I Thought My Early 20s Were Supposed To Feel Different

When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to be 23.

At 23 years old, I imagined my life would feel like the ending scenes of a coming-of-age film. I would wake up every morning in a chic apartment on the 13th floor of a super tall skyscraper with a lavish view of even taller skyscrapers. I would put on stiletto heels and pink lipstick, just because I had the confidence to, and know exactly how to style my frizzy hair. I would have my dream job and show up to an office every day with a pantsuit, a cup of coffee, and a purpose.

I would have a tight-knit group of friends that I met up with at the same bar every Friday night. I would have somewhere to go and someone to be with every single weekend. Turning 23 years old felt like a lifetime away; there was plenty of time to become the accomplished, assured woman that the quirky, uncertain girl always becomes at the end of the coming-of-age film.

When I turned 23 on March 2nd, 2022, I panicked. I was embarrassed. I wasn’t the badass, stable version of myself that I had crafted in my teenage mind–in fact, she wasn’t even tangible. I still lived in my hometown, across the street from the house that I grew up in my whole life. I still had to buy tubes of acne cream for the pimples that wouldn’t stop popping up on my cheeks and chin. I was still completely defeated by my frizzy hair and unmanageable flyaways. I had no idea how to dress my body and often hid in a men’s oversized t-shirt and yoga pants out of frustration.

I didn’t have my dream job or even know what I wanted to do with my life. I was a college drop-out and had recently decided to re-enroll in classes four years later, basically starting from scratch. Instead of going to bars or clubs on Friday nights, I went on dates with my couch and bad reality television shows. I didn’t always have weekend plans and still had to ask my parents for money from time to time. I didn’t have a degree, a career, a go-to group of friends, or even a basic sense of self.

It felt like someone had paused my film and I was just stuck in this coming-of-age purgatory.

Middle-aged adults always tell you, “Your early 20’s are the best time of your life!” It’s a lot of pressure. Even when I do feel content, I will usually interrupt my own peace to wonder if I’m doing enough or if my younger self would be disappointed in where I am now.

I expected the transition to my 20s to play out in a linear fashion. All of my milestones should have happened in order: go to college, get a degree, get a job, find a spouse, then eventually have children. I wanted it to be structured like a film, with a proper beginning, middle, and end. I wanted 23 to feel how I thought it would feel; how the adults and movies told you it would feel.

In fact, this essay doesn’t even have an ending or conclusion. It is still a work in progress, hovering in the middle, just like me. I am still learning how to accept where I am now, despite that it is not where I thought I would be. I still put so much pressure on myself to be experiencing everything, meeting everyone, and traveling everywhere because that’s what you’re supposed to do in your early 20s. I feel awkwardly misplaced between my peers that are married with children and my peers that haven’t moved out from under their parents’ roof. I still hate the way I look and the sound of my voice. I still feel quirky and uncertain. 

I just turned 23, but sometimes I wish I could just be 18 again.