At age 20, I am eight years older than Tavi Gevinson was when her fashion blogging began receiving national attention. I am four years older than Taylor Swift was when her debut album was released. I am halfway through my college career and nowhere near making a Forbes 30 under 30 list, as Gevinson did at age 14 and 15, or dating Harry Styles, like Swift did in late 2012. But even compared to my friends, classmates, and the mere mortals that I know in real life, at age 20 I am struggling not to feel under-accomplished, untalented, and aggressively ordinary.
At 20, I am also two years older than most of the Class of 2018. Driven by voyeuristic urges and a desire to get as much free stuff out of this university as possible, my roommates and I wandered the quads on move-in day. Seeing the panicked first-years and their overwhelmed parents, I was immediately transported back two years to the paralyzing fear of my own O-Week that carried over into much of my first year. And then, after obtaining plenty of free pens and water bottles, I left, dogged by the realization that I was officially a third-year, and feeling very old for someone only a quarter of the way through her life.
This is a maddeningly easy trap to fall into. Everyone loves a wunderkind, and I suspect that, as students at this university, many of us grew up as “gifted” children, believing that our prodigious abilities would allow us to excel long into adulthood—or at least into our 20s, which is apparently when all of our lives will peak. After all, according to data from OKCupid, women will pretty much never be as attractive to men as they are at 20. We are doomed to get less hot and have our success become less and less impressive as we enter the crushing monotony of adulthood, or so our collective anxiety would have us believe.
I often have trouble conceptualizing “growing up” as anything other than a terrifying process to be avoided at all costs. Adulthood looms large at the end of college, as does debt, nine-to-five jobs, bills, and the prospect of eventually trying to “settle down” and “find the one.” But imagining the years ahead as a terrifying monolith ignores the fact that, despite the chaos and overwhelming fear of young adulthood, things are, slowly but surely, getting better and easier and less scary. At least, at the risk of jinxing it, I think they are.
After the unnerving move-in day adventure, I returned to the apartment I now share with my two best friends. We cooked dinner together, making the kind of healthy, delicious meal we used to dream about while still on the meal plan. We took a break from doing the dishes to have an impromptu kitchen dance party. It’s true that two years ago I didn’t have an electricity bill to pay, or constant anxiety over what I’m going to write my B.A. about. But I also didn’t have a home or a family in Chicago. I do now. Despite the fact that I am already way too old to ever be an Olympic gymnast or musical prodigy, these are the kinds of accomplishments that I’m choosing to celebrate, while also slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will never be Taylor Swift.
Clair Fuller is a third-year in the College majoring in gender and sexuality studies.