I usually try to make an Instagram post on my birthday every year. I want to share something that summarizes the previous year with a sweet little sentiment about how it was challenging but full of love. Additionally, I want to let my social media sphere know that it’s my birthday and they should go out of their way to say something nice to me. I feel slightly selfish but happier that, even though I prompted the interaction, people still take time to acknowledge my existence.
I didn’t make a summarized Instagram post this year. I didn’t have the foresight to draft a caption before the ninth, and I lacked the creativity on the day of. I apologize to my social media community for that. Don’t you worry! I will be accepting “Happy late Birthdays” and nice messages until December 31st, 2021.
At first, I was disappointed in myself for not committing to this tradition. It truly is a nice way for me to remember what I looked like and felt at each stage of my life. Using Instagram as a public scrapbook is, after all, its original intention. (Or at least, I think so. Hard to remember now. I should ask someone with a social media degree.) Last year, I didn’t post either, but I was frolicking away in New York City, focusing more on getting on the right train than finding a good photo of myself to share. This year, there is no exception. I’ve been busy, sure, but I spent a few hours at Coffee & Tea on the day of my birth specifically to reflect on the previous year. I typed a jumbled mess of thoughts but nothing felt poetic or real enough. Then there was an apartment to clean and people to host, so it slipped through the cracks completely.
The idea that came after the fact was that of a review of my first week as a 22-year-old. It would be called, “Year Twenty-Two, A Week-In Review,” and I would hope that the clever title wouldn’t be disregarded. I would find time to write it and hope that I wouldn’t be rushing to post it at the last second, forcing myself to read through quickly and miss crucial edits. I wanted it to be a savory account of my thoughts thus far that would open a conversation about growing up, moving on, and leaning in. Here we go.
An obvious place to start. This past year, more than ever it seems, I’ve been consumed by milestones that stretch me to the point of slight fracture. These manifest as job transitions, college graduation, friends who move out, friends who move away, creative ruts, job transitions within job transitions, future planning, and a crisis of purpose. There are more, I assure you, that aren’t neatly summed up with short titles. In the past, I’ve felt as though milestones were moments of growth. I would make a big decision and my anxieties would cease after a brief period. Like learning to drive, the initial anxiety turns into ease of mind as practice makes the action intuitive. Moving to San Diego in 2017 was not as simple as I expected, but by my second semester of college, I felt at home in this city and a sense that I was supposed to be here. I’ve had mixed feelings about disconnecting with people I knew from Apple Valley, but they are quieted by my reflection of the community I now share.
However, this past year has been a constant effort to keep myself floating above “just fine.” I don’t feel accustomed to any life changes, so things that shifted for me in March of 2021 are still ruminating in my brain. I graduated in May, and the pressure to find the career I would feel fulfilled by seems no lighter now than it did then. I look back on my old Instagram posts with captions saying that I’m going to try to create more, hoping that by posting in public, I could hold myself accountable for that. I’m here now, still grasping for a routine that allows me to think and work creatively without squishing practice hours in between exhaustion and daily work. In all of the years of my life, I feel as though this one has been the least innovative.
I listened to Leith Ross’ album, “Motherwell” a lot this year. One lyric says, “What a wonderful feeling to own and operate your life. What a terrible burden, all my decisions are mine.” I’ve seen time as currency a lot more this year. Trying to balance between self-preservation and social generosity is a hard line to walk, especially in a phase when time with friends feels rare. I’ve gotten worse at saying, “No thank you, I’d rather spend the night in,” which seems like a regression from my college self that reserved every Friday morning for intentional, isolated pauses. I’m making my own schedule and using my days off to get outside and drive somewhere far away with people I love. I’m thinking of that lyric and the way that adulthood is something I’ve longed for that I wish I could procrastinate. The desire to grow up is full of contradictions, and I’m in the thick of it now.
I remember moving into my dorm in August of 2017. It was my first time moving out of my parent’s house, my first time sharing a room, and my first time leaving the safety of my Apple Valley community. I cried after my parents dropped me off. I looked at my new bed under the window on the sixth floor and understood that I couldn’t fake excitement to outweigh my anxiety. The next Sunday, I went to a new church with strangers and escaped to the bathroom to cry because the overwhelming newness was filling my body to the brim. A month later, I experienced an anniversary of a relationship that started with constant closeness. A month after that, a necessary disconnect of said relationship. I got involved at church and had dinners with my roommates. I did laundry at my grandparents’ house and went home for the holidays. There was adjustment and adaptation that led to comfortability, but it was a much longer process than I ever expected.
