25 *BLEEPING* Terrifies Me

It is official. I, Casey Marie Brown, am 25 years old. I have lived a quarter of a century. Wow, the time flies, doesn’t it?!

Among the very heartfelt messages I received from friends and family on the big day, one stuck out to me. My best friend Emily said, “Don’t be scared of 25—I know it’s going to be a great one for you!” She didn’t just say this to be the supportive friend she is; she knew that this birthday was weighing heavily on me.

The truth is, for the last couple of months, the thought of turning 25 absolutely terrified me.

Birthdays always have a way for stirring up strong feelings for us. Maybe it’s because as we get older, it’s a day where we can specifically reflect on our lives and what we’re accomplished over time. Maybe it’s because as human beings, not only are we aware of our mortality, but we’re masochistic enough to commemorate that fact with a special day each year (or perhaps it’s that we’re just that self-congratulatory).  Whatever the reason, at least there’s cake involved.

25 isn’t the first birthday that has elicited a strong reaction for me, but this year felt different. 25 is such a sturdy, square number for us. 25. A quarter of a century. The middle of your 20s. As the first major birthday after many people graduate college, it’s a checkpoint for how we’re progressing in our first decade of adulthood.

This year has thrown me for a loop, as I have rehashed before on my blog. I quit the industry that I thought would be my lifelong livelihood. I moved home, living pretty harmoniously with my parents for almost six months. I applied to get my MFA in creative writing, facing off with the abnormally high odds (only about 1-5% of applicants get in every year) to find a new professional direction from my writing passion, and I pass the days waiting for those grad school decisions with a repetitive schedule of working in retail, going to the gym and running by the library to get more books to read. Oh, and Netflix. Lots and lots of Netflix.

My life as of now is by no means conventional, nor does it look like the life I imagined I’d have at 25 when I graduated from college nearly three years ago. I had visions of a  fulfilling job, adulty apartment that I decorated like a Pinterest pin, and perhaps even a boyfriend. I knew being in my twenties would have its challenges and setbacks, but I assumed my life would generally be marked by positive achievement. However, as I joked with my best friend Madison, my current accomplishments of running 3.1 miles in 31 minutes and marathoning the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise in record time were not enough to get my nominated for Elon’s Top 10 under 10 Alumni Award. *shakes fist at sky* DARN!

In all seriousness, I’ve always put pressure on myself to be a certain kind of person by now. Thinking of 25 over the last couple of months, I’ve had one question rolling around in my mind: “What do I have to show for the last 25 years of my life?” Even now, as I’ve worked hard to get myself back to a healthy mental space, I still catch myself thinking like that. To that nagging little voice in my head, it’s like age 25 is a deadline. “You’ve reach 25. How much have you gotten done?”

It makes sense, looking at the way our society handles age and success. We revere those who reach major achievements at a young age. Yes, we do take the time celebrate the oldest living people (and ask them how the heck they beat the odds and added years to their life), but more often, we celebrate people who achieve something noteworthy early in their adulthood, to a point that all of us believe that somehow, success is sweeter when it happens when you’re young. The influence of social media has seemed to perpetuate this phenomenon; we can watch people, in real time, find and revel in early-life success.

But it was more than just professional success. It’s having the full package, the beautiful, balanced life. Over the last couple years, I’ve seen (yes, mainly through social media) friends and acquaintances move to new cities, have grand adventures, fall in love and even get engaged. My mom continually reminded me that people probably thought the same thing when they looked at my Instagram—working on a TV show, sunsets at the Santa Monica Pier, trips to Disneyland—but all the while, I felt more and more distance slip between me and my peers. I knew I was unhappy and lonely and stagnant in my life, and as I inched towards 25, my fears about “falling behind” become more prominent.

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Dr. Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade, which addressed all of my anxieties about my age and milestones. Her book focuses on the twenty-something, and how our misconceptions on what our 20s means could hurt us as we move through them. Dr. Jay talks about her clients who came in to their sessions with her upset and confused, feeling like their 20s were supposed to be this fun, adventurous, carefree time to find themselves.  I was surprised to read the words of her clients’ qualms about their lives, seeing a reflection of my own misgivings about my life I had expressed to my family and friends in recent months. My brain was screaming: “Hey! Hey! I’ve said that! That’s just like me!”

Dr. Jay told her clients (and her readers) that your 20s aren’t really a time to just slack off and have fun. But on the other hand, you can’t put too much pressure on yourself to succeed too young. Dr. Jay argues that your 20s is all about setting the right foundation for the rest of your life, both personally and professionally. She says you need to take your life and your goals seriously, because it’s hard to get others to take you seriously if you’re just starting to get it together in your 30s.

This both reassured and invigorated me. Yes, working in retail and living at home still make me scared that I am regressing and won’t succeed and will be a spinster for the rest of my life, but I have made positive moves in my life, too. Getting out of LA and applying for grad school were two acts of taking my professional writing goals seriously. I’m training for a 5k, which not only contributes to my fitness goals, but gives me something productive to work towards. At the new year, I started a weekly gratitude journal as reminder of the good things I have in my life. I’ve moved out of an unproductive chapter of my life and slowly started to build towards a new one.

Change takes time. Sometimes, even I forget that. But then I remember how hard it was to start ClassPass and get my butt to the gym every day. Now, daily exercise is as natural to my routine as brushing my teeth or showering. There were some parts of Dr. Jay’s book that terrified me (one of her last chapters was about life timelines; trying to plan out years in the future is the quickest way for me to spiral into an inconsolable panic), but for the most part, she made me think about the ways I can make my 20s more productive and fruitful, as I enter into the back-half of the decade.

I’m about two weeks into being 25, and I’m taking it in stride. I’ve added daily yoga to counteract the stiffness in my muscles from running and strength training. I’ve started to carve an hour into each day purely for writing, trying to take myself seriously as a writer, even when doubt eats at me. I’m making attainable little goals for the year—finish the Star Wars 5k in under 30 minutes, get better at keeping in touch with friends, visit New Orleans—to keep myself in the mindset of moving forward without being overwhelmed by the big picture.

Entering the latter end of life’s second third decade can be uncomfortable and scary, as our lives really start to cement into a concrete path and we start to see the ways our path differs from those whose paths were, at one point, running on a parallel track. And I’m not saying that reading The Defining Decade or reflecting on my life has made me any less afraid of where my life is taking me. The important takeaway of this birthday is that I’m the one driving this ship, and it’s time to take a more active role in my destiny (ugh, that sounded corny, but you get the picture, right?)

So, with all that being said: Bring it on, Year 26! I’m ready… as I’ll ever be.

Until Next Time,
Casey Brown // Gal about Town

Photo via Flickr user lokate366 // CC BY-SA 2.0

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