Lately, when people have asked me my age, I find myself stumbling for the words and awe-struck by the reality, every time. Don’t get me wrong — age has always seemed fairly arbitrary to me. Without question, the number of years we’ve lived characterize who we are far less than the number of challenges we’ve overcome, the number of lives we’ve touched, and deep belly laughs we’ve shared with loved ones. Growth in character absolutely surpasses growth in age.
Yet while I still stand by all this, I can’t help but feel that embarking on my twenties is a little bit different than ages prior. It feels a little less arbitrary, a little more weighty. Eighteen brought with it my technical initiation into adulthood but twenty-one feels like the real deal. I can no longer justify blaming my faults and insufficiencies on my age. It has sufficiently escaped its scapegoat relegation. No more “she’s just a teenager”. I’ve lived long enough to know the difference between right and wrong, in, at the very least, the way in which I’ve defined them for myself. Whether or not I’m ready to take responsibility for the person I’m becoming, corner-creeping adulthood has officially crept.
I see my early twenties as the sweet spot between reflection and planning ahead. It feels like an ideal place for deeply intentional self-development. It’s the mid-point between zero – the very beginning of it all – and forty – an age associated with having things figured out (although, the older I get, the more I’m realizing that you never really figure it out – you just get more adept at navigating the ambiguities and understanding the unexpectedness of it all). It’s taken a lot of stumbling and growing, learning and exploring to make it to this point, and I think it’s time to take advantage of the exciting and terrifying malleability that makes me human.
Caveat: It’s important to remember that we’re human beings and not human becomings. But it would be unwise to pass up opportunities for self-growth, especially the kind that allows us to be our best selves and in turn enables us to put forth our best efforts, for others and for all that extends beyond the self.
So, I’ve been analyzing myself closely, monitoring my habits and differentiating between the ones that are conducive to who I want to be and those that don’t quite make the cut. Whether it’s apparent or not, we are a product of our habits. What I do or don’t do each day quickly translates into who I am or who I am not. And while all dichotomies are false this can still make the difference between leading a healthy life or an unhealthy one, a compassionate life or an uncompassionate one, and, dare I say it, perhaps a fulfilling life or an unfulfilling one. The habits and behaviors I nurture today will shape me into the adult I’m already so quickly becoming.
I know, I know, I’m still young. But in similar truth to it never being too late, it’s really never too early. After all, if I’ve learned anything as of yet it’s that this dance of life and living is a process above all else. You can’t snap your fingers and become the person you’ve always dreamt of being. Rather, from my understanding, it takes time, conscious effort, and grueling commitment. But it’s the best gift we can give to what I like to call the “future self”.
You know when it’s time to wash your dishes and you don’t want to do it at that precise moment? Putting it off until later would be rewarding your “present self”, and doing them right away would be a gift to your “future self”. The same goes for eating the cookies instead of the broccoli, or going to bed without brushing your teeth because you’re too tired now. If you spend all your time gifting the future self, it’s difficult to enjoy living the life you’re living today, even just in the simplest of moments. And, unsurprisingly, the opposite is true – caving into the wants of the now can make life difficult for yourself later on.
Hardest of the two for most of us seems to be gifting the future self, mainly because it requires robbing our present selves of a little bit of time and joy. Psychologically, we prefer having things now as opposed to having them later. That goes for time, joy, and leisure, among much else. It’s what lies at the core of why we procrastinate, why most people never actually do their physiotherapy exercises, why so many people never use their gym memberships more than twice, and why you haven’t followed through on calling your grandpa in weeks. On the flip side, fewer but surely some nonetheless struggle with the opposite dilemma — spending too much time making life easier for the future self and denying the present self of its right to enjoy the moment.
Needless to say, there exists a fine line between knowing when it makes sense to cut yourself some slack and when it doesn’t. And right now feels like the best time to get to know this line and its intricacies intimately, where it curves, where it frays and where it’s drawn inside of.
It seems to me like leading a fulfilling life requires a balance between the two. I’m not sure that the solution requires a priority of one over the other. We’re so often fed a polarizing narrative – “live in the moment!” or “plan for your future!” but perhaps what we need most is to find the sweet, sweet middle ground between the two. And to do so requires developing habits that nurture us in that direction – habits that I feel compelled to commit to fostering now in my twenties, even when doing so means depriving my present self of a little bit of leisure.
On my list? Things like prioritizing self-care, erring on the side of kindness, practicing healthier sleep routines, eating more nutritious foods, flossing more, being more consistently punctual for others and for myself, and weening myself off of refined sugars and caffeine gradually over the next few months, among others. They’re simple, far from extraordinary, and anything but new. But since reaching my twenties I’ve been approaching them with newly-found vociferous passion and drive.
Like most things, this whole lifestyle I’m speaking of — from the deliberate habit-development to the translation of reflection into action — is far easier said than done. That’s admittedly why it took being in a confined airplane without internet connection for me to finally write this blog post. But I’m twenty-one now and more than ever before, I’m working on it. And it’s exciting.