Next week, I turn twenty-four.
I feel it’s important to say that out loud, or at least type it.
The other day I was filling out a form, and I had to change my age box.
Somehow, approaching a new age, a year older, I feel further from maturity than the year before. I look back at my 17th or even 20th birthday and am flabbergasted at the unwavering certainty of my maturity.
But in fact, the closer I get to alleged adulthood the further removed I feel from it.
Is it a descent of maturity from here on out? Or is it my growing wisdom and awareness that simultaneously makes me feel only at the tip of the iceberg regarding maturity and adultness?
Or are we chasing the peak, not knowing when it is? Constantly pursuing adulthood until a sudden flip to be right back on the other spectrum, only to hunt our youth.
Though the fear of aging is an extremely universal experience, it is also a subjective one. It’s lonely and scary and weird. It’s unrelatable because everyone feels it differently, and everyone offers the same, unhelpful comfort of “You’re still young!”, or “You’re not that old”, because what else can they really say?
The moment I realised I was entering a possible quarter-life crisis was when I began doing yoga every day in order to be able to touch my toes with ease, something I’ve not done since childhood.
I’ve read references to people describing their back as liquid amber, and their liver a high-speed filter when they were young.
What am I missing? I get back and knee pain incessantly, and I get bad hangovers. Have I missed the glorified bridge of youth?
The term quarter-life crisis gets thrown around a lot, but even more so recently. I think this is due to increasing pressures of success, and the definition of that success changing rapidly.
Generations before would be aiming toward marriage, kids, and climbing that career ladder.
But tremendous advances in technology, competitive skills and a lack of money mean that the bottom of the work-force-ladder has been virtually ripped out. We’re all just hanging on for dear life, jumping between crevice’s, trying and failing to find the security that our elders had.
This lack of sanctuary means that knowledge, confidence, and personality are now a currency. Before, you could get to the top lacking knowledge but making up for it with charisma, or vice versa. Now, it’s essential we have both, at least.
In a way, people of this generation (be that Gen Y or Gen Z) aren’t simply experiencing a quarter-life-crisis, but rather, an on-going existential one.
What is the meaning of life? What should I be doing, or what do I want to do? Am I in the right place? Am I wasting time?
Mark Twain once said; ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why’
And I think a lot of us, are just moving around in the dark or grasping at straws to discover that reason, that higher purpose.
I guess it comes down to our extrinsic motivation, straddling our intrinsic motivation.
Our world is now increasingly more accepting than in the decades passed.
Before, most people followed their extrinsic motivation, whether that was to obtain a reward (money, a house, a family, career success) or to avoid punishment (poverty, stress, jail).
Whereas our upcoming generation insists that we solely follow our intrinsic motivations. Do what truly makes you happy, but just for you. A personal reward, a behaviour that we desire but not in the hope of external benefits.
Then add the skew of social media, in which we are encouraged to glamourize the simplest of actions, document most movements, present a dream life. These automatic reactions cannot intertwine or work with intrinsic motivations.
We are in constant conflict with ourselves, a standoff between these intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.
We want to slow down and smell the flowers, but we also want to speed up and reach our goals faster.
I don’t think I had quite realised, how deeply my identity was rooted in my youth. I started school at the age of four, and so I was permanently the youngest. My friends have always been older than me, and I should have been in the year lower than I was.
I graduated from college before I turned twenty, and then I moved to Edinburgh.
That was when time truly sped up, and now I’m Madrid, writing this the week before my twenty-fourth birthday, reminiscing on my twentieth like it was yesterday.
Where does the time go?
My birthday has always been my favourite day of the year – because it’s a day all about me, to be frank. It’s a celebration of youth and maturity, of growth and progress.
Last year, on my twenty-third birthday, I celebrated in Croatia. Traveling around Europe, I was naturally excited for the big day, but when it came, I was left with a niggling feeling of anxiety that I couldn’t quite place.
It’s only since the beginning of this year, that I understood. I truly am anxious about getting older, and not just because of that much too common death anxiety.
But because I have always seen myself and been seen as the young one, the baby. I felt contently ‘mature for my age’ because I’d simply been thrown into a life and an age group that was a year above mine.
Now, however, that so-called wise-beyond-her-year act has dissolved because I am no longer someone who is younger than she looks, more mature than her age would pertain, and obtaining more achievements than her peers at that age. I am just right.
I think about the episode of Friends, where Phoebe discovers she is a year older than she thought after finding her birth certificate. Initially upset, she ticks off all the things she wanted to do before that birthday, and then she moves on.
I wondered; how would I feel if I learned that I was a year older?
I like to think I would handle it like Phoebe, because after all it’s not stolen time, just overlooked time.
So, shouldn’t I approach every year like that? If there’s one thing that is shared and divided equally in the world, it’s time.
There may be vast differences in terms of wealth, intelligence and luck; but one thing we all have in common – is the number of minutes in the day.
So why then, does a year older, feel like a year robbed? Aging is a mutual process, that no one can outrun (yet) so why do we all get so unnerved?
I cannot use my youth anymore to appear remarkable, I cannot use it as an excuse for being lazy, or as reasoning for not being exactly where I want to be.
Although I am still young, I am simply not that young anymore. And although my youth has given me a free pass before, it no longer will, because I am well and truly an adult now.
And sadly, it’s time to start acting like one.