In three months, I will be turning 20. I should be able to drive on highways, but I just catch rides with my friends and mom. I should know what I want to be when I grow up, but I can confidently say I have no idea. I should be less sensitive, but I still cry after watching a sad YouTube video or recalling an embarrassing moment that happened in seventh grade.
The truth is, I think I am very underqualified to be a 20-year-old. Maybe it was the two straight years I spent in my childhood bedroom due to the pandemic, but I still feel stuck at 16.
I am still waiting for my in-person senior year of high school: the prom, the graduation and getting to hold my friends and teachers in my arms while I say goodbye, granting me the closure to move on to the next chapter of my life. Instead, my last day of class was on Zoom. My video was off, and I was muted. I signed out of high school wearing oversized pajamas on my bed and immediately went back to watching TikToks on my phone.
Nevertheless, time continues at its dreadfully slow yet rapid pace. Your birthday happens, whether you feel like time has passed or not. I might feel like a junior in high school, but I am, in fact, a sophomore in college.
In the months leading up to my 20th birthday, I have been particularly reflective about the last 10 years of my life.
As a 10-year-old, all I wanted to do was grow up. It’s funny — almost frustrating — thinking about it now. I felt a sense of accomplishment when a waiter mistakenly handed me the adult menu, or when I went through airport security all by myself. Despite having strict parents, I would earnestly latch onto any form of independence I found. The world outside of my home and school seemed so big and complex. To me, adulthood, and the world that came with it, seemed like a sophisticated playground.
But it’s not.
As an almost-20-year-old, my world keeps getting smaller. Adulthood is no longer about exploring, but about routine. Adulthood means having the same 9-5 job for 20 years, establishing life where the days, months and years intertwine into this big mushy mess of time. Adulthood is becoming responsible for your family, your job and for your contributions back to your community. You no longer get free passes and are granted even less grace to make mistakes.
And, I guess, as I turn 20, I have had to untangle all these complex feelings. I have to mourn the idea of adulthood that I once envisioned and mentally prepare myself for the unglamorous realities of growing up.
So, no — I am not excited about my birthday. I can see the finish line of adolescence, and all I want to do is run the other way. As I step closer, this great doom of responsibility, independence and the need to have all the answers feels much heavier.
If I could give my 10-year-old self some advice, it would be to savor the idea of childhood for a little longer, to live in the moment rather than rushing forward.
I spent so much of the last 10 years trying to make choices to help my future self. And along the way, I often sacrificed my current happiness for the sake of long-term gain. I exhausted myself for four straight years of high school, constantly stressing about perfecting my future. Yet, reflecting back, I wonder if those late nights and long days of worrying were worth it.
I’d tell my 15-year-old self that it’s surprising how many of those life-altering decisions were not life-altering and how many problems seem to work out on their own.
Maybe turning 20 is realizing that life isn’t like a coming-of-age movie, with a problem, climax and resolution. Maybe it’s realizing that your fears, inner conflicts and insecurities stay ingrained within you as you cross the line between your teenage years and adulthood. Maybe it’s coming to terms with the fact that you don’t have to have it all figured out by a certain deadline.
All I know is that I will turn 20 in January, even though I may not be ready. My youth, including every cringe-worthy, heartbreaking moment, has shaped me into who I am. And despite minor regrets and mistakes, what I have learned in the past 10 years is all you can do is move forward and grow.
MiC Columnist Maya Kogulan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.