If you read the Internet at all, ever (and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing that you do), you’ve probably noticed a proliferation of articles of the “25 things you should know by 25” and “30 lessons I learned at 30” and “21.5 things to do before you’re 21.5” variety. I can see the appeal of these articles – there are very few things that are universal about the human experience, but aging is one of them. We all have ages, they’re all increasing, and these articles appeal because we can see how many of these things we’ve accomplished so far and try and do some of the others if we haven’t reached that age yet, or see how our experience compares if we’re passed it. At their heart, these articles are well intentioned, a chance for those who have already been there to pass along what they’ve learned and done and what they wish they’d known earlier.
That said, I think there’s a danger in people choosing to read these articles as a checklist (or in the articles titling themselves “26 things you must know before you turn 26”). The thing about life lessons is they’re life lessons, not “article I read when I was bored and killing time” lessons. A lot of people, myself included, aren’t wired to take things at someone else’s word, we have to experience them before we can really understand. If the rules for a successful adulthood were something that could just be written down in a quippy list, wouldn’t they teach a course on it in college so we could all be wildly successful starting at 21? It’s great to know what other people wish they’d understood sooner, but on some level, I think there’s always going to be an element of needing to go through it. There are also some things on these lists I don’t need to accomplish by 25 or 30 or ever (like the list that suggests going on a four-day bender).
But seriously, have you seen the things we’re supposed to accomplish by age 30? According to exactly 10 seconds of Googling, I’m supposed to see a music festival, buy dinner for my parents, travel, play a weird sport, party, vote, dye my hair, let go of a friendship, like myself, exercise, cook, start a 401k, discover myself, travel some more, camp, buy a really expensive piece of clothing, be alone, ask for help, be less jaded, watch the news, live abroad, learn self defense, stop eating in bed, start flossing, kiss someone out of my league, work in a service job, work in my dream job, find a hobby, go backpacking, make a budget, find a good hairdresser, order less takeout, make more friends, fall in love, get my heart broken, find a personal style, try exotic food, have confidence, have a savings account, live in the moment, plan for the future, and oh, not forget to make my bed. I’m exhausted just writing this list, let alone doing all these things, and that’s just a random sampling of the things on these lists.
Aging is universal, but the human experience isn’t. The things that shaped someone else into the awesome person they are at whatever age aren’t necessarily the things that will shape you. As of right now, I have exactly one item on my ‘to do’ list: Accept that no one on the internet knows me or my life or what’s reasonable for me to accomplish by any given age. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some takeout in my unmade bed.