According to a new poll sponsored by Pfizer, the average American has the best summer of his or her entire life at the tender age of 23.8. Pfizer came to the statistic after polling more than 1,000 people, 18 and older, and asking when they reached various life milestones. (If you're curious, you can expect to croak at 84). I heard this bit of news on the radio in late June while barreling down the highway in my rusted junker of a car, the steering wheel shaking in my hands as the speedometer approached 65 miles per hour.
Hmmm, I thought. I'm 24.3. That meant the best summer of my life was on the horizon, and I was ill prepared. June was nearly over and what did I have to show for it? A cluster of pesky mosquito bites on my ankles, a peeling sunburn on my left shoulder, and the frustratingly catchy chorus of "Call Me Maybe" looping in my head.
I regretted letting last summer slip away, as I worked my first full-time job and struggled with a 90-minute commute. So that evening, I feverishly made a summer bucket list: join a softball league, attend more concerts, wile away evenings in Chicago's charming beer gardens, enjoy Lake Michigan's beaches, spend a weekend camping at Starved Rock State Park. I would suck the marrow out of this summer and spit it out in the face of anyone who tried to stop me.
That lasted about a week. I sprained two fingers in a rogue softball injury, I could only withstand the heat at the beach for one hour, and Lollapalooza left me exhausted, muddy and yelling at strangers in the street for stomping on my flip-flop. Actively chasing the best summer of your life is like New Year's Eve. You put so much pressure on yourself to have a good time that it can never live up to your expectations.
It's easy to see why the poll respondents chose 24. You're young, presumably healthy, and -- at least in past decades -- financially independent. Yet for this generation, at 24, many of us have yet to be tied down by adult responsibilities: spouses, mortgages, a pet, or even a houseplant. On the one hand, less responsibility could equate with a better summer. But if you're working a menial job, slaving away at an unpaid internship, and/or making minimum wage, the "best summer of your life" bit falls flat.
It can seem like a race to achieve everything you want to according to someone else's time frame: master's degree by 26, married by 28, homeowner by 30. That's the problem with these arbitrary life milestones; they force you to compare your path to those around you. You worry if you're on track with your peers, and thanks to social media, you're bombarded with a steady stream of reminders every time you log in.
In your twenties, it's not about keeping up with the Joneses; it's keeping up with that friend from college who just completed her doctorate's degree, your roommate who just finished her first marathon, or your umpteenth friend from high school who's engaged. But trying to match strides with your friends -- or meet some arbitrary deadline set by society -- is an exercise in frivolity. As Theodore Roosevelt aptly said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."
And so, because I believe life is a series of peaks and valleys, I am rejecting the notion of one greatest summer. I have some pretty good summers behind me: when I was seven and I lost my first tooth in the Grand Canyon, when I was 16 and equipped with a driver's license, and when I was 20 and fell in love for the first time.
But I'm also going to have some damned exciting ones in the future -- and I'll let them unfold naturally. I can't wait for my first summer as a homeowner, as a dog-owner, as a robotic butler-owner, as an aunt, as a mother. 24.3 was fun but certainly not my best.
I plan to spend the remainder of the "best summer of my life" doing what I normally do: laughing with my close band of friends, actively avoiding humidity and crowds, and reading in the park. Frankly, I couldn't be happier about it.
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