6 Things You Learn At 25
My mama always told me (I swore I would someday find a reason to start a piece of writing like that) that the year you’re 25 is an important year wherein you — not the details of your life, which are constantly in flux, but the very filters with which you see things, the principles that guide your existence — will change. You’ll realize who you are, make decisions about who you keep company with, solidify your priorities, and generally see yourself in a bigger context than ever before. When my mom was 25, she had three children, two of whom were fathered by an alcoholic she was divorcing at the time. Seeing as I didn’t predict myself ending up with anything close to those things on my plate when I hit the big 2-5, I always wondered how her universal truth about this magic age would manifest itself for me. Well, here I am — unmarried with no children — so it seems I was right. It turns out, so was she.
I’m inclined to think it’s a coincidence that in that year, everything I believed, every relationship I held dear, every truth I thought I could rest on, the very filters through which I viewed the world shifted: painfully, awkwardly, awesomely, and so on. But then I observe every other goddamn 25-year-old ever –and hey, look! It happens to everyone. We might have different ways of experiencing the change, and varying degrees of even being cognizant of it, but it’s palpably present. This is the best I’ve done so far at breaking it down.
Disclaimer: Any of all of this can, and often will be, applicable at many stages of life. In no way is any of this uniquely constrained to the age of 25. But 25 is, like, notoriously a real bitch for hitting you hard.
1. You don’t know everything.
But you know a lot more than you used to. The most distinct accomplishment that marks this milestone is that it’s not about distinct accomplishments at all. 25 is all about acquiring the quiet, vague but incredibly important awareness of where you are in life. For the first time since probably ever, you aren’t perpetually distracted by your everyday life, enough to occasionally see the bigger picture: you’re no longer the distraught, flighty, eager young thing, incapable of anything resembling prudence or consistency that at 19 years old, you thought you would be forever. You either loved or loathed your own gorgeous dysfunctionality at that age, and either way, you likely defined yourself around it. But now, your life is only partially about starting in the same bars and ending in different beds each night. You sometimes pay bills on time. Your periods of employment sometimes are longer than your periods of unemployment. You are still a long way from where you want to be. But you probably have a much clearer idea of where it is you want to be, and possibly a more solid plan for getting there. The idea here is that you finally have a little self-awareness about where you are in the process and for once, you’re cool with that. You’re starting to understand the importance of confidence andhumility and you’re at least making an attempt at balancing the two, and not just sweating things quite as hard.
2. Our generation is not (necessarily) better.
Oh, right, also the world still sucks. When we were growing up and learning the sugarcoated versions of the various atrocities that plagued the world, our inherent American arrogance — or maybe our youthful optimism — convinced us that those problems belonged to the past, or at worst, to other, more distant countries. Either way, us and our friends? We were going to do better. We were going to treat each other with respect and show older, discriminatory, backwards-ass generations how it’s done. Problems like socioeconomic, gender, and race inequalities, horrible tyrants assaulting people’s basic human rights, brutal diseases without cures — pssh, that noise was not for us. Except that it turns out that it really, really is. By 25, you’ve come to recognize that we still live in a country where all but a few rich, white, straight dudes have a bitch of a time gaining access to even the most basic level of respect and rights, many people are still downright heinous to each other, getting nutritious food and adequate healthcare is nowhere near a given, and the world beyond our borders can sometimes be an even more exhausting, depressing sh-tshow than that. You’ve also come to understand that it’s important to not embrace apathy in order to sleep at night, but that it’s also counterproductive to progress, and dangerous to your personal wellbeing to care too much. In short, you know you need to give enough f-cks to help make the world better, but like, not so many that it makes you hate life.
That’s not to say you’ve yet figured out how to accomplish this balancing act, but the realization that it’s something you need is damn good progress. I mean, we’re still trying to figure out how to effectively work each other’s genitals and not accidentally destroy each other’s feelings; solving world issues, or even figuring out to exist simultaneously in awareness and defiance of them, is a tall order right now. But this is when you realize that growing up is as much about adding important items to your Big Life’s To-Do List as it is about crossing them off.