On February 28th, 2013 I turned 23-years-old. I was reluctant to celebrate because I was having anxiety around my birthday — one year prior, a friend of mine had passed away; the same night I blew out 22 birthday candles, he was having his last breaths, and needless to say it affected me. The people close to me knew about my hesitations around turning 23, so they tried to make me feel as comfortable and excited about the coming year in the best ways they could.
After receiving a number of birthday wishes that day, I signed on to Facebook and found a message waiting for me from my best friend’s boyfriend that read: “Happy Birthday Krystie, enjoy your Michael Jordan year.”
No, he wasn’t referring to the flawlessly beautiful actor who deserves an Oscar nomination for his role in Fruitvale Station. My friend’s boyfriend was talking about the NBA all-star, six time championship winning and record breaking Michael Jordan who wore the number 23 for the vast majority of his career.
This unique birthday wish made me smile and distracted me, if only momentarily, from the sadness I was otherwise feeling around my birthday.
“What a creative way to say ‘Happy 23rd Birthday,’” I gushed anyone who would listen. I so appreciated how my friend’s boyfriend wanted me to have as much happiness and success as Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. Even though it was just a metaphor, it meant a lot to me.
Then it became my adopted philosophy and personal mantra: 23 had to be “the best year ever.” It had to be as outstanding as Michael Jordan was when he rocked the “23” Chicago jersey. It was going to be my year.
Unfortunately, regardless of how much I built it up, 23 was not the flawless year I hoped it’d be. When you create unrealistic ideals, they become nearly impossible to fulfill. Maybe it was the underlying pressure of feeling compelled to fulfill this alleged “Michael Jordan year” and all of the expectations that came with it, or maybe it was actually a sucky year. Either way, being 23-years-old wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies.
After growing up listening to “What’s My Age Again” over and over again I finally understand what Blink 182 is talking about – nobody likes you when you’re 23. At least, it feels like that when you’re being given unsolicited advice left and right about how to navigate your own life, and when the people around you imply they have high expectations for your future.
Did you get your undergrad degree yet? Have you thought about grad school? Are you bringing a boyfriend home for the holidays? Why aren’t you seeing anybody? Did your internship turn into a full-time gig yet? Did you move out of your parents’ house? When’s that book deal going to happen?
There are all of these expectations other people have for your life based on social norms and cultural status quos, and along the way you buy into it yourself, too (especially if you’re trying to have a “Michael Jordan” awesome kind of year).
But life isn’t always that easy, fun, or simple, and you can’t always anticipate what it has in store for you. In 2013 I didn’t secure my “dream job,” was unsuccessful in love, grappled with my political identity and consciousness, coped with death and sickness, had my trust betrayed by people I seriously care about, lost some friends to cities 3,000 miles away and other friends to serious relationships, and I failed to achieve the vision of perfection that was expected of me. I did not have the tremendous year I sought out to.
Being a young 20-something, let alone 23, is kind of awkward — I’m too old for college immaturity but too young to have everything figured out already. It’s a weird age in which I feel very much in between authentic adulthood and… whatever else this is.
That’s not to say being 23 was a total bust — I landed an exciting new job, made new friends and brought people into my life that I’m creating happy and healthy relationships with, Beyoncé dropped a dope new album, and most importantly I learned not to set crazy expectations for myself in an unrealistic fashion.
My 24th birthday is almost one month away, and this time I’m excited. Not because I’ve set unreasonable or impractically high expectations for 2014, but because I’m going to embody a completely different attitude: screw the expectations other people have for me, and screw the expectations I feel obligated to make for myself. Turning 24 will mean just that, and whatever happens along the way will be a happy bonus.
I’m grateful to have experienced my 23rd year of life because not everyone is that lucky. I am also, however, just as excited to put my “Michael Jordan year” behind me and chalk it up to a big, fat learning experience. Good riddance, saianora, and to steal a phrase from Joan Didion, “goodbye to all that.” Nothing is perfect, and apparently nothing will ever be as awesome as what Michael Jordan accomplished while rocking the Chicago Bulls “23” jersey.