot. I know this sounds ridiculous but like I’m 26 and whenever I meet someone who’s 22 or 23 – even if I love them – I’m just like, ‘Go back into the oven because you aren’t done yet.’ Three years do make a major difference in your 20s because every year is like a giant epiphany.”
I remember reading this quote at twenty-two and feeling direly offended.
After all, I was an adult. I paid my own electric bill. I held down a full-time job. I was as grown-up as I ever expected to be.
Fast-forward three years later.
Looking back on my life at twenty-two I feel, for the most part, like I’m looking back on a completely different person’s life. True to Ryan’s prophecy, each year since then had been like a giant epiphany. Each year has challenged my worldview. Each year has shaped me into a different person.
And I’m sure the following years will be no different.
But this week, when my fantastically frank co-worker (and good friend) Katie Mather put together this piece on things she didn’t think she’d be doing at twenty-two, I found myself reflecting on which parts of my life my current life – at twenty-five – would shock even my twenty-two-year-old self.
As someone who used to firmly believe that one’s life stopped at twenty-one and everything afterwards was a blasé snore-fest, I think the #1 thing my nineteen or twenty-year-old self would be surprised to find out is that I actually love being in my mid-twenties. Dare I say it, I even prefer it to my early twenties.
Here are ten key reasons why.
1. I’m a lot more comfortable making major life decisions than I used to be.
When you’re in your early twenties, every decision feels like it’s life-or-death because you’re certain that it’s going to shape the trajectory of your entire existence and what if you choose the wrong course?
By your mid-twenties, you’ve made enough mistakes, backtracked enough times and stumbled upon enough unexpected successes to realize that no single decision is ever going to make or break your life.
Not to mention, you’ve been around the block a few times and now have a much better idea of what you like and dislike.
At twenty-one or twenty-two, I felt compelled to ‘try everything once’ just in case I was missing out on something amazing. In my mid-twenties, I still enjoy trying new things, but it doesn’t feel compulsive or necessary the way it did five years ago. My entire identity is no longer fragilely hinged upon whichever new activity I’m trying on for size that week.
2. I finally feel independent, in every sense of the world.
When you’re in your early twenties, your life revolves around your social circle and anything that happens to you kind of collectively happens to all of you, because that’s how life works.
By your mid-twenties, most of your college friends have dissipated and you’ve probably gone through at least one major life crisis without them. You’ve learned to hold your own hand through career challenges, financial hurdles, breakups, makeups and maybe even a major move or two.
In my early twenties I remember instantly running to my friends every time shit hit the fan, knowing we’d tackle each problem together. In my mid-twenties, I mull things over and make plans independently, and then seek out help if and when I need it. It feels lonely at first, but empowering as hell once you get used to it. There’s a lot to be said for knowing how to take care of yourself, and it’s rewarding in ways I’d have never expected five years ago.
3. My life has stopped revolving around sex.
At twenty-one or two, it feels like everything in life is about sex: who you’re having it with or who you want to be having it with or who you’re not having it with or how long it will be until you have it again. Sex seems like the answer to every problem and the basis of every dynamic.
By your mid-twenties your hormones simmer the fuck down and you realize that there are a lot of things in life that are actually not about sex. There are even things in life that are more interesting than sex, and worth prioritizing above it. It’s like you wake up from being drunk off your own hormones for five or six years and realize there’s a whole other world out there – one where you don’t absolutely have to fuck everyone you’ve ever vaguely thought about fucking.
Sex is finally allowed to take the backseat to other things. And honestly? It’s a huge relief.
4. My body has changed, but I finally enjoy taking care of it.
When I was twenty or twenty-one, I’m pretty sure I could eat pizza for five straight days, drink every night and never lift a finger to exercise and still look and feel pretty good.
At twenty-five, if I so much as look at a bagel the wrong way I gain a pound. It turns out metabolism slowing is real, but it’s also not the end of the world.
In your mid-twenties you start to feel the effects of how you’re treating your body – your energy levels and mood fluctuate big-time based on what you’re eating or how often your exercising and that’s a hell of a good motivation to finally start treating your body right.
Sure, my twenty-year-old jeans no longer fit me perfectly. But I take better care of my health now than I ever have before and it’s a worthwhile trade-in. It’s nice to finally start working with, instead of against, my own body, and learning how to manage it effectively.
