Today, as I sit chair-to-desk in my office with a window on my 28th birthday, I swirl with memories of turning 18 a decade ago.
How did I get here? When did I grow up? Have I grown up?
I remember my 18th well. I spent it relishing in my acceptance to my dream college, aggressively making out with my cruise-ship-born romance and maintaining a steady buzz from whatever was in my dad's liquor cabinet that night.
It was spring of my senior year of high school and everything felt fun, finished and fascinating.
I had no idea what was in store for me or that the best and the worst was waiting for me with a decade of life that could never happen again.
I think we enter into adulthood assuming life is beginning. Life is opening its sweet doors, inviting us in and giving us the opportunity we waited to have for so long.
The upcoming months provide us with living on our own, our first gym memberships and the seemingly constant option to go to class or to not. Everything will work itself out, and everything will come together as it should because that's what happens when you grow up.
Except, it doesn't. The years sandwiched between high school graduation and hitting your late 20s are exhilarating, heartbreaking and life-changing. They are not, simply, an extension of teenage accessibility minus over-protective parents.
Today, as a single, slightly scorned, confused and somewhat successful newly 28-year-old, I have a lot of thoughts about the years that led me to today.
On behalf of all future bearers of this age, I have written a letter to help you come to terms with what will happen in the 10-year journey after your initial plunge into “adulthood.”
Dear Former Self,
Guess what? You've made it. You're 18, which is phenomenal in theory. You live excitedly in the dorms, but drink yourself into a constant blackout simply because you can. You've forgotten about your desire to go to class to learn; you just want to flirt and get by.
You have a gym membership, but you don't have an organized team or coach to push you to use it. You will dust it off four days before Halloween because you think two hours per day on the elliptical will shed a fraction of your Freshman 15 weight gain so you can wear a midriff-bearing costume to fit in with all of the other skinny, collegiate women.
You also assume you will be able to starve yourself despite the endless dorm cafeteria buffet, and you will trick yourself into believing it is healthy and acceptable to think in such terms.
You will not succeed in feeling happy with your body, Halloween costume or otherwise.
Life's opportunistic arms are now full of insecurities, poor decisions and the constant balance of pretending you are enjoying yourself more than you actually are. In reality, you miss the structure of life at home and are apparently lost without it.
You claim to be an adult, but have no idea how to actually be one.
That year of reckless abandon and experience will lead you to years 19 and 20, which will prove to be teetering points to recognize life takes hard work. You even toy with the concept of trying to balance partying and studying.
You will fail many times, but will also begin to develop interests in specific academic areas, as well as in men who want monogamy and know your name. You will be slightly more adult-like and make fewer terrible decisions.
Ironically, 21 will be a growth year. Yes, you will be legal at the bars, but you have been illegally pressing your luck for so long, you are now only semi-interested.
You will even find yourself in a committed relationship, with a declared major and without the booze and late-night food weight that wrecked your body for the first segment of college.
This will be the first year you consider what you want for a career, and you will become ferocious in obtaining internships and part-time jobs to get you there. You are responsible more often than not, and have a bank account with a real balance in it.
Your mistakes are seldom enough that you are considered “put together.” That doesn't mean you don't spend your 21st birthday with your head in the toilet. It just means you might actually go to class the next day.
And, then, you face the early 20s. You will consider these the best years of your life as you live them, but will eventually reconsider this. All of that crap about getting partying out of your system pre-21 comes zooming back.
The years of 22 and 23 are laden with girls' nights out, bar hopping and day drinking.
Everything is appropriate to do because you have graduated from college and you have a job, which means you have money to spend (blow) on the weekends, or weeknights. You can even drink with your boss during your company-paid business trip. Everything is good enough.
Go ahead, relinquish your serious relationship, get involved in your first friends-with-benefits situation and simultaneously develop a new set of insecurities. Don't ever be alone because that's lame and boring.
Go to every social function, host parties in your first downtown apartment that you can barely afford and engage in endless celebrations-for-no-reason. You are practically 18 with a legal ID, job and a parent-less home.
Hey, you're showing up for your responsibilities during the week, which means you are living life as you should. Ultimately, however, you discover you are merely masking your teenage doubt and angst beneath an adult outfit.
By the time you turn 24, you realize you have been consistently lying to yourself and other people for a substantial number of years, but have no idea exactly when it started.
