Getting Older Is Scary

I worry about getting older.

That seems like a ludicrous concern for someone who has only recently stepped over the threshold of her 20s. How can aging possibly feel like a relevant issue when I’m not even old enough to drink, legally? Even the people I know who are only a few years older than me have far outpaced me in terms of spiritual, mental, and emotional development during their head start. Compared to them, I’m still a child in many senses of the word — perhaps more intelligent than the average, say, 15-year-old but no more ready to navigate the world on my own.

Why do I worry about wracking up more mileage on my life’s odometer?

Besides, of course, a naturally neurotic disposition that causes me to overanalyze every possible “what if” scenario until I’ve squeezed the last pulp of ambiguity out of it. I think the answer is this: I’m at a point where people my age have started to seriously consider the long-term trajectories of their lives.

This makes me feel like I should do the same — no, that I need to do the same.

The first three years of college passed before I could even stop to breathe, and the last will pass even more quickly — time has a cruel tendency to speed up when you most hope that it will slow down.

As college students (in other words, glorified teenagers) inching closer and closer towards (forced) adulthood, we have begun to think more seriously about what we want out of our “future.” More than likely, our parents and teachers threw that word around when we were younger, but it hasn’t taken on a pronounced meaning until now.

20 is no longer just 20. The same goes for 21, 22. These years seem like they are designed only as stepping-stones towards 27 or 28 or 34 or 47.

Now, we begin to look for solid internships that could lead to job offers that could lead to long-lasting careers. Financial stability. Professional success. Business cards with our names in neat, gold letters. Or, we start studying for the exams — the LSATs and the MCATs and the GREs — that will enable us to commit years to professions that we feel as though we have to choose right now. Who graduates college without a plan these days? Without, at least, a vague sense of what direction they hope to head throughout their 20s? Being aimless sounds like it could be fun, but it sure does seem scary.

Having some idea of where we could and hope to eventually see ourselves is probably intelligent. At minimum, it’s a strategy that will hopefully keep us from spending too many years living in our parents’ basements after we graduate.

Some of us take our planning a step further. These are the people who map out the course of their lives in easily digestible pieces. Point A to Point B to Point C to, someday, Point Z. Do not pass Go. A house in the suburbs with a driveway that can fit two cars — at least. A job that keeps them steeped in life’s finer offerings. A husband who plays golf on the weekends. A wife who makes pleasant conversation and a delicious eggplant Parmesan dish. Two kids — maybe three, one of whom will dominate on the peewee football field.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those of us who have only a faint idea of what we want to do, where we want to go, or who we want to become after we make the great leap from college into the Real World. We’re more carefree than our forward-looking classmates — or, maybe, more careless. The fire of adulthood might catch us unprepared. Hopefully, it won’t leave us with too many burns.

Some of us might not know what kind of jobs we want to pursue or what we are even qualified to do. All we know is that we enjoy taking classes in subjects like Greek mythology and media studies, but how exactly is that going to translate into a sustainable career? So, we might feel behind the curve.

I definitely feel behind the curve — especially compared to many of my classmates who seem to have figured out the next five, 10, 15, or 20 years of their lives.

When I worry about getting older, I worry that certain pressures will cause me to stumble down one path instead of racing towards what it is I want. Actually, I also worry that I won’t be able to figure out what it is I want.  I worry that I will lose sight of the dreams that I have always held dear, that I hoped to actualize as a child without any practical knowledge of the world and how it can quash even the strongest ambitions. Deftly. Mercilessly.

But, I have to remind myself that the post-college 20s can serve as the most formative years of our lives. Why, then, waste them planning out every single moment so comprehensively that we don’t get the chance to step back and actually enjoy them?

What is the point of this decade if not for self-discovery  — a trite but nonetheless important undertaking? And how can we “discover” ourselves — truly figure out who we are, what drives us, and what makes us happy — if we are so focused on ticking goals off our Life To-Do List. Some people are perfectly content doing just that.

Those of us who aren’t shouldn’t fret about not having laid out the blueprints for our future; we can derive a sense of purpose elsewhere. We can embrace aimlessness — living in the present moment rather than one that has yet to come. We can give into our whims — without spontaneity, there is only monotony, and that is a depressing thought. We don’t have to plan our lives. We’re still so young, and there are too many diverse opportunities for us to pigeonhole ourselves. We shouldn’t — not if we don’t want to. We shouldn’t worry about uncertainty, as unnerving as it is — we won’t make it out of our 20s alive (or sane) if that becomes the case.

Above all, we should embrace this day, today, and let it bring us naturally towards where we are meant to go. TC mark

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