23 Going On 30

At what age do you begin to feel like the number of years you’ve lived on Earth? I feel as though life is catching up to me and I’m aging rapidly; a consequence of my decision to opt out of living in the real world for 2 years during my time spent in Southern California. It’s strange how different environments can bring out a number of personas within an individual, for I feel my best when I’m anywhere that’s not home.

The belief that humans are multifaceted rings true; one cannot be stagnant for we are meant to change with the passing of time and grow more into the refined versions of who we are meant to be. Still, the journey of reaching our most authentic selves is tumultuous and tiring. I wish someone would have told me about the realities of life, or could at least give me some reassurance that it gets better. As I grow older I’m realizing that life is just a constant cycle of building yourself up after breaking down; there are phases in which you will experience a sense of fragmentation with each mishap that occurs, and sometimes these unfavorable situations come consecutively. When this happens I feel like I am less of a person as I slowly become an empty shell. During this stage I wait for the grace period to arrive helplessly, in which I’ll be able to feel a sense of normalcy again.

Joan Didion once wrote, “Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself,” so maybe one begins to feel their age when their innocence ends and they are stripped of the naivety they once had. Certain individuals become stuck in the process of maturation, they do not want to undergo the experience of disillusionment and remain frozen in time by adopting the Peter Pan syndrome. For others it’s more complicated for they realize that growing up is inevitable, but they struggle to handle the heaviness of it. I feel that I am the latter, for there have been many times throughout my life where I’ve felt the weight of the world upon me, suffocating me with the realities of adulthood and its monotonous tones. Despite the melancholic nature of these phases, I always find myself holding on long enough until a break appears, for I sometimes wake up feeling as though there is more to it all. Still, I always wonder at what point in time do individuals who find themselves nearing the end of their lifespan begin to feel like the numerous memories they’ve accumulated throughout their time spent on Earth? It must be heavy, carrying all those moments in life that defined them as individuals and changed the trajectories of their path. I wanted to know, so I began to ask around.

It feels like I search for myself in other people, as if a piece of me is found each time I meet someone new and form a connection with them. I know I am not completely whole, not completely there yet and I want to so badly be discovered and feel fulfilled. So I ask silly philosophical questions like, “Do you feel your age?” in order to try and find a missing piece of me within their answer. The question itself seems to garner varying responses, but there’s always a sense of nostalgia within each statement:

“You know, I’m not THAT old… but I do feel shocked when I realize I don’t know what younger people are talking about nowadays.”

“I don’t think we’re that old yet, I mean we’re in our twenties but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

“I mean, yeah I do feel my age but that doesn’t mean I’m old.”

If you asked me whether I felt my age, I wouldn’t be able to answer the question, because I feel as though I am different ages, but I haven’t lived long enough to reach the right number. I’ve recently picked up this obsession with turning thirty, as I’ve led myself to believe that this is the age in which I’ll finally have my life figured out. I’ll have achieved the goal of getting everything I’ve ever wanted, and I’ll finally feel happy for feeling whole. For being a complete person.

That’s always been the issue with me, I’ve always relied on milestones to gauge whether I’m far enough in life to reach the idealized version of me that I’ve created in my head. That’s the naivety in me still peering around the corner, for I know that life is not linear as I won’t always reach the destinations I write down for myself to follow. Adulthood means settling — it means compromising and making sacrifices to make the smarter choice, the safer choice. We try to sooth our fears of missing out on something more extraordinary by saying, “If it was meant to be, it would be,” not paying our doubts any mind so as to not second guess our decisions. I think this is why the fear of adulthood is so ingrained into me, because I know I’ll have to strip myself of the innocence that helps me look towards a brighter future. There is no such thing as a better tomorrow, there is only the present.

Being present: it’s not so easy as one may think. It’s a lot more than doing the daily 5 minute meditation sessions where once the clock is up you think you’ve partaken in self-care. Those feelings of contentment don’t last long, because you end up following the same routine and revert back to the toxic ideologies and thought processes of your brain. For some, being present can be intimidating, because that means they’ll have to accept themselves for what they are at face value. I am not the thirty year old woman with a high paying career, who owns a place in the city of her dreams, and is essentially self sufficient. I am the complete opposite, in fact I am twenty three years old, still in a place I no longer want to be in, and so far away from reaching any semblance of success. Suddenly some strange occurrence happens, where the pressure is lifted off of me and the world seems to open up. I no longer feel the incessant need to have it all together. This is where the break period begins, as I navigate life lightly. The hopelessness dissipates and is transformed into hopefulness.

They say as you grow older, you grow wiser, and I’d like to believe I’m starting to embody this. There is something strange about being twenty three, it solidifies the fact that you are no longer a young adult, but you aren’t exactly an experienced individual either. It feels like you’re right in between, similar to that of a family unit where you’re the middle child. You are not quite there yet, but soon enough your significance will change and you’ll accept the dynamic you were meant to be in. It’s intimidating and exciting because you are finally recognizing parts you never knew you’d be able to identify. It’s like you’re finally seeing yourself for the first time in a different light, and yet you were always there, waiting to be uncovered. With each mishap and celebration and convergence of experiences full of people, places, and things, I feel that I am getting closer to finally seeing the end result of who I am meant to be.

Maybe we begin to feel our age when we can look back at the past and accept the fact that we were growing as individuals instead of feeling ashamed about who we used to be. I’d like to believe that I’ll be 30 when this happens, because I do not want to wait until I’ve lived half my lifespan to look back at this twenty three year old version of me with compassion. There are many things I wish I could go back and undo, redo, or even alter completely, but I can only accept things for the way they are and move forward with life.

The other night I was talking on the phone to a close friend of mine about our academic journeys, and this invisible timeline I’ve set for myself:

“I’m practically twenty four already so I’m falling behind schedule.”

“Twenty four? You’re twenty three, you’ll be turning twenty four in five months and you’re already talking about being twenty five, I mean can you just let yourself be twenty three?”

Somehow, I felt less neurotic about life as I began to absorb these words into my body. After the call ended, I tossed and turned in bed until I found a comfortable spot that would enclose me in warmth amidst the cold March air. I fell asleep to the sound of music playing instead of ending the night with pessimistic thoughts. Finally after seven months of living life in the body of someone who felt older than they should feel, I fell asleep as someone whose actually twenty three years old.

That night, I gave myself time to just be.

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