You gain insight this year and it f*cking hurts. Suddenly, you are unhappy with your job; you have been “dating” someone who is sleeping with another girl, and you have absolutely no clue what you are doing with your life.
This is the panic year. Do you move? Stay? Go back to school? You are far enough out of college, yet fresh enough in the “real world” that you still have time to consider and reconsider your options.
Do that. Change career paths, live completely alone for the very first time and willingly go to therapy.
Begin unloading the baggage you have built up from the teenage years and grow closer to your family. Cut friends out of your life who only offer toxicity and peer pressure. Put yourself out there in the dating world (not the hook-up world).
You've got this; 24 is the year you begin to like yourself and, therefore, respect yourself.
You will spend 25 and 26 with a serious boyfriend, whom you will live with and decide is good enough to marry. You will grow in your career, build up other community accolades and relationships and smile internally at the constant recognition that your hard work has paid off.
You will come to terms with being in your mid-20s and “winning” because you have it all. The years immediately following high school graduation helped mold you into this mature, articulate young woman, and you will reap the benefits.
Travel, spend time with all of the right people and buy your first new car. Much like at 18, life is beginning.
You won't see the heartbreak coming. You have class and honesty, so it won't make sense that two days before your 27th birthday, your boyfriend will break up with you.
You will deny the possibility of life turning out differently than you planned until you jolt awake to the realization that he cheated on you. Suddenly, you will be back in a one-bedroom apartment, sans engagement ring and questioning your career all over again.
Your car payments are high; your friendships will suffer because of “taking sides” in the long-term relationship severance, and you will, once again, find yourself crawling with new insecurities and self-doubt.
You're going to be okay.
It is too late to revert into child mode and run away from it all. This is a year full of adult responsibilities you can't put on hold because of heartbreak.
Your mid-20s are a great time to realize that regardless of where you are and how great you feel, you can still get mixed up in things that hurt you. Don't let that stop you from living.
Alas, you will be thankful that 25 teamed up with 26 to teach you that life goes on and everything will be okay, even when it feels like you're getting your ass kicked over and over and over again.
You are better because of those years. They lead you to 27, where you are free and fascinated and finished with the tough stuff.
Decorate your single-girl apartment in bright colors, decorative pillows and inspirational quotes. While you're at it, put your heart on the line. Fall for a familiar friend who has been there all along, to whom you have been blind to the potential of the romance because of your obsession with “having it all” in the years prior.
Blossom into this independent woman who has picked herself up, moved forward and handled scummy situations with class. Feel stable. Feel loved. Feel confident. Cook more, cry less and refuse to fear romance.
Build yourself up when your 27. You'll have challenges and setbacks, but you are equipped to deal with it all. At least it will feel that way.
You will feel your balloon pop a million times over when that familiar friend you are in love with and in a relationship with cheats on you in front of your eyes. Frankly, you don't expect it and you blame yourself.
Suddenly, 27 will feel just like 16. It will be crushing and hurtful and cruel. It will be too much to handle. It will be daunting to push past.
But, you will be okay.
This age will test your resilience and general outlook on life. And, then, it will set you up to face the truth that anything can happen, no matter how many candles are on the cake.
You use the last month of 27 to exhaust feelings of being of self-righteous and self-deprecating in one, guided pile of trial and error. It is pressed with healing and rebuilding. It confirms that adulthood truly is upon you, but, sometimes, no matter what age, life can be as cruel as a group of mean girls in the school hallway.
It will be the year that allows you to acknowledge that plans break, but you are able-bodied and well enough to put one foot in front of the other and find your way to the next year and the next decade full of life experience.
It is the year that makes you take a moment to reflect upon how you got where you are in this moment and suddenly, you will be proud of the rise and fall of your adult life.
And, here you are: You're 28 today. You're not the girl swapping spit on your parents' couch months before leaving for college or the girl skipping class to drink on the fraternity house's lawn or the girl living blissfully and naïvely with a man she will never marry.
You are all of those girls in one single, older, slightly scorned, somewhat successful and still confused woman. You had no idea the types and number of lessons you would learn during this decade, but you wouldn't trade a single one for the chance to go back and redo anything.
You are okay. The days have led you here and you're exactly where you're supposed to be.
Relinquish the hostility, dive into another year and hold tightly to the lessons you learned along the way as you blow out your candles tonight.
Cheers to the next 10 years and many more,
A Slightly Older You