What’s the deal with aging?
I turned 27 a few months ago, and all of a sudden people around me have started calling me ‘old’. This to me is nonsensical – each day I’m only 24 hours biologically older than the previous. In fact, at 27 years, I’m only 24 hours older than 26 years and 364 days of age, yet I guess on paper the difference seems bigger.
The first instance came when people kept wishing me ‘happy 21st birthday’ on Facebook or joking that I was 19 again. I didn’t really understand … why do I want to turn 19? I was poor at 19, had low self-esteem, and my life was at the whimsy of others. Even at 21, I was a bit of a derp and spent much of my time making big deals out of small things. (yes, even more time, can you believe it?) Don’t get me wrong – I still am prone to emotional meltdowns, but I’m much happier where I am, doing what I do today, than I have been in the past.
I work in a military band where the average age is between 40-50. Almost everyone there is older than me by decades, and I get a sense of contentment and peace from them. People there will gently make fun of themselves for their age, “I used to have more hair 10 years ago, etc.” but there’s no visible anxiety or denial over growing older. I guess they’ve had more practice, after all.
In contrast, my millennial friends seem to feel like someone is pointing a shotgun at their heads. Every birthday these days is like a funeral. People complain about the fact that they’re aging. (No you’re like 25 calm down) Their lives are over. They express envy at the younger folk and it suddenly seems like it’s all downhill from here. The word old is tossed about so often I actually can’t physically restrain myself from rolling my eyeballs.
You’re not old.
You’re in your 20s.
You have not experienced that much life yet.
There’s SO MUCH TIME for you to do everything you want to.
What the fuck is wrong with you there are people out there with no time.
Rather than raging at everyone else (in case you haven’t noticed, my two emotional states are either being angry or being hard on myself), I thought seriously about what scares millennials from turning older.
I wondered if it was mortality that they fretted over. There is a sense of invincibility that youth have, and eventually they must come to terms with their own mortality and those of people they care about. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. It wasn’t like turning 27 all of a sudden made you more prone to dying or developing heart disease than the year prior. I never hear my friends complain about their health the way I hear people my parents’ age do (for good reason, because 50+ people become more careful about monitoring health symptoms).
So what is it?
What scares people so much?
I racked my brain (while trying not to rage out at others) thinking about why ‘late – 20s’ is such a scary thing for a lot of people. The best answer I could come up with is that as you get older, the consequences for making decisions are a lot higher.
Is what frightens young people responsibility?
When you’re young, you can get away with doing a lot of stupid shit under the guise of youth. You ghost people you date. You flake out on friends. You don’t pull your weight financially. You binge drink and (mostly) end up alive, despite not remembering how you got home the night before. (*raises hand*) It’s like a rite of passage, get all the stupid shit out of your system before you become a ‘real adult’. Pop culture teaches us that it’s ok to be irresponsible while we’re young, because eventually we’ll figure it out. Songs on the radio boast about how it’s ok to spend your paycheque on bottle service (wtf don’t do this). Youth are lulled into this bubble where blowing your paycheque on happy hours and Aritzia.com sales is ok, because taxes and retirement and RESPs are for boring old people, and not for you. By the time you’re old, you’ll be raking in the money working your dream job and everything will be ok.
Except nothing is changing except that you’re aging.
There’s nothing wrong with a 21 year old, living paycheque to paycheque, working a dead-end job with no viable career progression, and spending the majority of her time trying to attract social media fans. An instagram post with 300 likes showing off a perky derriere is a lot more exciting than slaving away in a cubicle. But if a 45 year old did that, all of a sudden it seems pathetic. She wasted all that time and has nothing to show for it. There is no excuse, no pat on the shoulder to tell her, “It’s ok. You’ll figure it out.” Well, actually you haven’t actually figured ‘it’ out after all. This is it, this is your reality. Have fun working into your 70s and then living on Canada’s measly CPP.
I’m guilty of giving youth a pat on the back often too. When I see a friend agonizing over a bad break-up, my first response is a convenient, “You are so young. There’s so much time to find the perfect guy.” Except dating is a lot more like musical chairs when you are about to hit your 30’s. Most people I know who are nearly that cornerstone have just sat down with whichever partner they’re with at that time – resigned to starting a future and procreating with that person – not necessarily because they’re the most compatible, but simply because all of a sudden the music stops at 30 and it’s better to sit on a chair than to be the one single person.
