Turning 26 has always seemed like an incredibly significant life event to me. People make a fuss about 25 (quarter-century! woo!) but I’m more interested in 26. That’s where the scale tips, you know? One of my best friends turned 26 last year, and during my salutation at his birthday party, I dropped the bomb:
“Well, Dan. You are now officially closer to 30 than 20.”
Some days, I look around and wonder how on earth it’s been 7 years since I started college and how it could possibly be 20 years since *NSYNC first got together.
But if I’m honest with myself, I look at life a lot different than I did when “Bye, Bye, Bye” was playing at the roller rink, or when I was a freshman at community college. The antics and dreams of 2010 feel like just yesterday sometimes, but other times it feels like a hundred years ago.
So today I’m taking a deep breath and admitting to myself that at the end of this year, I’m turning 26.
I’ve been through a lot. I’ve weathered college, gotten my first professional job, and even attended press events as a member of the media. I don’t just go to my friends’ weddings anymore, I squeal over newborns and babysit their kids; I hold hands and cry during divorces. My life is in a different place than it was when I was 20, and I’ve learned some stuff.
Not absolutely everyone is going to like, want, or appreciate me—but that’s OK
This may seem very “duh” for a lot of you, but I’m a sensitive, extroverted middle-child, here, and this realization was something of a crushing blow for at least part of my ever-loving heart. I’m used to getting top grades in school and having a million friends. Parents and teachers don’t exactly warn you, though, that once you grow up and start settling into yourself, some friends will get tired of you, and sometimes nobody will want to hire you, no matter how many resumes you shoot forth into the universe.
And you know what? It’s not your fault (unless you’re being a jerk). That’s kind of just how growing up works. Some friendships strengthen, others fade away. Sometimes you experience shifts, changes, or epiphanies in your political opinions, religion, or worldview, and that makes it hard for some friends or family members to relate to you. You may be the same person at your core, but wearing different clothing or changing hobbies can make a perceptible shift in your social sphere.
This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. But what I’ve taken from it is important: I can’t be all things to all people, and that’s ok. I can respect people whether or not we’re friends, and I shouldn’t let it completely break my spirit when I’m passed over for an interview, or a friendship starts to fade into oblivion. Sometimes endings can make room for beautiful new beginnings.
I can’t change everything, but I can change me
Deep down, I think it’s every twenty-something’s dream to make the world a better place. But with every documentary, every episode of “Last Week Tonight,” I find myself getting a little more beaten down with the enormity of FAIL that our world has somehow become. As much as I may wish I could singlehandedly end measles, undo the fast-fashion industry, and prevent oppression and kidnapping on cocoa farms, I can’t.
But that doesn’t mean I’m powerless. I can support stores, companies, and products that are making a positive impact, instead of a negative one. I can be an example of kindness and love to my little nieces and nephews. I can pursue a career path that empowers others and makes wise use of resources.
And maybe, just maybe, good things will start catching and spreading, and the future can be a little brighter.
Be kind because life is short
When you’re little, you feel invincible. Then you grow up and experience the force that seems to reach out of nowhere to snatch people you never expected to lose: parents, friends, high-school classmates, college classmates.
We live in a dangerous world, and I finally feel like, for the first time, I’m properly respecting how fragile and precious each life is. The hard part is, there’s not a lot we can do about death. It eventually comes to us all. But what I can do, is give kind words to those around me. I can put my phone down and have real lunch dates, where I notice the blue in my friend’s eyes, or the curl of my husband’s mustache. I can value the people around me in the precious time we’ve both been given. I can remind my loved ones of how much they mean to me. And then, the next time tragedy suddenly strikes, I can cultivate a grateful heart for all the memories.
Like I said, I’ve changed and grown a lot since I turned 20. And I’m sure it’ll be even more different when I turn the big 3-0 in 4 years 2 months and 16 days. A whole lot can happen in 4 years, 2 months, and 16 days. If I hope anything for those next few years, it’s that I’ll remember the stuff I’m reminding myself of today, in this article, and that I’ll keep adding to the list. After all, what’s the point of growing up if we aren’t getting wiser, smarter, and more awesome?
Here’s to being awesome twenty-somethings, and awesome future-thirty-somethings. We can do it!
[Image via CBS]