04/30/2013 11:43 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2013

On Being 22

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On my twelfth birthday, I remember expressing my eagerness for the next ten years to pass so that my age would, once again, be a palindrome (12 just didn't have the same ring to it as 11). That was the first and last time I've ever been excited to be 22.

I graduated from college in May and moved to the (big, bad) city soon after. In the months since graduation, I have been trying to figure out who I am as a person, graduate, city-dweller and friend. But my process of self-exploration has failed to turn up many concrete answers. This, I've realized, is because 22 is the age of in-betweens -- in between adolescence and adulthood, in between relationships, in between this job and that career -- and it's nearly impossible to know who you are when you are still "becoming."

Unfortunately, not everyone sympathizes with this dilemma. At 22, we are often expected to play both sides of the divide. We are expected to be adults -- to have our professional lives figured out, know the salad fork from the dinner fork, keep track of our finances, manage our healthcare, and so on. On the other hand, we are expected to have the stamina and, to some extent, to maintain the lifestyles of our 18-year-old counterparts. How can we possibly fulfill all of these expectations? The answer, simply, is that we cannot. So, do we have to decide concretely between these two sides? Some people would say yes, a 22-year-old can be either a fully-mature adult or a beer-swilling reprobate whose personal growth halted at graduation. But this can't be true -- at least, I refuse to accept it. There has to be something special, unique, definitional about us in-betweeners.

Perhaps it is the very fact of being in-between. So much of the world is open to us, and while we navigate the course of our own personal change, we are plugged in to the growth plates of society. We've heard it before -- Obama's emphasis on it helped him secure office twice -- but we are the engine of change. Unfortunately, this notion has become a cliché, and its deep importance is readily overlooked.

In school, we learn about the historical and social trends that delivered us to the present. This paradigm of study tends to obscure the continuity of these developments by suggesting that we've made it to the future and every change up to this point has been leading to this culminating moment. We have been taught to uphold the status quo because we have been taught to ignore the flux in which even modern society inheres.

So, let's embrace this. Let's remember that the world is changing with us and because of us. Recognition of this might help to mitigate the competing pressures to cling to youth and to "just grow up already!" We don't have to mirror our parents' generation -- nor should we try to!

This broad analysis of our societal role may not seem to offer any reassurance about the day-to-day struggles of 22-year-old life. But, it should. My friend, Chloe Sarbib, put it well when she said that life at our age can feel like we're "falling through space-time." Remembering that the world itself is undergoing a constant process of maturation can give us something to grab on to in this freefall.

So, talk about it, text about it, tweet about it. We shouldn't be ashamed of being in-between -- in fact, we should tout it. And the more open we are about our own processes of development, the more we can carve out a unique role for ourselves and help to direct the development of our society at large. Because, remember, the world is perennially a 22-year-old.