One of my best friends, who is 28 and wishes to start a family, talks to me about the importance of finding the right guy. She has ‘no time’ to casually date around or to spend another year or two with the ‘wrong guy’. Her criteria for what she’s looking for has drastically streamlined compared to a few years ago. It was definitely easier to fall in love with a boy just because of his kind smile and warm brown eyes at 24. Now, there are finances and lifestyle habits to sort out. Sure going to the bar is fun and all – but does he go too often? How much money does he spend on drinks every weekend? Oh, does he have a history of cancer in his family? It’s not romantic at all to ask, but definitely important.
So maybe the real issue here isn’t so much about biologically aging (I’m sure this is a thing too) but that as we age, we are confronted with concrete consequences for our actions. We are forced to become more responsible for our own lives.
I love psychology. I think my dream job would have probably been to become a psychologist and to analyze others for a living. I didn’t figure this out until my mid-20s – and, going back to school for a masters/Ph.D only to come out making the same amount as I currently do doesn’t seem logical at all. If I could go back in time for 10 years and re-make that decision at 17, I would in a heartbeat. When I sat down to seriously make a cost-benefit analysis, there was barely any decision to be made. I instead bought a $300 laptop from Amazon and decided to write instead – another career path I considered, and one with an astronomically lower entry barrier.
It’s not as if our choices as youth didn’t matter, or didn’t have consequences. It’s that we lived in a rainbow cloud of Flo Rida delusion and we didn’t realize these decisions still had to be made. When I went into a finance major just because it sounded ‘smart’, I didn’t realize all the doors that I had closed for myself. Yet, that choice to me was a better one in retrospect than pursuing a degree in music – something I was contemplating in high school.
If anything, our time becomes even more scarce from this point forward. I was lamenting to my psychologist about how much of my life phototherapy was taking up and how I felt so stressed when she blunted told me, “Just wait until you have children. You won’t have time for things like phototherapy.” which shut me up.
Anyways, what I’m trying to say is pushing off responsibility only makes it worse. If we can take responsibility for our lives – regardless of age – we can untangle the problems one step at a time. This so called ‘figuring out your life’ isn’t something that you can tackle one month when you finally turn 27. It’s a continuous journey that we have to face every day. Love, career, dreams, happiness. It’s not a destination at all but a paved road where we must lay down each stone. Look, I really don’t mean to come off as preachy – things like facing mortality and existential dread bother me deeply as well – but I don’t have a solution for those. The only thing I can do to help myself is to not put off making any decisions and to make the best of each day while ensuring I’m not spinning around in a circle.
If you don’t know what you want from life, it won’t just magically appear to you. You’ll have to try various careers and see what really resonates with you. You might have to temp at some shitty job places to discover you hate them before you find something you love. My reason for living isn’t to work in real estate, but I like my job and it’s a lucrative industry in my city – should I lose my job for whatever reason, I can be relatively confident to find a similar position elsewhere for about the same pay. Maybe I would’ve loved getting out of bed on Monday mornings a little bit more as a psychologist – but there are tradeoffs too. Mine works every Saturday and well into weekday evenings. My M-F, 9 to 5 makes it extremely easy to plan things.
If you’re not sure where your relationship will come from, don’t just sit there hoping it’ll drop into your lap. Go out there and look. Meet new people. Ask people out. Get rejected, get over it, and ask people again. It’ll be harder for some than others to do this, but at least you’ll be making progress – each time, you’ll be better than the last. I look at my married friends, and to them – it’s not about who buys the rounds on a night out but who remembers to pay the mortgage. We no longer ‘ooh and ahh’ over the boyfriend with the best abs, but we are envious of the husband that cleans the house while the wife is stressed due to tax-season. Having a stable career is more important than ‘arms day’ at the gym, but if working out is a hobby, that’s great too.
I get that not everyone thinks like I do. There are plenty of people who are happy and single well into old age, they don’t care about kids and they’re living life for the adventure. Money is not a big deal as long as they just have themselves to worry about. I think it’s great to venture off the beaten path and to create our own version of life. These are also definitely not the people who are complaining about ‘getting old’. After all, their possibilities don’t diminish because they can still make a conscious choice to move to Mexico for 6 months of the year just because. These James Bond types seem positively immortal.
Yet I get the sense that the people who lament over aging are more in line with my ideals. They’re looking at the barrel of a loaded gun and it’s easier to push another in its path. “She’s so old, she has to deal with this before I do.” But that loaded gun comes for us all – me being older than another doesn’t lessen their responsibilities, and it’s a shame to think that somehow their decisions are postponed because of it.
“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”