I couldn’t think about it three months ago.
When someone would bring up my birthday, I would avoid eye contact and change the subject. I made plans to be out of town for the day and started turning away family members who were asking what they could give me. I was turning 27, which meant that I was officially crossing the line into my late 20s.
It felt disjointed, like half of me was growing up but the real me was still stuck under a rock five years back. I felt too juvenile, too immature and too inexperienced. The “late 20s” meant “almost 30s,” which was the decade for people who had their lives together. They were well into their career, starting a family and paying a mortgage. How was I getting close to that when I had a hard time committing to groceries beyond a six month expiration date?
It may seem silly and definitely a luxury of a culture that has shifted the threshold of adulthood, but at the heart of it, I felt really broken. I was mourning my youth and terrified of what was coming next.
I was mourning my youth and terrified of what was coming next.
I’m dealing with my 20s coming to an end, but I can imagine that at any age, the years feel transient. They fall faster than your heart or mind can keep up to. So what do you do when it feels as though you can’t keep up?
I recently read a book called The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now where author and clinical psychologist Meg Jay talks to 20-somethings about the uncertainty of our years. In the book, she references a quote from Dale Carnegie who once said, “Inaction breeds fear and doubt. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
My mind was taken aback by how simple it was: I had to take action. There’s a common saying that goes “Happen to life, don’t let life happen to you.” The more in denial I was about my approaching birthday, the more out of control I felt because life was happening to me.
The more in denial I was about my approaching birthday, the more out of control I felt because life was happening to me.
Yet, I was ready—I wanted to conquer embracing the next phase. What good is fearing the inevitable? I’m pretty sure you just wrinkle faster. I was going to choose getting older. I needed to participate in where my life was going.
So how did I take action? I learned how to do my taxes. Wild, right? Your “action” doesn’t have to be extravagant. I found something empowering about physically doing something that had always been so daunting and self-categorized as “for adults.” It began to allow my 22-year-old heart to catch up to my now 27-year-old self.
Maybe for you, choosing the next phase is about no longer using your parents as a laundromat or learning to cook a meal without the microwave. Maybe it’s cleaning out your kid’s room or starting a hobby you’ve been scared to fail at. The result is not the key, it’s the act of doing it.
When we actively embrace whatever change is coming, it makes life look and feel different. You’re moving forward into life rather than allowing life to slam into you.
When we actively embrace whatever change is coming, it makes life look and feel different.
In The Defining Decade, Jay offers a lasting piece of advice for readers: “The future isn’t written in the stars. There are no guarantees. So claim your adulthood. Be intentional. Get to work. Pick your family. Do the math. Make your own certainty. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You are deciding your life right now.”
Intentionality is a choice. We will never have control over time or age, but we will always have control over what we make of it. In the process, you might find that the place where you’re standing—staring down the barrel of getting older—doesn’t actually feel all that far off from who you actually are.