Thought Catalog

6 Things You Learn At 25

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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? TC mark

All information provided in this article is for reference purposes only.

image – Pam Calvert

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More From Thought Catalog

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=626011152 Amy Stage

    #5: yep.

  • Kass

    I love this!

  • Anonymous

    Way to take me to church on this post! Wow. “A jumble of ill-fitting pieces” is dead on. I’m a few days into my 26th year and every word of this made me want to laugh hysterically and all the while sob uncontrollably, because like you said, we’re all a little screwed up. Thanks for the well-written reminder that I’m not the only seemingly broken baby bird out there. It’s nice knowing there are others out there making up the rules as they go too.

  • http://devilgreen.deviantart.com/ Priyanka Sharma

    Not  25 yet, but it really drives me nuts when my friends who are 25 or plus think I have the same outlook on life as them. Grow up already!!

  • Ana Gupta

    This made me feel like 25 is the new 15.

  • tami

    Don’t really comment much around here, but I felt this. The first half of age 25 is a tough obstacle, but the remaining half is a joy ride. :)

  • http://jcpart.co.uk/ Jordan

    this made me feel a little better about the state of my life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507159106 Nikki McGillicuddy

    I felt a lot of these at age 26 than I did at age 25. I may just mature slowly. 
    You also start to notice a gap between yourself and younger people. You start to realize their facades more then you noticed them before. When I was growing up I always felt a bit more mature than the rest of my peers just because I liked different thing, did different things, didn’t follow the trends, and hung out with older people, and always got called an old soul. As much as I felt different from my age group, I still feel they were some what more intelligent than the younger generation that’s coming up in the world. 

  • Jessica Knapp

    I don’t think I could have said it any better myself. Kind of scary, but in a good way.

  • Michaelwg

    Jessica B., heart of my heart, light of my life, This: “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.”
    True Story.

    • http://www.grownunknown.com/ Jessica Blankenship

      Michael, commenter of my articles, feeder of my ego, yes.

  • Gmo Saza

    The very the filters?  Typo?

    • http://www.grownunknown.com/ Jessica Blankenship

      Dude, not as bad as the fact that I accidentally used that expression TWICE in the intro. If we’re gonna start pointing out flaws, let’s go for the real shit.

  • Anonymous

    “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.”

    Possibly the longest sentence ever written but somehow also, the most fantastically brilliant one too. Think I love you. Maybe.

  • Suzy Claire

    Another proof that at 25, we feel MOST HUMAN. You’re a good writer Jessica. You feel us and we feel you. Keep writing!

  • http://mclicious.org/ McLicious

    23 1/2 and I can see these things beginning to hit home…thanks for this. I love this site.

  • rgar

    I needed to hear this today. And now that I have, all I can respond with is a solid “f*ck yeah”.

  • Danaynay

    25-ish is the sinkhole of confidence. Gone is the cocky notion that your life is on some orderly trajectory and that in 5, 10, 20 years you’ll be just where you expect. No no, now everyday is a crush of uncertainty as you realize you’re getting older and success, at least in the way your young self envisioned, is unlikely. Nice to know we’re all feeling that way… I guess?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001175097108 Jared Christopher

    34 days into 24, and this is coming into focus, for sure.

  • franneh

    This article is on point. Thank you :)

  • Eric

    This is one of the worst articles I have ever read.  Did someone really ask you to write this?

    I’m 26 and couldn’t find one thing that I have learned on your list.  I was hoping for something a little more practical.  Not abstract thoughts that have no application.  

    • Danaynay

       Hmm… I think you’re following the wrong blog. TC is nothing but abstraction my friend.

    • lola

       haha. because TC is a self-help blog….?

      I loved it. I’m still 4.5 years away from 25 but it’s nice to know that my feelings of confusion, aimlessness, sadness, extreme joy about the state of my life are normal.
      And I’m just getting to the stage where I realize that it’s okay to be normal and not the person who will Save The Entire World

    • peter

      Agreed.  The article reads like a 16-year-old pretending to have figured out what the 25-year-old experience entails.

    • Rachel

       I’m 26 also, and found this amazingly comforting.  I often feel all of these things, and most of all feel alone in it.  If you don’t ever feel any of these things, you might want to poke your head out of burrow you’re in and look around.

      And yea, this is classic TC in all it’s abstraction.  I still appreciated yet another reminder that I’m not the only motherfucker who thinks like this all the time.

    • Dani

      lameeeeeee eric. 

      it was plenty relevant to me and my one friend i can still relate to. guess you just haven’t live life as an open, reflective, personal and interpersonal journey. my guess is you sold out very early.

    • http://twitter.com/AliPants Nosilla Remarc

      More practical? Like how to change a tire or how to negotiate better rent with your landlord? 
      For those who are introspective, this article had some mighty practical advice.

    • http://twitter.com/neusdadt Arbie Baguios

      Then you’re doing it wrong.

  • nancy4366

    Things you learn (again) at 45 (older and
    wiser.

     

    What you thought you learned at 25.

    1. You don’t
    know everything.

    What you will
    learn at 45.

    1. You know a
    hell of a lot more than most people and you should be proud of that.

     

    What you thought you learned at 25.

    2. Our
    generation is not (necessarily) better.

    What you will
    learn at 45.

    2. No generation
    is necessarily better than any other.

     

    What you thought
    you learned at 25.

    3. Your parents
    screwed you up.

    What you will
    learn at 45.

    3. Your parents
    didn’t screw you up as bad as you thought they did.

     

    What you thought
    you learned at 25.

    4. Expectations
    yield heartache.

    What you will
    learn ar 45.

    4. Expectations
    and anticipation are one of the most imporant and exciting things in life

        and being as positive as possible inspite
    of all the odds is what got you this far.

     

    What you thought
    you learned at 25.

    5. You and your
    friends are on different pages.

    What you will
    learn at 45.

    5. You and your
    friends are more alike than you ever wanted to believe.

         However 
    you’ll find immense comfort in knowing this.

     

    What you thought
    you learned at 25.

    6. You’re not
    alone.

    What you will
    learn again at 45 (or whenever your parents die)

    6. We are all alonel.  We are all together in our feeling of being
    alone.

    • tami

      I also wanna hear what a 65 year old has to say.

    • guest

      holy shit, made me cry!

  • You-Mei Est

    I’m Asian.

    • Asian

      I’m also Asian.  Related 0% to this post.

      • Topey

        I’m not Asian. Also, 0% related to this post.

    • http://twitter.com/neusdadt Arbie Baguios

      I’m Asian. Related 10,000% to this post.

  • Anonymous

    There were never more TRUTHFUL words written than: “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.” I agree absolutely.

  • Really?

    If you’re just realizing this at 25, you need to reevaluate some things.

    • Kinetic Maya

      Realization. Experience. All that is important. When, what & how are just means. Besides, age is just a number. The best thing is that the ‘realization’ happened actually! Great going Jessica.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

     I’m 26, going on 27, and feel like a teenager about to experience high school.  Hold me.

  • Mary Caroline

    I think this would have been best if you simply said “6 lessons you stumble upon in your twenties.” There isn’t a switch that turns on at 25, allowing you to see these lessons-it’s experiences that generally speaking happen in one’s twenties that allow us to walk away with these lessons.

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