The day after I turned 25 was the day I realized that I had mysteriously, unwittingly been thrown into that wacky process known as “growing up.” Oddly enough, it also happened to be the day I realized that dimples can be found on other parts of the body besides one’s face — happy birthday to me. But that’s beside the point. The point is, I woke up on August 12 to find a pastiche of discordant thoughts and feelings tumbling around in my newly minted 25-year-old brain: I’m old but I’m still so young; time is slipping away but I have all the time in the world; I’m waiting for my life to start, but here I am, running the show, whatever that means.
What I’m trying to say is, I had plans for my life. Had you asked me 10 years ago where I’d be now, I would’ve likely read you a list of items filled with more good intention than a Red Cross fundraiser: go to law school, get married, meet and/or befriend the Backstreet Boys. In the days after my birthday, I couldn’t help but notice that none of these things had come to fruition, the most devastating of which obviously being my non-existent run-in with Kevin Richardson (who would have fulfilled both the marriage and the BSB requirements). I was a year older with nothing to show for it except for a clean bill of unemployment and an ass that had suddenly sprouted more dimples than a golf ball.
There is a strange sense of gravitas that goes hand in hand with a 25th birthday, whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not. Birthdays number 16, 18, and 21 are all swathed in the glory of youth (Cars! Cigarettes! Booze!), each of them a watershed moment on our trek towards adulthood. But 25? Twenty-five is the gateway to that nebulous and terrifying era known as the mid-20s; a built-in checkpoint for us to stop and see if our life is on track. It’s not that 25 doesn’t have its upsides (renting cars, am I right?!), but a few weeks ago, I was only focused on its downfalls: turning 25 is basically the same thing as turning 30. It also means being a quarter of a century old, otherwise known as ancient. It also means being broke, single, and perfectly content to stay in on a Friday night watching foreign box-office gems like Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging until the sheer exhaustion of doing nothing lulls you to sleep at 11 p.m. (but maybe that’s just me).
In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I moped around the house singing “Stop This Train” by John Mayer like some emo kid who sits in the bathroom, stares at themselves in the mirror, and cries stars. I couldn’t celebrate because the future was too bleak. But when the big day came and went, I was forced to measure 15-year-old expectations against a 25-year-old reality, and was pleasantly surprised to find that not all was lost: I may not have gone to law school, but I did move across the country and get my Masters degree. I may not be married, but I’m coming to understand how the respite provided by solitude can help cultivate a passion. I may not have met the Backstreet Boys, but hey — there’s still time. I live in LA, after all.
The most prominent lesson I’ve learned from 25, though, is that growing pains will almost always come along with growing up. It doesn’t do to compare our own progress to the progress others, or even to the progress of the most idealized version of ourselves — certainly we all have friends who’ve managed to land stable jobs with steady salaries while we watch from the sidelines, waiting for our own version of the proverbial “big break.” And surely there are those of us whose parents had one vision for our lives while we had another, and we’ve chosen to chase dreams even if it means enduring the harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck. And still there are more of us who simply haven’t figured out who we are, what we will become, and so we still rely on our families to support us financially, emotionally, wholly, which can, in some ways, be the most frustrating scenario of all. No one ever said growing up would be easy, but the process of pushing through it, of making new goals and meeting them bit by bit, is what shapes us into the people we will eventually become.
So, my friends, embrace the frustrating and beautiful growth process of your mid-20s, with all of its car renting and Ramen slurping and job switching. You’ll likely come out better for it on the other side, butt dimples and all.