I am never one to celebrate birthdays — cakes, candles, gifts, presents, even an annual self reflection are a rarity. The way I celebrate my birthday has evolved from bringing cakes back in pre-school, to lunch treats during school years, and now a flurry of LINE stickers in my family’s group chat and short Instagram direct messages from my friends. There would be the occasional long cheesy post by the husband (then boyfriend), or sometimes the sweet messages from closest friends.
This year, however, was different.
For heaven knows what reason, since the beginning of this year I have been feeling very… contemplative. Very aware that my birthday was coming in a month’s time, and that it would be my twenty-fifth. I didn’t know why, but I just dreaded it so. No, it’s not because I’m a year closer to dying (because everyday when we wake up we’re one day closer to dying?) nor is it because I feel old — it’s just, like, if I can evade it, I would.
Consoling me like a good husband that he is, Andhika said the magic words: oh, it’s just your quarter-life crisis.
Okay, first of all, bold of people to assume that we’d all live to 100 years old (Cahya, get off twitter!).
Second of all, oh.
It first began as a simple realization that being twenty-five is not-so-young anymore. Twenty-five is that age when the world internationally recognizes you as a full-fledged adult: youth railcards in Europe ends at twenty-five, many of the youth competitions and conferences set twenty-five as the age limit, and no more $5 off for your museum admission ticket because hey! you’re not young anymore!
If the world could, it would send me a letter that says “Congratulations, you’ve passed your probation on becoming an adult,” magically delivered to my bedside table to be opened at 00.00 on my birthday. (It can be helpful if it can then send me a list of things I need to do as a full-fledged adult, starting with once-and-for-all clear instructions on how to do my taxes because taxes).
This realization then started to grow into fear and insecurity. You’re twenty-five now, my brain said, so you better get your shit together. I began comparing: the up-and-coming Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (and many of the new wave of Indonesia’s hopeful/would-be legislators) is just four years older, many of the world’s innovative companies were built by their founders at my age, and so many others create a positive impact in the society by creating grassroot organizations, write eloquently on a cause of their choosing, voicing out injustice and the likes. Malala Yousafzai is twenty-one and a Nobel laureate (although to be fair, you can’t expect everyone to be a Malala). These people seeped through my brain and got me thinking: what have I achieved?
Turning twenty-five felt to me like a pit stop for me to decide whether I want to live the rest of my life as an ass-kicking, rocking person or as a passable, but nonetheless happy person. I spent my childhood till my university years thinking I would be…something, someone memorable. Forged by the reality of life and having traded views with people of different backgrounds, I have now realized that really, most of us will most likely be passable and mediocre — but by no means is it wrong, nor sad.
I guess I can attribute this to having matured, coming to terms that there’s so much more in life than having your name printed in the newspaper or a certificate, winning an award or being associated with superlatives.
As someone who has spent most of my life pegging my self-esteem and achievement on how young I am, it’s pretty shocking to lose this predicate. My life was full of being “the youngest” — two years younger than my peers, the youngest person in my class of 2010, the youngest graduate, the youngest employee in my first workplace, the youngest employee in my current workplace, the youngest person to be interviewed by this panel of directors I got them asking “I’m sorry but you’re 19, what the hell are you doing here working?”. Now I’ve run out of titles to be grabbed — there’s no pride and no such thing as the youngest person in this apartment block? There’s a bit of panic and stress seeing waves of new recruits at work being born in 1996. (Okay, that sounded more stupid in writing)
All of a sudden, I felt worthless and less significant compared to my glory days a few years back.
It took me a few weeks of self reflection (and frantic texts to friends — you know who you are) on what it means to grow older, what (or more precisely, whether) specific metrics measure one’s success in life, what makes me happy and such to be at peace with myself again. At the end of the day, there are no wise words to part or mindblowing revelations to make — it is just what it is. People grow old, you grow old and there’s nothing you can do about it but accept it. Embrace it. As a wise friend said, self-acceptance matters.
If I had to re-do my life all over again, perhaps I would whisper to my younger self to stop obsessing over age-based life targets and pegging your self-esteem to how young and achieving you are. Age shouldn’t define you and most definitely shouldn’t limit you on what you believe you can achieve.
Having this conversation in my head, I can’t help but mockingly jeer to myself that all this is just a sorry excuse for being mediocre and not living up to my high school dream of being “someone big”. To her I say: yeah and so what! So what if I fail or if I didn’t win a national prize by the age twenty-five — it shouldn’t, doesn’t and wouldn’t deter me to keep trying anyway.
Twenty-five is just a big, massive boulder on the road called life. And I’m not just going to make a u-turn or shrug as I find a way around it; I’m going to climb it and jump over it gleefully.
Happy twenty-five, me.