On turning 20, and saying goodbye to being a teenager
Last month, I was traipsing around the Upper West Side of Manhattan when an idea struck me like a bolt of lightning. I would be 20 in a few days. That I knew, and I was excited for my birthday and the festivities it would bring. But in that moment, the change of age felt inexplicably pivotal, and as I walked down Broadway, I grew nostalgic over memories from the past decade. Suddenly, I was acutely aware that soon, I would have to be a real person, truly responsible for my actions, and that realization landed like the blow of a hammer.
Turning 20 is an odd time, as it doesn’t herald any tangible progress in maturity. At 16, we drive without supervision, winning a license after long hours of practice on suburban avenues. At 18, we become adults, able to enlist or buy a lottery ticket. At 21, we can try our first legal sip of alcohol. But 20 — well it lacks grandiosity, and yet on the eve of its arrival, it somehow feels more immediate than the rest because it signals an adieu to teenage years and a transition into responsibility.
I look back at high school and early college with warmth and affection. I learned so much over tedious, tiresome days and fun, sleepless nights, mainly because for me, teen-hood harbored a series of firsts. My first kiss. My first anything-more-than-a-kiss. My first taste of independence. My first job. My first failure. And my first success that felt like more than dumb luck.
I fell in love. I discovered the elegance of not needing anyone else, which made wanting them so much sweeter. I worked long hours and found that passion was essential in my career for life to prove more than an aimless maze of drudgery. I felt humiliation and embarrassment, reaching rock bottom and embracing its concreteness when there was nowhere to go but up. And finally, I experienced accomplishment that made all the struggles and hard work worthwhile.
For me, being a teenager was magical because it was a constant influx of new information and emotions that transformed me into who I am today. It also gave me a cushion for mistakes because I was almost supposed to make them. I could stumble and take my time standing up, and I was surrounded by the kind of support that let the lessons be less daunting.
If I could give teens any piece of advice, it would be to take chances and not be afraid to fall. You’ll tumble no matter, so you might as well own your growing pains while you still have a safety net to catch you. Once you reach your 20s, there’s an expectation that you will have pulled yourself together and be on a straight path to security and stability. But while you’re a teen, it’s okay to experiment; that’s all part of the process.
Enjoy all of the firsts that are coming your way and every single high and low, as annoying as they may seem. Take pleasure in the amusement of imperfection, but push for knowledge. Live. Breathe. Feel. Take advantage of opportunities to figure out what makes you tick. And then maybe, in a few years, you’ll skip down the street and reflect on the good and the bad with a grin from ear to ear.
Image via here.