The other day, I was tutoring Carrie, a high school student whose sister had just visited for the holidays. Carrie described the sister to me: a marine biology major, heading off to teach abroad in Asia, and—she added—“she’s 22 and old.”
I’m 25, but Carrie has no idea, which makes me think that she either imagines I’m younger (blame the freckles), or that I’m so old I’m beyond caring about being called old. If it’s the latter, I still don’t blame her.
When I was 16, I had no clear concept of being in my twenties. Vaguely, I thought that I might have a sunny studio apartment with a futon bed, a rice cooker, and a stack of Glamour magazines on the bottom of my bookshelf (a setting that I stole straight from my downstairs neighbor Julie, the only young-ish adult I knew). By 25, I imagined I might be married and ready to have kids, certainly a real adult with a pleasant office job and a daily yoga practice.
To be fair, at 16, I also imagined college as a place where people wore sweaters and sat under trees talking about philosophy, where I would arrive alarmingly inexperienced with no backpacking stories and all the wrong music. Then one day before leaving for college, it hit me: a new era wouldn’t mean immediate, sweeping change.
In my parents’ house in August or in a dorm in September, I would still be me, and my classmates, still a bunch of people the same age as me. We’d change and grow over time, yes, but human development doesn’t happen instantaneously. At 18, I might still have all the same faults as I did at 17, but on the bright side, the same qualities and passions too.
Post-college, I’m learning this lesson over and over again. The adult skills I didn’t have in college (like feeding myself on a budget or choosing car insurance), I still didn’t have after graduation. Instead, I had to decide which I needed to learn first to survive, then learn them—sometimes painfully and almost always haltingly, the process often involving a fetal-position or shower-crying stage.
Just as I begin to feel better about one skill, five more gaps inevitably call for my attention and I realize that I’ll never run out of things to learn: how to cook for nutrition instead of just convenience, how to not kill plants, how to be a helpful adult daughter rather than an entitled adolescent one, how to grow a thicker skin, how to live my life in the most fulfilling way.
Twenty five doesn’t look the way I imagined as a teenager, for me or for most of my friends, many of whom are also grad students or just beginning careers that involve paying lots of dues. I could never have guessed what a strange period of life it would be, a true “emerging adulthood” of both late nights at In-n-Out Burger and the beginnings of crow’s feet.
Our bodies will grow older the longer we live, but that’s where passive transformation stops. If, with age, we also hope to grow wiser or happier, only we can decide how that looks and go after it.