I cried on my 16th birthday, and the cause of tears is not something most people would suspect.
Usually, birthday tears mean no one showed up to your party; your boyfriend broke up with you, or someone spilled guacamole on your dress. But, this time, the culprit for the tears was none of the above.
I cried because I felt old -- really, really old. Feel free to roll your eyes now.
As long as I can remember, I've been terrified of growing up. The phase seemed to follow me, no matter in which decade I was. But, what I didn't realize was that in my younger years of life, each age was better and more independent than the last. As a small child, I wasn't looking forward to being a teenager.
Trade my Playdough and dolls for acne and long division? Yeah, I'll pass. However, after entering my inevitable pubescent years, I realized being a teenager wasn't so bad.
Then, as my high school years rolled around, I thought I had it made. The new freedom and opportunities were much more enjoyable than any other age I had experienced. I mean, I could drive. What was better than that?
Though the transition process from elementary school to high school had been a smooth, liberating experience, my fear of aging still lingered in the back of my mind. And, on my 16th birthday, I realized I wasn't a kid anymore.
I was shocked at how quickly 16 years had passed me by. What if the next 16 go even faster? Now, looking back on the young and naïve girl I was, I wish the woman I am now could go back in time, shake her and tell her to enjoy the time spent being a teen.
Occasionally, my maturity level doesn't show it, but I don't think it helps that I'm the oldest among my friends. I have an October birthday, so when I started preschool, I was already turning 4 while the rest of the kids were still 3; this issue has followed me around my entire life.
I was the first to turn 21 and the first to turn a quarter-century. While I loved celebrating my birthday, I couldn't help but hear this little voice in the back of my head saying, "Five more years until you're 30..." That message sent a shiver down my spine as I ordered another round of shots.
I can only liken the situation to the devil and angel scenario. Only, this time, on one shoulder was a young, vibrant me wearing high heels and a party dress, slurping down a Cosmo and dancing like there was no tomorrow.
On the other shoulder sat a pre-menopausal version of myself, complete with a baby and mom jeans, saying, "It's midnight, and you have class tomorrow — go home!" Crazy, I know, but I blame it on the alcohol.
The constant articles about the humorous downward spiral that happens to each of us once we hit our late 20s only enhanced my dread for aging. Suddenly, we can't drink as much or party as late as before.
We have to begin working out more in order to keep the physique that once remained sculpted in our early 20s. We go from being acquainted with hangovers to them knocking viciously on the doors of our heads, like angry landlords, the morning after a few glasses of wine.
Yes, all that may be true, but what about adding a positive twist? With all the bad that comes with hitting your late 20s, there are some upsides, too. Think about interviews, résumés and job applications — all things that have stressful connotations. At 27, however, I'm much more versed in these things than I was at 22.
I feel more confident going to job interviews. The nerves are still there, but the self-assurance I feel when I sit down face-to-face with the recruiter is much more established than it was in my early 20s.
While I still love a fun night out, I no longer feel the need to attend every single social outing. I don't feel bad about the nights I trade in my wedges for a warm blanket and some reality TV.
Even the relationship I have with my parents is different. At 20, I felt like I knew it all, didn't need help or advice and could handle situations on my own without that self-proclaimed "annoying" parental input.
Now, I look to my parents first for guidance and can communicate to them, not only as their daughter, but also as an adult. I look forward to the time I get to spend with my family as a gift, rather than an obstacle that is interrupting my party time with friends.
I often hear that the 20s are supposedly the "best time of our lives" and they "shouldn't be wasted or taken for granted." But, how does one make sure that doesn't happen? I think my true fear was of being unsuccessful.
With multiple social media platforms, all accessible at our fingertips, we have the ability to see it all. From friends getting engaged to old high school buddies traveling the world and colleagues landing amazing job opportunities, each day, you get to see everyone else's achievements.
With these technological advancements, it's hard not to feel the need to keep up with the Joneses of the social media world and create your own successful, entrepreneurial path.
I couldn't shake this feeling that my 20s would be wasted if I weren't starting a company, landing that new promotion or getting married and having babies. It felt like that's what everyone else was doing. I was so terrified of turning 30, and still not having a huge accomplishment that I could call my own.
It was then that I realized my apprehension was rooted in the fear of not finding success. It took getting into my late 20s to understand that this anxiety I was trying to overcome exists at any age, and true success is relative to how you define the word.
I haven't started my own company. I don't live a life of luxury, and I haven't found the cure to cancer. But, I work hard, I find reasons to laugh every day, and I am surrounded by a group of amazing people with whom I get to share my life.
I feel like if I hadn't grown up and matured over time, I never would have realized that everything I have is the definition of success; it's my definition. It only took me seven years to realize that.
I recently went on a trip to Vegas with a friend to celebrate my 27th birthday, and as usual, we had a blast. She prefaced the trip with the rule that I was not allowed to "age-shame" myself.
So, of course, when we went out to the bar and I was wearing my birthday crown, people wished me a happy birthday and inquired about my age. I felt myself bite my tongue most times, mumbling back that it "wasn't an exciting age," and my friend would promptly shout over me, "You're 27! Own it!"
She was right. I need to own my age now and forever. I need to stop being so afraid of the fictional doom I have created about getting older and be thankful I have been blessed to live another year.
I mean, that's what we all want, right? To be happy, to be healthy and to live freely?
The aspect of growing older is a gift not granted to all, and I vow to make the most of each year I am fortunate enough to be alive. Wouldn't we all rather live full, rich lives spent getting old, gray and flabby, than staying young, thin and devoid of all the great experiences life has to offer?
Bring it on, late 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond... I am ready for you.