Fear And Growing Up: How It Feels To Realize You're Not Invincible

by Blair Mlotek

As we speak about what it’s like to realize we’re growing up, I say to my friend, “My knees aren’t what they used to be.” He bursts out laughing and I laugh along with him, but it’s true.

My knees really aren’t what they used to be after all the running and various fitness trends over the years have worn them down.

Disclaimer: I’m only 25.

There are a lot of things that change as you leave high school, go through college or university and then enter the “real world.” Looking back at my youth, I realize that back then, I was never afraid of anything.

“God, that hurts,” I said after re-piercing my cartilage.

I’d had to take all my piercings out for work the previous year and was determined that because I was, once again, switching careers, I would get them back. I’ve gotten my ears pierced about 15 times before, and I don't remember it hurting this much.

Looking into getting a new tattoo, all I can think about is that piercing half an hour of pain when I got that tattoo on my ribs when I was 19. How on earth did I do that?

I used to spend about half my life at the theme park close to where I live, but now when I think about the trip I will take there to ride the new roller coaster, my stomach is in knots.

“You have more to lose now,” my friend tells me, when I tell her my thoughts.

Do I?

My siblings and I ragged on my mother incessantly that we wanted to go on a far-away trip. We had gone on cross-country trips many times, including some 50-hour car rides.

I added up the numbers for her to show her that a flight would truly cost less. I knew she used to travel a lot when she was young. She explained how she only started being scared of flying once we were born; naturally, I just thought she was insane.

I’m not scared of flying myself, but have I thought about what it would be like to crash into the ocean every time I take off? Of course.

A big part of fear is time. We had all the time in the world when we were young. Now, we’re not so sure.

We add up the years until we can get the degrees to do what we want. And then, we add up when we can buy an apartment, a house or a car. We remind ourselves we are young and people go to school their whole lives these days.

Then, of course, our mothers will remind us that when they were our age, they already had us. (Thanks, mom!) We fear not having enough time to get what we want in life. We fear dying with regret.

There is a point in your life where you realize death is real. You may say you had grandparents who died when you were young. You know death; you looked it in the eye.

But it’s not the same. When you were riding your bike when you were 12 and almost got run over by a car, you got a shock, but then moved along.

Now, when you’re crossing an intersection at night and a car doesn’t see you until the last moment, you think about all the people you didn’t say bye to and what you didn’t get to accomplish.

When I left my childhood friend’s funeral earlier this year, I made a joke to the friend who came with me: “How old do you have to be to go to a wedding and a funeral in the same week?”

Probably never.

I would see him on Facebook from time to time, looking like he was doing what he should have been: making people happy. I always wanted to keep up with his life a bit, even if we had fallen out of touch.

I figured, eventually, we would meet up and talk about what we had been doing the past 10 years. I never knew I wouldn’t get the chance. It was an impossibility not to be considered.

You realize the world will never be a fair place. You might have grown up watching various wars being fought on television, but it all seemed far away.

Now, you know the soldiers. You know they are the same age as you and you know they might never go home. You know that having a job and a family is harder than it has ever been, especially for us Millennials. You don’t know if you can ever have all the things you thought you would have when you were a kid.

The fear is there all the time. You wonder if it will go away once you reach a point of stability. Probably not. The fear is the next stage of your life, so don’t try and run from it. You might as well embrace it.

I think the only thing we can do is teach ourselves to look fear in the face, acknowledge it and move on.

I have a tattoo that reminds me not to be afraid; people ask me often if there is a story behind it. "No," I tell them, "It is just something I always want to remember."