So we’re here now. It’s been four years and I’ve had five hairstyles, six crushes (one of which worked out beautifully), seven roommates, eight undergrad semesters, nine job titles, and at least ten emotional crises. I’m one of millions that experience emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental turmoil between the ages of 17 and 22. If you or a loved one has gone through their early twenties unscathed by break-neck life changes, let me know. I would like to have a chat.
The question of “What’s next?” has been floating around my head since turning 21. At first, it was getting a new job, then graduation, then the anniversary, and, most recently, the idea of moving across the country. My San Diego community has changed and dispersed dramatically this year alone, leaving me with the idea that staying could be more harmful than helpful. I love being comfortable but I’m coming to the realization that San Diego makes me feel anxiously complacent. The real kicker here is that my fear of change is equally stressful, making the ideas of consistency and change simultaneously overwhelming. Oh, what fun!
By my next birthday, I hope to be in New York. Ideally, in a Brooklyn apartment with the person I love and my cat, Fig. I’ll have a job that I can talk about at dinners with excitement in my voice and light in my eyes. I’ll know where to find good coffee and overpriced pizza, frequently consuming the former and strategically avoiding the latter. There will be ample time for creative projects and people that can steer that process with encouragement in abundance. Maybe then I’ll be able to take a deep breath instead of twenty hurried gasps. That’s the new dream.
In preparing this final section, a list format felt easier to express than a formal paragraph. This year, I’m leaning into:
- Making lists – Groceries, creative ideas, and important songs should be categorized somewhere. My brain is too full to remember on my own. I must not forget the existence of the notes app.
- Listening to my body – My stomach is going to hurt whether I eat well or not. I can’t wear loafers all day if I know my feet will hurt in the evening. When I need a break, I should take one. Eat before drinking coffee in the morning. If I keep forgetting to drink water, I’ll die before 23 due to dehydration. That’s embarrassing. Don’t let that happen.
- Valuing time logically – There’s a difference between reaching out to someone because I feel like I “should” and because I actually want to. There’s no harm in second chances, but there’s a cap on how many dinner plans you can make in a week. Share them wisely. The same applies to personal time. I can’t be late to a coffee with myself and I’m a fairly cheap dinner date. Charge up before heading out, and say “no” when desired. It’s not possible to exhale with empty lungs.
- The concept of impermanence – There will never be the perfect job, home, or city. If something isn’t feeling good anymore, I don’t have to force myself to stick with it to prove a point. Evaluate options and make the most educated decision. There’s no shame in returning either. Holding grudges on my past self and limiting my future self isn’t helping anyone.
- Reaching out – The really cool thing about being alive for only 22 years is that there are people that have been around longer than that. What a concept! Some of these people are kind enough to share their experiences and wisdom, which can be a wonderful asset for a person who is emerging into the world with a pocket full of anxieties about the future. Ask those questions and crowdsource advice. There’s lots of learning to do and people are valuable teachers.
- The New York Times crossword – I paid $40 for the game subscription. $40 for a year of puzzles that I keep forgetting to do. When I do remember, I take one look at the main crossword and decide that I’m not smart enough because in no lifetime will I ever know the last name of the co-founder of the Sierra club off the top of my head. Take a guess! Give it a shot! Get your money’s worth.
The formal review of my first week of year 22 ends with this. I’m no different today than I was last week. Instead of a concise Instagram caption, I’ve ended up here, 1,800 words into another conclusion that nothing I’m expressing is a new thought. I understand that there were people before me and there will be people after me that have and will turn 22. They may be far less dramatic than I am, but I cannot apologize. I refuse to stop complaining and I refuse to stop growing. I will say, “Actually, no, I haven’t seen that movie,” and not make plans that I hope the other party will cancel. I’ll try to set goals that stretch but don’t intimidate me because fear tactics seem more harmful than helpful for habit-making. I will say, “I’m sorry,” when I mean it and not as a passing phrase. I will take others’ thoughts into consideration but trust that my decisions are smart and for the best. I will try to enjoy my time and be kind and show up for myself and those I care about. Nothing is permanent and everything changes. In the meantime, I’ll be trying my best and knowing that’s enough. Cheers!