Turning 20: Growing pains (and gains)

staff note

I used to be that obnoxious girl who always “unintentionally” reminded her friends that her birthday is in a month. I would discreetly insert a reminder into every unrelated conversation — or maybe not so discreetly. When I confessed to a friend that I finally realized this fault of mine, she looked at me and nodded in the same way my mom did when I finally gathered enough courage to tell her about breaking her favorite vase.

Anyway, the point of revealing my obnoxiousness is to highlight how uncharacteristic I was in dealing with my 20th birthday – I dreaded it. When my parents repeatedly brought it up over winter break and asked me how I wanted to celebrate it early with them (which became a tradition after my birthday became a school day in college), I brushed over the topic or simply said that I didn't want to do anything special this year. My mom nodded and said, “You’re finally growing up.” But the truth is: I never dreamed that the first digit of my age would change from 1 to 2. And I’m scared to death by the idea that one day it will also change to 3, to 4, to 5, to 6…

I feel like I’ve been a teenager all my life (and I have been, for, well, half of it). Teenagers can be angsty and can afford to waste a lot of time and energy. They still enjoy being and are unafraid to be very, very emotional. They enjoy many freedoms without having to bear the associated obligations.

But being in your 20s is a different story. People in their 20s can also have fun and have greater access to exploring the world, but they always seem more melancholy, having to get up with a hangover and drag themselves to work. Some still haven’t found a job after graduation and wake up, sweating, from the fear that their bank account has already cleared to zero. Or even worse yet, they hate their job but are afraid to quit it and start from scratch to pursue what they really want to do.

People tell me that I still have plenty of time, but I know that to succeed in any field, I most likely need to start early and act now to take advantage of all the available resources. I’ve already invested thousands of dollars of tuition to build my future.

But time is relentless and doesn’t even spare me one second for my incessant plea, and my 20th birthday came and went. And now my future self, whom I so looked forward to meeting in college, is finally here, banging on my door 24/7 and demanding that I see her. But she seems scarier than I thought from the peephole. And I can’t find my key.

I tried to pack my days with things to do so that I could get the secure feeling that I am working toward something, or so that I could forget to obsess over the question of whether I am working toward something. But the only thing I have figured out for myself is that as an adult, I only have roughly five minutes every time to get upset, stress out or cry before starting to study for the third midterm of the week or running to the sixth meeting of the day. “Take five.” That’s what they mean.

I have also learned about how friends work in the adult world. People drift apart. You could say that it’s because one side messed up or that you found out you have different values, but ultimately, it’s simply because you’re both growing. And apparently growing up separates people. But eventually, people will be okay with drifting apart because they all understand the tacit rule that they can always make new friends in a new place.

A kind, caring mentor told me, “Eva, you are growing up now. What you’re going through, it’s just growing pains.”

Yes, growing pains — anxiety for new responsibilities, fear for consequences of major life decisions and the haunting uncertainty of the future. At least now I have a word for them.

But I can’t help still holding to a lot of things, even if they are childish. I still believe in the colors of sunset, the smiles of passersby, good basketball games and late-night chicken wings with friends. I still believe that one day I’ll meet the people who are destined to never leave my life and one day I’ll make my parents unprecedentedly proud and stand on the stage I’ve dreamed of standing on a million times. I still refuse to be disillusioned.

The night I returned to Durham from winter break, I struck up a conversation with my Uber driver as usual. I told him that I am currently a sophomore at Duke. He told me that he went to Duke in the '90s. I told him that I’m turning 20 in a few days. He told me that 20s will be the best years of my life. At the end of the ride, he suddenly asked me, “Wait, when exactly is your birthday?” I told him the date, with a feeling. The he exclaimed loudly and happily, swerving the wheel a bit, “Oh my God! We have the same birthday! I knew it!”

So now I still believe in fate. And I still believe in the future. Maybe she is not 10 years away from me but only a second away. Maybe, after all, time did decide to be lenient and spare me a second – that precious next second.

Eva Hong is a Trinity sophomore and Recess features editor. 


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