As I approached 21 years of age, I looked forward to my birthday with bittersweet emotion and a sense of doom. The reason a normal person gets excited about turning 21 is the same reason I dreaded it.
Reaching a milestone means the moment will pass. You only get one shot at 21, no matter how many shots you take when you turn.
I honestly thought turning 21 would be the zenith of my life. College would end soon and I would never have that kind of freedom again. Like Gatsby with his Daisy, when I wed my "unutterable visions" with the "perishable breath" of my 21st birthday, my mind would never romp again.
There's a reason the ubiquitous shopping mecca for youth today is called "Forever 21" and not "Forever 30." When turning 30 becomes a reality and not just a vague possibility in your future, you feel like there are certain things you should be checking off your life checklist.
Stuff like a successful career; a dude who could at least be a prospect (for anything, really) and enough money to support a child if you want one in the near future (before 36 or even, like, 40 -- I’m not picky); fertile at 30, despite years of dreading your monthly ovulation and pumping your uterus full of enough estrogen to neutralize Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The last thing you want is a clothing store, in a mall of all places, reminding you that yes, you will one day face the inevitable questions of 30... forever! But, I’m no longer 21, and I’ve learned to appreciate getting older.
I'm currently 28 years old, and turning 27 proved to be one of my most important birthdays. I worked that day. I celebrated the occasion alone in my new apartment in the new town where I had recently moved for my career, accompanied by Anthony Bourdain reruns on the Travel Channel and a bottle of grocery store Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are worse ways to spend one’s birthday than drinking wine and watching sexy silver fox Anthony Bourdain roam foreign lands with his shirt half-unbuttoned, putting things in his mouth, but I don’t think I’m alone in believing there are also better ways to spend one’s birthday.
While my 27th birthday sucked, my life at age 27, however, didn’t. At 21, my life was filled with so many unanswered questions. By 27, I’d set sail in life; I knew how to steer the boat and navigate the choppy seas. At 21, I’d just left shore in a boat I knew little about and I didn’t know where I was going.
By 27, I had a good job and was well on my way to checking off the “successful career” box on the checklist.
The youthful innocence I had so coveted included some benefits, but for the most part, when I look back on the ridiculous decisions I made in my early 20s (drunk dialing guys, sober dialing guys, any text I sent to a guy, basically all my interactions with guys), the last thing it makes me want to do is go back to being 21.
I'm thankful for the great teacher that experience is.
By 27, I had built myself a respectable résumé, better understood my strengths and weaknesses, and had a much better idea of what I wanted in a relationship (err, I mean, a prospect). See, I've learned so much!
I’ve learned to embrace my age rather than bemoan the age I will never be again.
I no longer fear 30. I no longer fear the future. I am still learning, but in my late 20s, I developed a better grasp on the importance of confidence, the belief in oneself and the ability to not give a crap of what anyone else thinks of you.
The other miraculous thing is I realized I looked better at 27 than I looked at 21. I’d never gotten the memo from our youth-obsessed media culture that most women actually look better as they approach 30!
My cheekbones became more defined and appeared more angular. I felt more comfortable in my own body. It’s a cliché, but I learned to love myself because I knew myself better. After all, I’d been in a relationship with myself for 27 years.
My overarching need to feel accepted that consumed my early 20s still existed (it always does in some capacity), but it faded by 27.
Being like everyone else isn’t a priority for me. I’ll wear my mud-stained Ugg boots everywhere. I’ll go to the grocery store with no makeup on (seriously, none). I’ll give someone a piece of my mind, and I’ll make decisions based on what I want. Feeling comfortable in your own skin is one of the major benefits of getting older. I had no idea.
Now, I can only look forward to the shift I will see in myself when I (gasp) turn 30! I’m embracing this time in my life.
There is no use in idealizing youth as this golden pasture. Yes, it is golden, but we’ll never get to frolic in it again. Ever. No one gets to. Not even Gatsby. Or Leo DiCaprio. So, why mope about it?
I’m officially an adult navigating the big ol’ ocean of adulthood. I don’t need to look at the world in a fresh-faced, innocent way. It’s fun to be ironic and sarcastic and have the “life experience” to justify my tongue-in-cheek cynicism.
I’ve lived in some interesting places, worked hard and met many wonderful people. I like the creases on the outside corners of my eyes. Crow’s feet mean I’ve smiled a lot, and now, my face is even better prepared to smile more.
After all, who wants to shop at “Forever 21” forever? I probably would if I could still fit into the clothes (I’m pretty sure Ariana Grande is the only individual who can). That being said, I’ll take my real age because the only way to be young at heart is to embrace the present, no matter which birthday it is.