On Turning 21

On January 1st I allegedly turned 21, but I don't think that's right. If think I go to bed now I'll actually wake up in 2020 and I will have just turned 18, before the pandemic was in full swing, and I'll actually get to properly live out my first three years of adulthood the way people say you should.

But no, I'm 21, and I can't help but feel that Covid has left me perpetually feeling years younger than I actually am. Accidentally saying I'm 18 or 19 when people ask for my age is a regular occurrence, and often leaves bartenders raising an eyebrow to determine if my ID is fake and that I blew my cover story. Thankfully I haven't been denied yet.

What's even happened in the last three years? I'm being dramatic, obviously lots of truly wonderful things have happened, including great memories with friends, over half of my degree (terrifying), and the best of all: cat motherhood. But something feels so wrong about not fitting that cookie cutter mould of your late teens and start of your 20s. I had a whopping two night outs/club experiences before Covid hit, one of which was for my 18th, and maybe a few more at uni since? No A-levels (not that I'm really complaining about that one), no subsequent A-level results day night out, no prom, no freshers, a brief experience of hall living before it became too expensive with not being able to work, and no normal tutorials or lectures for the first two years of my degree (three technically, but that's the fault of my year abroad and not the pandemic), and I still haven't met a large portion of my very small degree cohort. Do others feel this way? Is it silly to want to conform to the "normal" university student and early 20s life so badly?

I suppose I could dedicate this post to complaining about missing out on a common nostalgia that I cannot share with those older or younger than me, but instead I think I will dedicate it to sharing some advice with a few things I have learned in my first years of adulthood (which have actually been really good, I'm just a drama queen).

1. You aren't an adult at 18.

Of course you do become an adult legally at 18, but I remember in the days before turning 18 how excited I was for this new chapter in my life to begin. This wasn't entirely incorrect, 18 year old me did face some new life experiences, with going to university being the biggest. But even with these experiences, there isn't some feeling of being a "proper adult" that suddenly goes with them. And realistically speaking, by 18 you have probably already worked a job, have had some level of independence, smoked, drank, and done other things that would distress your mother (but it's totally normal if you didn't either!) so it's not like there's masses of new experiences waiting for you at 18. 

Emotionally, you most certainly aren't an adult either. I'm not going to suggest I've reached some state of higher emotional-understanding, but I can see the differences in how I handle emotional situations now versus three years ago. 18 year old me was certainly hot-headed, and long are the days of vague-tweeting and group chat arguments. You learn to pick your battles - and this is a good thing! I'm sure I will make a similar post in the years to come about how "you aren't an adult at 21, you really aren't", but for now at least, the differences between turning 18 and turning 21 have been far more noticeable.

2. You will have done things you regret.

I think your late teens and start of your 20s are a really pivotal time of looking back at previous life experiences and well, cringing a bit. As your levels of maturity, impulsiveness, and so much more change, you aren't going to agree with everything you have done, said, or thought. There will be arguments that weren't worthwhile, people you shouldn't have trusted so easily, and times where you should have just walked away. Forgive yourself, learn from it, and try not to lose any more sleep over it.

3. People outgrow people and you can't control that.

Friendships aren't always going to last, and the transition from sixth form or college to university really proves that. You're finding yourself, and so are others. While losing a friendship may have been more dramatic in your early teens, by your 20s you realise it's just one of those things that happens. For example, of the many friends you make during freshers, only a few will keep going. Plans will be pushed-back, group chats will go quiet and messages will be left unresponded to. These relationships may simply drift apart, and no-one is to blame! While some may be a bit awkward than others and result in uneasy half-smiles on the street, for the most part changing relationships is a comfortable process. It is what it is, and isn't necessarily a reflection of your character or your ability to make and maintain friends. 

4. Keep doing what makes you happy.

If something makes you happy, it absolutely does not matter what others say. I've been made fun of for having a blog a good few times now, as apparently it's "cringe" and nobody reads them anymore (I beg to differ but that's beside the point). If I had been writing this blog at 16 and had received the same ridicule then, I most certainly would have deleted it in an embarrassed red-faced huff. Our teenage years are shrouded in cringe-culture and a fear of being made fun of. As you get older you realise it really doesn't f-cking matter. Watch that kids show, wear that "cheugy" outfit (or whatever the teenagers say), cut your bangs. The only opinion about yourself that matters is yours. And if someone gets to their 20s and is still genuinely judging others for meaningless things then that's cringier than anything you could possibly be doing.

5. Take politics seriously.

I firmly believe it's a real sign of privilege to not worry about politics or the views of the people you surround yourself with. If you haven't voted, you need to. If you are friends with someone who's views harm other people *cough-tories-cough*, seriously consider if that's the kind of person you want to associate yourself with. You are finally at the age where you can use your voice and influence the world around you, make sure you don't waste it.

6. Skeletons will fall out the closet.

Probably the darkest bit of advice on here, but your early 20s is the time where traumas can come to the surface. I can't give you the actual sciency explanation, but as you get older and more mature your brain decides you can start to deal with the harder things you've faced. You may realise something you went through wasn't right, or remember something entirely new from your childhood. I hope it doesn't happen to you, but it might. If it does, having someone you can confide in really helps. Don't bottle it up, and give yourself time to work through it, preferably with professional help for those heavier experiences.

7. Abandon your perfectionism.

It feels a bit silly writing this one, as I've started the post complaining about how I didn't get that "perfect" start to adulthood. But I am aware of the importance of abandoning perfectionism, even if I don't adhere to it it all the time. Your life will be full of messy moments. Sometimes you'll fail an exam, not get the job, not be living with a perfect routine or polished identity. All of that is okay, all of that makes you an actual person. Nobody is living a perfect life and accepting that sometimes things will go wrong or not work out is a hell of a lot more comfortable than trying to pretend you have everything together all of the time.

8. Get a cat.

Get a cat.

9. You will appreciate things more.

Although I don't think most teenagers are overly selfish, I do think it's normal to at least be a bit selfish at that age, even if just at a subconscious level. When entering adulthood you certainly get a new appreciation for what you had, have, and what others have too. You will probably miss school more than you thought you would, the hometown you couldn't wait to get out of will have a new beauty you didn't notice while you were living there. Practicing gratitude and mindfulness has become a very consumerist idea at the moment, with a billion different journals to buy and apps with expensive payment plans. The good news is you get a little bit of gratitude and mindfulness for free just by growing up - keep nurturing it as much as you can. 

10. *Try* to live in the present.

Another hypocritical piece of advice, but being present and living in the moment really is important. I spent my mid-teens focussing entirely on turning 18. I then spent my late teens looking forward to being in my 20s. I now frequently find myself spending more time thinking about the future, about graduating, living by myself, getting a masters degree, starting a job. I think planning for the future is a good thing, but I'm aware of the dangers of getting lost in it (despite still being very guilty of doing it now). People talk about how much you'll miss your 20s when they're over. I have 8 and a bit more years of them, and certainly don't want to look back and realise all I did was live for the future. 

I wonder if any of this advice will be even more relevant in the years to come, I reckon it will, and that I'll be able to add more to this list as the years go by. Maybe I'll make this a yearly thing? We'll have to see!

Take care and see you in the next post x


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