My birthday is this Sunday. I will be turning 25 years old.
I know 25 isn't old, but that is not my concern. When my dad was 25 he was in medical school that he claims was easy to get in to. When my brother was 25 he was living comfortably and not scraping by like me. When my grandparents were 25 they had a house full of babies and still maintained their impeccable style. When my great grandpa was 25 I'm pretty sure he was already a grandpa. I know one day I'll get to all of these things, but isn't 25 the age where I should at least be on my way?
A week ago I was on my way to JFK to attend my little sister's college graduation ceremony. I sat there, alone with my thoughts; ruminating about how hard New York City is, how whenever people say, "New York is hard" they're really just talking about the transportation system, and about the last three years living here since I had my own graduation ceremony. The train whirred by and in an instant I felt it, that feeling you get when life does not seem comfortable; I am turning Twenty Five. 25. And what have I even done?
What do I mean when I say done? I don't know this answer. If I did, I would be right on my way to doing it. I do know that the minute I turn 25, whatever I do end up doing, will not be as impressive as if I'd already done it at age 24 or below. No one is going to say "Look what she did! And she's only 25!" I will pass this threshold on Sunday.
My sister's graduation was lovely, but seeing her and her friends so full of hope for their futures made me squeamish. They felt that they'd really done an important thing by graduating (I'm sorry, Sister, but college was your time for working at cool places that don't pay you and naps), and rather than bitterly state that they might be as unfulfilled as me one day, I was just jealous that they might actually have their paths figured out and three years down the line they'll be someone I Facebook-friend out of jealousy and voyeurism. I could barely take it.
Luckily, there were tons of 24-year-old siblings attending graduation too. We gathered on the lawn that day while our little brothers and sisters took photographs of each other. They did not know what we knew: that they would quickly stop being friends after a few years. It occurred to us that we must stop complaining and embrace the truth, maybe even comfort ourselves, because being 25 is different now.
If you are 25 or turning 25: It's OK that you have not gone to grad school. It's also OK if you're thinking of going to grad school. And many may not agree with me, but I think it's OK to apply to grad school because you still haven't found a job in this economy.
If you are 25 or turning 25: It is OK to be married and have a baby. Your single friends would have judged you (and did judge you) for doing these things when you were 22 because you were so young or whatever, but you are now in the safe zone at 25. Please, do these things. The majority of 25-year-olds enjoy a good baby now and then.
Also: You don't need to be married or have a baby.
If you are 25 or turning 25: It will be hard to find people to do drugs with you, so find other stuff to do. Happy hour is great because you can get tanked at what is essentially the late afternoon and be in bed by 9 p.m. It is OK to be in bed at 9 p.m. 25 is young, but you should never apologize for sleep because, like I said, your time to nap was three years ago.
If you are 25 or turning 25: TV can be really important to you.
If you are 25 or turning 25: No one wants to hear about your six-month trip backpacking on some other continent where you found yourself. Interesting people talk about hilarious emails they received at work that day.
If you are 25 or turning 25: It's OK to just have a job and not a career. Saving for a house may not be plausible given that you still lack experience, but paying your own bills is something you can do now. Find a job at a company that doesn't underpay you the way yours did at 22.
And on that note: It's OK if you're not doing what you love. But find someone who will let you do it for free on a weekend.
If you are 25 or turning 25: You don't have to own a brownstone in Brooklyn or a condo in Chelsea. But -- and this is just an idea for those of you looking for a career change -- you probably still have the looks and the young-person charm to get your real estate license and see a lot of those condos from the inside and take photos of the view, please.
If you are 25 or turning 25: I hope you're not still dating your college boyfriend or girlfriend. And if you are, congrats! Have a baby, please. No one will judge you for that anymore.
If you are 25 or turning 25: Don't compare yourself to your parents. Things were different for them when they were our age. This is so much easier said that done, but once accepted, life feels a little more comfortable.
And lastly: I have no right to give advice, I only know how it feels to lose your way. I'm not saying things get better, because I have no idea if they will. I just know that when I stood on that lawn and watched the young graduates, I missed my home in New York. I missed my friends and my partner and the Meatball Shop. We can't control the economy or our entry into grad school, but we can laugh with one another and slowly pay off our credit cards.
It was beautifully silly of me to pack my bags and my diploma and come to New York City saying, "Get ready for my greatness, NYC!" At the time, I felt something inside of me that just belonged here. I wish that all of us -- the millions of us -- who moved here saying those exact same words could feel that energy again, and considering I am young, maybe I will feel it in the future. Maybe one day I'll know what it was that I came here for and be happy to know that I found it long ago -- when I made best friends, fell in love, and changed to a job that allowed me to support myself without any help from my parents.
If I had to say that I did anything in the last three years, it was that. I did it. I am lost, but I made it here.
Follow Sarah Shanfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shansar