I turned 26 today. That’s right, I’m officially closer to 30 than 20. Which is horrifying. I feel that I am, much like Britney Spears, at a crossroads. I’m no longer that 22-year-old boy who doesn’t know how to set up a utility bill. But I’m also not yet the 35-year-old man with three gay chihuahuas I know I’m going to end up being. I’m just 26-year-old Connor having a slight panic attack over signing up for health insurance.
Turning 26 hasn’t been easy for me. In fact, I cried myself to sleep last night. I cried because I feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of everything. I feel uncertain about work. I feel uncertain about my interpersonal relationships. Hell, I’m not even certain I have the mental and emotional stability to get through this day without having 1 to 2 mental breakdowns.
Being in your mid-twenties can be, and usually is, uncomfortable and painful. It’s being stuck between who you were, and who you’ll ultimately “be”, with no knowledge of who you currently are.
And instead of enjoying the life I have now, I often reminisce about the life I used to have, or hyper-focus on the one I want to have in the future. I struggle to take action and commit to things and people because I’m unsure if those are the things I should be committing to.
Like, do I date now, or do I wait until my gay peers have aged out of being awful? Do I stick with my current career track or switch before I get in too deep? Do I resign my lease or do I move far away and start over somewhere new and exciting? Do I bleach my hair or do I go back to therapy? Questions I can’t even begin to answer.
I’ve always hated getting older. With every passing birthday, I get a little more anxious because I feel there are new expectations of me I can’t meet. I often think there’s a certain and expected way to be my age, and that I’m not meeting it. So, I double-down on my youthful aesthetic and buy more rompers than any human should. I act overly casual. I act younger because I don’t feel like I meet the criteria to be my actual age. I present younger because I’m not ready to be more than I currently am.
But I’m trying to unlearn all of that. I’m trying to be the best me I can be, 26 or otherwise.
At 26, I know I’m better, or at least more whole, than I used to be. Because I know myself more than I ever have. I have a level of wisdom and self-awareness I didn’t have at 22.
I know now I’m stubborn and often self-interested. I know I self-sabotage so I can have an excuse if things go bad. I know I’m contributing to deforestation with my H&M shopping habits.
But I also know I feel more fulfilled when I try new things that scare me. I know I’m less anxious when I articulate my needs and concerns. I know I’ll recover if a guy treats my heart like I’m a Capri Sun he can’t get open. I know I have people who love me even when I don’t love myself. And that, even when it feels like the world around me is collapsing, it’s not, and I’ll be okay. That part’s the most important.
And, despite the uncertainty, I’ve continued to grow and explore my identity. This past year I went on my first tropical trip. I performed my own standup show, and pierced my ears, and dyed my hair questionable colors.
Yes, I’m getting older, which is scary, but I’m also changing, which is exciting. My current self isn’t some hollow shell of who I used to be, or untapped potential, it’s an amalgamation of all my experiences—good and bad. I’m like whatever version of the iPhone is currently out: better than the previous version, a little buggy, and not as good as whatever is going to come out in 10 months. But I get the job done.
If you’re in your mid-twenties, I think it’s okay to feel like everything is one fire. It’s okay to think you’re fucking everything up. No one can fault you for ugly sobbing on the subway. It’s understandable to want to close your eyes with the hope that when you open them you’ll be that person you feel like you’re supposed to be.
But the truth is, the person you’re supposed to be is just another amalgamation. Who you are now, the decisions you make, the people you surround yourself with, that’s what will inform your future self. If you refuse to engage in the present or choose to live in the past, you’ll never become that person. But also, real talk, that person probably won’t ever exist.
So, maybe just try to do your best today. Treat yourself with kindness. Be grateful you have another day to live—even if it’s with uncertainty. Don’t focus on what your life could be, focus on what it is now. Don’t act like you’re dying before you’ve even given yourself a chance to live.