5. My first response to stress tends to be logic, not emotion.
I’ve had two serious pregnancy scares in my life – one at nineteen and one at twenty-five.
At nineteen, I dealt with the scare by going for a two-hour run, having a two-hour cry, and then binge-eating ice cream and refusing to see a doctor until my period finally showed up. I remember feeling HORRENDOUSLY sorry for myself and defiantly thinking that there was no way I could have a baby because I hadn’t hitchhiked across New Zealand yet, which seemed to be the absolute only thing that mattered in life.
At twenty-five, I remember walking to the pharmacy to get a pregnancy test, reflecting upon the fact that I was old enough, financially stable enough and involved enough with the father to rule out having an abortion (which felt selfish to me, despite the potential pregnancy being unwanted). So instead I internally made a budget that took into account what it would cost to raise a child in various cities, while still being able to save for his or her college education and/or a backpacking trip to New Zealand if it was what they really wanted at nineteen.
Even though the scare turned out to be just that – a scare, not a baby – it was the first time it hit me that my first response to stress was no longer to protect my own feelings at any cost – it was to determine what the right thing to do would be, and to look at the logistics of making it happen. And that felt like a massive paradigm shift.
6. Talking to adults no longer feels like being forced to make awkward conversation with one of my Dad’s friends.
In my early twenties, I still felt like everyone over thirty-five was a ‘real adult’ whom I had more or less nothing in common with. I couldn’t talk to potential bosses or landlords or significant other’s parents without abiding by the classic rules of respecting your elders and keeping things perfectly polite.
By your mid-twenties, you either feel like a real adult at last, or (more likely) realize that there’s no such thing. It no longer feels awkward or stilted to talk to people ten, twenty or fifty years older than you – you’re all just out there experiencing the world and you might as well relate to each other in any way you can.
In fact, I now actively enjoy talking to people who have a couple of decades on me. They’ve often gone through a lot of the same challenges as I have, and have fantastic perspectives to offer (which I’m no longer too stubborn to listen to).
7. It feels a lot easier to stand up for myself because I’m not second-guessing my worth.
When you’re starting out in the workforce or entering into your first serious relationship, you don’t have a whole lot to compare with. Any salary seems great. Any behavior seems justified.
Something I wouldn’t have expected in my early twenties is how easy it feels to be assertive in my mid-twenties. How uncomplicated it is to state that I need more money or can’t take on a project right now or am uncomfortable with the way someone is treating me.
By your mid-twenties, you have more to compare your current experiences with. And so it becomes a whole lot easier to speak up when those experiences are no longer working for you.
8. You can be there for the people around you in tangible ways.
When you’re young, life is mostly about taking and when you’re older it becomes a lot more about giving and it’s honestly really nice to watch that transition take place.
The first time you can offer an out-of-town friend your spare bedroom. The first time you have a little extra money to lend to someone in need. The first time your family looks at you as someone they can rely on to support them, instead of vice versa.
After twenty-plus years of leaning on the people around you, it’s nice to be the person others can lean on for a change. It feels very, well, adult. In the absolute best sense of the word.
9. You’re more shocked by how much of an adult you are than how much of an adult you aren’t.
Your early twenties are all about realizing that people in their twenties don’t magically have everything figured out. You’re regularly shocked that being twenty-two doesn’t suddenly make you a homeowner or a spouse or even someone who can hold down a stable job.
Your mid-twenties are all about realizing how much you’ve accidentally grown up, now that you’re done fumbling your way through those post-college years. You’re suddenly surprised at your ability to hold down a stable relationship, continue advancing at work, keep your apartment decently clean and even put away some money for your future.
Whereas your early twenties are all about letting go of the ideas you had about what adulthood would look like, your mid-twenties are all about embracing what it actually does look like – and realizing that you’re actually hitting quite a few things out of the park.
10. You realize how much changing and growing you still have left to do.
Looking back on the person you were five years ago feels like looking back on an entirely different person’s life. And it’s a pretty cool thing to be able to look ahead and know that in another five years, you’re likely to feel the same way about your life right now.
Because if our twenties are about anything, it’s continuous change and growth. You’re not done growing at twenty-one any more than you’re done growing at twenty-eight. Each year is a new challenge. A new revelation. A new chance to fuck up and fail forward, into the person you’re going to become.
In fact, I suspect that every year of the rest of our lives is like that, too.
And honestly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.