By Freeha Anjum, January 22 2024—
Nobody prepared me for turning 20.
Maybe that sounds stupid because 20 shouldn’t be a big jump from 19. I’m still in the same school, around the same friends and in the same house — so why did it feel so bad to enter a new decade?
I spent the last week of my “teenage years” studying for a physiology final. I didn’t really care until it was 11 p.m. the day before my 20th birthday, and then it hit me: oh my god, my childhood is ending. I immediately searched “what to do before turning 20” because I felt like sitting on my floor watching TikToks wasn’t the play. I stressed out so much that I spent the last hour simply thinking about what I could do, but not actually doing any of it.
Everyone warned me when I was younger that I should “enjoy my youth” and it would make me so upset to hear, because why wouldn’t anyone want to get older? Doesn’t it come with more freedom? More wisdom? More friendships? More security in who you are? But all of a sudden, I find myself telling kids the exact same thing.
Don’t get me wrong: I know 20 is still very young. We have practically our whole lives ahead of us, and when we hit 30 we’ll feel like fools for being upset about a mere 20. But entering your 20s still feels daunting, as if there are a lot of expectations that I can’t meet.
So the second I turned 20, all I could feel was despair. It was a weird mix of thinking I hadn’t accomplished as much as I wanted, that I should be more mature than I am, and that I had to start facing the “real world.” At the same time, growing older brought a lot of attention to the fact that my undergraduate degree was almost over— and all of a sudden, that felt absolutely terrible.
I’ve always been excited to finish my degree, obviously. But now that it’s creeping to the end, I desperately want to stop time. I don’t know what I want to do when I graduate, and without the structure of school, I don’t know if I can trust myself to accomplish my goals. Also — how do people make friends when they aren’t in school?
I have yet to meet someone in their 20s who has their life figured out. It’s scary to know that I’ve now entered the decade where most people float between jobs and school, move away to new places, lose friends and relationships, and overall feel lost in their life trajectory. It’s strange to think that I spent years being excited to move away and start a new life, but now I’m so fearful of it.
It feels like I need to figure out my life so fast. I always thought that by the time I turned 20, I would know what my general career goals would be and I’d have a plan in place for the future. Wishful thinking, I know.
However, I also know I’m being a bit of a pessimist. After all, people do say that your 20s are the best years of your life. Not being tied down to a certain city or job might be exciting, and maybe getting out of the same school routine will feel liberating.
The uncertainty of the future is incredibly overwhelming and with each passing year, it feels like we need to grow up faster and faster. As much as I wish I could stop time, I know I can’t. So the only option is to enjoy every moment I have this decade and do my best to figure life out — just like everyone else.
This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.