09/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The State of My Quarter-Life

When I started to collect the state quarters at age 12 in 1999, my parents did not think I would complete the fifty-state quarter collection. They thought that because I was always excited by new trends and ideas, I would lose interest in collecting state quarters much like I had lost interest in caring for the puppy (now an adorably annoying elderly, smelly dog who chronically pees on carpets) that I had begged my parents to get.

However, the years went by and I kept on collecting. I had printed out a list of when each quarter would debut and marked a star for the quarters of states I had lived in or had visited. I bought one of those maps with holes for each quarter and was uncharacteristically judicious about the whole process. When I realized I would be in college for the final years of the collection, my mom comforted me by promising she would maintain the collection. Even my dad agreed to fork over shiny new state quarters without deducting the amount from my allowance. But none of us could really imagine the year that the limited edition state quarter collection would be complete. By 2008, I would be turning 21 and entering my senior year of college.

By the strange power of time that governs our every move, it is 2008 and I am indeed turning 21 this fall. Now my quarter collection is a childhood relic, a silly story I tell when I let down my guard and let my quirky side shine through.

Time has passed and by most measures, I'm an adult (oops, still can't get into bars with a real ID). However, I am also so young and do not see myself as a real person. Instead of fretting over my quarter-life identity, I am embracing the contradictions of young and old and enjoying every step of the adventure. As a tween, I remember cutting a Todd Oldham quotation from a magazine and pasting it onto my collaged school binder. The quote was a simple statement that eight years later, still reflects my style - "Embrace contradiction." The difference is, now I have attended parties all over New York City, including a fancy 21st birthday in an empty office in SoHo that used to belong to Todd Oldham. The contradictions I embrace now deal more with being simultaneously too young and too old and less with being a jock and a fashionista.

I'm too old to follow every step of pop culture, but too young to not care that I am not fully up-to date. "What's the deal with the Jonas brothers?" I asked some friends at a Nationals baseball game earlier this week as we sipped on beers and diet cokes. "Oh thank goodness you don't know either" another friend said. "That we don't know who they are makes me feel really old." Granted, my friend had just gotten back from six months in China, but still, I remember my little cousin talking about these boys that were on the Disney Channel and six months later, they are all over the radio. They seem to have become an overnight sensation while we had our heads buried in books, were in different countries, or were locked up in offices for summer internships. Are they the new Hansen? Does one of them date Miley Cyrus? Is there a difference between Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana? These are the questions that highly-informed Ivy League students are dealing with. Keeping up with Disney Channel news used to be second nature, but now following The Election 2008 and Wall Street is more natural.

I'm young enough to still want to learn how to ride my new skateboard (it is made from sustainably harvested maple), but too old to be embarrassed by the twelve year old boys who whiz down the street on theirs. In fact, I'm considering asking one for some lessons. To my credit, I am not a hella NorCal wannabe, but was inspired to purchase a skateboard when I interviewed the owner of Comet Skateboards for one of my internships and he told me that skateboarding could be the answer to our oil crisis because skateboarding streamlines well with public transportation.

How did I get to this point in my life where I can be deeply passionate about doing all that I can to help the environment, but not mind having scrapes on my knees? At this same point, I can talk about Goldman Sachs, mergers and acquisitions, and companies that are pre-IPO, but still wear bright blue nail polish and parade around proudly in jean shorts that I made myself from an old pair of jeans. I have a BlackBerry, but it has a bright orange cover and is mostly for maintaining my social life. I have friends who are engaged, but I still get giddy before checking a text message from a crush and run in the opposite direction when a boy seems to like me too much.

I gave a boy who liked me too much during high school a chance to play me in tennis earlier this week. I was proud that I still had a killer forehand, but dismayed by the fact that he was balding. He started giving me updates on his friends and one theme ran through all the stories -- wow, we're getting old. When he told me that it has been almost a decade since he was a freshmen in high school, I gasped and hit the ball into the net. Time flies, even when balls don't.

We live in an era where kids grow up faster, but stay young longer. Eight year-olds have cell phones, twelve-year olds party, and twenty-five year-olds still live with their parents because they are unsure about what they want to do. I still feel like I have my entire life ahead of me. I have few ideas about a future career path, but many lofty goals to accomplish. I always wonder when I will stop feeling like I am playing a grown-up and actually will be a grown-up.

I like this age a lot. I still feel young because I have surrounded myself with people with real jobs and real lives who are jealous that I get to go back to school in September. This is my last year of college - the year when people focus too much on what happens after all the fun is over. What happens in the years to come? Now that the quarter collecting is over, what will I use to mark the time? Hopefully, as long as I keep checking the backside of quarters and collecting change off the ground when no one else would bother to pick it up, I can always remain young and remember that life is a lot like collecting quarters: every step makes you more complete and in the end, it went by incredibly fast.