From seventh grade until about last year, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have an answer locked and loaded: Prime Minister. I was dead serious, too. We can blame the pipeline between being in student government in high school and thinking you should probably run the country, too — being voted most likely to run the country in my senior year only sealed the deal. It was the natural next step, really. Go figure: now I’m a political science student.
I wish I could have bottled that childlike invincible confidence of “I can do anything.” These days, being Prime Minister is not high on my to-do list, falling far below going sky-diving. Now, I fear I’m too jaded, something I never thought I’d be as someone who is chronically “glass half-full,” perhaps to a fault. This is perhaps one of the starkest signs of aging I’ve experienced.
I suppose I always thought that signs of aging would look more like exchanging highlights for silver strands (nature’s balayage) and growing smile lines that advertise all the laughs you’ve accumulated through a life well-lived. Turns out, aging rears its salt-and-peppered head in intangible ways sooner than it does in imperfections of the skin.
It’s no secret that life has landmarks. Puberty is the earmark of one’s adolescence. Acne and bodily changes are paired tastefully with being a little bit dramatic and never being nice enough—bordering upon being outright mean—to your parents. Contrastingly, adulthood is characterized by realizing that the insignificant pimple on your cheek is nothing to stress over and that your parents are actually people with thoughts, feelings, and lives of their own. You might even realize that you actually like spending time with them and text them every time something good happens to you, hoping they’ll be proud.
For me, growing up feels like living with roommates, finding differences in the way you do things, and saying, “it’s because my mom did it that way” every other day. It’s recognizing that food is definitely my love language and always putting two extra helpings of food on my friend’s plates than they ask for, a mirror image of my parents. It’s realizing I am willingly putting on hats, mittens, and, during bleak times, two pairs of pants in frigid temperatures I used to not bat an eye at — a terribly humbling experience, really.
It smells like the cultural foods I wouldn’t let my parents pack for school lunches as a kid, the very same ones I’m mastering in my own kitchen years after the fact — sharing butter paneer, coconut chickpea curry, and chai with my friends now. It’s realizing that quote about love — that it happens slowly and then all at once — is also true about growing up. You’re nine one day and nineteen the next and everyone warned you it would happen this way so you really should have known better but, also, how could you have?
Birthdays are an obvious one, and yet, a not-so-meaningful one. Uncharacteristically, I’ve always hated my birthday. Cynicism aside, I find that my growing doesn’t happen annually, but rather on random evenings, sneaking up on me when I least expect it.
I’m turning twenty this year and, for once, I’m actually excited. I wasn’t all that eager about my sweet sixteen and, while nineteen had its perks, I’ve never been as zealous as I have been for my twenties.
You know how people say that they don’t know that they’re in the good old days until they’re gone? Well, I’m calling it — I’m in the good old days right now. I’m divulging this at the risk of embarrassing myself, but I’ve already pre-emptively started my scrapbook. As far as growing up goes, I think that’s the best way to do it. Glorify the present moment as it’s happening. Having moved around a fair bit in my life, I’ve said hi and bye to far too many people. Despite being a no-good texter, I do try my best to keep in touch. Even so, you’ll never truly get to go back to the people you were in that moment, nor the moment itself.
‘Capri denim’ is a catchphrase that is very close to my heart. I know what you’re thinking: don’t you mean carpe diem? No, I don’t. Capri denim is a more relaxed, less Latin and, thus, less pretentious way of saying “seize the day.” Live in the moment because, as cheesy as it sounds, every day has the capacity to be a good day if you just make it your own. My secret to that is to make every morning a good morning. I used to skip breakfast. I’m too slow an eater and too queasy in the morning to squeeze it in before heinously early high school start times. I don’t know how we did it, but I can’t do 8:30 a.m. classes. Now, breakfast sets the tone for the day and I will not be a peppy person without some variation of eggs and fruits in the morning.
Despite the boring bits — school, tuition, and the looming pressure to figure out what to do with your life — university students are in a uniquely cool place to be in life. Of course, I can’t speak to everyone’s situations, but between living just hallways and streets away from my best friends, studying something I’m passionate about in a city I hand-picked, going to work and liking what I do, I feel like a lead in made-for-TV sitcom life every day.
The mundane motions of university life are just inherently more interesting than being an awkward teenager and without all the responsibility of actually being a full-fledged adult whose parents don’t file their taxes for them. I’m sorry, I’m just not ready for that step yet.
While I’m not inclined to learn about taxes or inflation — I get it, but on a much more real level, I really don’t — I’ve learned a lot in my nineteen years and gathered some lessons I will take in tow with me in my twenties. Though I can’t claim to have it all figured out — I’m convinced no one does — I do have some advice for the average university student and, really, anyone.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone every chance you get. You never know what you’re capable of, nor what you might like. I always say that I’ll try anything once. I didn’t take a gym class all of high school and now I work at a gym, spend the better part of my week sore in different places, and get emotionally invested during every Anaheim Ducks game — I love you, Trevor Zegras.
It’s cool to care. Care about your grades, your friends, your family, your hobbies, everything and anything. I think passion and ambition are some of the most respectable traits and we’re just too old to not take life a little bit seriously. I’ll be honest, I’m narrowly avoiding saying ‘YOLO’ here.
That being said, live a balanced life. For me, that means focusing on school during the week and being fun on the weekends. On those weekends, though, spend time with the right people. Quality trumps quantity every time, especially when it comes to friends. A distinct part of growing up is losing some friends along the way while making new ones. When ideals don’t align, it’s hard to maintain a friendship — who you surround yourself with is a reflection of you.
However, having friends that are different from you is incredibly important as well. I’ve learned the most from having a best friend that isn’t exactly like me. If we place ourselves in echo chambers, surrounded only by like-minded individuals, one may never grow.
Just don’t be a social chameleon as you do, morphing yourself to fit into spaces. Take up space as you are, serve yourself what you need, and just be yourself. Of course, I know that this is easier said than done.
Perhaps you never really find yourself and there’s no distinct version of you that you’ll find one day. Personally, I think I try on personalities like shoes. Sometimes, I slip into an old one and realize that it was rather comfortable and that I missed her. Other times, I try on a new one, wear it for a couple of months, realize it gave me blisters, and retire it.
Last semester, I tried my best attempt at a cool girl personality, likely a heel of some sort, if I’m still speaking in shoe metaphors. To be honest, I’ve slipped right back into my girl-boss personality that likely is best represented by the slippers I’m wearing as I write this on a weekend evening from the comfort of my kitchen table. When trying on shoes, though, just make sure you’re not wearing one just because everyone else is.
What I mean to say is, be whatever version of you that you resonate with now. I think that’s how I’m going to take my twenties and I’m looking forward to it. While I’m not sure if I’m ever going to be Prime Minister, I do have a little bit of that “I can do anything” gusto left in me. I hope it never fades and that I always put my best foot forward — and that you do, too.