There is a rude awakening when casual conversations and doctor’s office forms probe me with this harmless, fleeting question — “How old are you?” It may seem almost premature to agonize over such a question at the moment — one that will certainly be grieved and avoided with ill-fated denial at a much later age. Coming to terms with the fact that I’ve reached this milestone, I croak out and fumble with this number each time. A residual thought accompanies this inconsequential idea — Oh God, I’m 20. This little horror of mine stays, dissipates and returns when asked again.
The Roaring ‘20s, the legal drinking age and Taylor Swift’s “22”— this unlikely trio personally captures the essence of the number 20, signifying liberating prosperity, dalliances and wild-spiritedness. Steering our truly found independence, us young twenty-somethings shelve our mini-adult accomplishments of driver’s license attainment and high school graduations to explore ever-broadening horizons. The twenties are supposedly the peak golden era of human life. Growing into this glorified number, however, must be approached with skepticism before blindly bounding in. What we consider to be golden may be revealed to have been gilded all along.
The foremost ideation of what constitutes our twenties is a financial one. There are the perks — savoring our newfound careers grown with passion and tenacity spent at the University. There might be some accomplishment when we begin to deal with the financial jargon we associated with “grown-up” life as children. Maybe there is an unknown thrill that comes with house-hunting and credit scores.
However, increasing risk and uncertainty come with burgeoning choices. Investments and decisions must be made through savings, loans, retirement funds and stock portfolios amidst a fluctuating job market. A want for perpetual success and self-advancement will firmly take root and result in a burning desire for a stable economy — one untouched by Wall Street experimentation and pandemics. However, recent crises such as the Great Recession and COVID-19 have lectured us otherwise, revealing a fragile economy whose strings are being pulled by big banks and conglomerates. Finances could be the downfall of our character, leading to either blinding greed or eternal bitterness.
Most of us have already faced the brunt of an invasive, financialized world or have already been anticipating this burden. What I’m becoming more wary of are the problems that are less blatant, the ones regarding the identities we take in a much bigger world. The bright-eyed, glamorous personas we’ve carefully assembled through our social media accounts and relationships cannot discount the identities that cannot be changed as easily — particularly gender and ethnicity.
Whatever barriers of innocence and self-confidence we’ve built for ourselves in our youth will crumble as we fight for survival and dignity in our waking days. Vestiges of sexism and racism continue to lurk everywhere. We may have to prove our self-worth through work performance to make up for the fact that we are less privileged. We may continue to face backhanded comments and microaggressions by both friendly and authoritative figures. We may have to wearily return to our homes at night with our state of humanness battered and bruised.
For women, it’s not a matter of if they will be criticized, but the reasons why they will be criticized — will we be condemned for being a woman who has too much power or for falling short of becoming an “ideal” one? Will we continue to see horrific acts of crime toward minority groups, or will we finally be able to celebrate over the creation of a just and equitable society? Is the latter just a pipe dream?
These musings knot themselves into a universal feeling that I fear will come with aging — the indifference we have in the world we inhabit and the more pronounced roles we play in it, whether they be financial or identity-related. Mellowness is both a blessing and a curse, a sign of emotional growth, as we are less subject to our once-adolescent, hormonal outbursts. It could be a sign of our newfound wisdom or robustness associated with full-fledged adulthood.
Unfortunately, it is an undeniable fact that our lives will be filled with mundanities. This long era where our days will seem predetermined and staged is a predictable fate that we will ironically deem beyond our control. Maturity brings a dimension of harsh, tradition-centered reality that has the potential to trample our affinity for change and novelty. I fear that we may have to make moral compromises or even grow immune to the way our actions indirectly impact those around us. We the young people, the unwavering voice for a better humanity, will fall victim to mundanity — all muffled and drowned out.
Despite clouding our minds with unnerving cynicism, it is best that we give our twenties the benefit of the doubt. Answering the philosophical meaning in life — through a combination of shortcomings and accomplishments — is the sole purpose of these irradiated, sought-after years. We are the protagonists of our own coming-of-age novel — our choices and chance encounters will never result in us taking a step backwards, but always forwards. So long as we weather through our individualized set of aforementioned obstacles will we be able to emerge truly golden.
Our twenties can be represented as a tug-of-war between boozed, indulgent freedom and personal growth. We are simultaneously wandering, seeking what’s best for ourselves and others, writing last-minute papers, scouring the internet and being a bit fearful for our futures. Perhaps Taylor Swift was right — we are happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time and in the best way.
Sarah Kim is a Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org