gold number two balloon and disco ball on the floor

23 (Taylor’s Version)

How can a person know everything at 18 and nothing at 22?

Taylor Swift, per usual, says it best.  On the eve of my 23rd birthday, this line from “Nothing New (Taylor’s Version)” sticks with me because I indeed knew everything at 18.  Now that I’m about to be 23, I feel like I know much less.

In the past four years, I graduated from college, moved out of and back into my childhood bedroom, gains a few pounds, wrote three novels, traveled to 14 countries, and started a business.  I also fell deeper into a sense of dread that I know all too well.  The time since my 18th birthday has been a complex fabric of the highest highs, which only serve to make the lows seem even lower.

What will become of me once I’ve lost my novelty?

Last week, I was talking to my therapist about what it means to no longer be a bright gifted kid.  My formative educational years were spent in a school system that singled out kids with potential and put them in extra classes, gave them harder projects, and grouped them together so they could learn in this little capsule of potential brilliance.

I am grateful to have been one of those kids and done the things I got to do; what would the alternative have been?  If I’d heard more criticism, less praise, I would probably be worse off.  But this separation instilled a deep sense of good and bad in me.  I wanted to be good, smart, intelligent, and my teachers praised me for my maturity and obedience.

An eight-year-old who uses words like “tranquility” and “juxtaposition” is cute, but a twenty-two-year-old who doesn’t have a committed romantic partner and likes to knit on Friday nights is just sad.

When did being an old soul become undesirable?  Why is it that the thing I was most praised for is now something I should try not to be?

The kind of radiance you only have at 17.

When I was 17 about to turn 18, I was a senior in high school.  I was panicking about college and probably studying for my AP Psychology midterm; not to brag, but I did get a 5 on the AP exam and some college credit for my trouble.

Even though I was transitioning out of high school and into college, I possessed a sense of finality, that my next choice would allow the rest of my life to fall in line.  I would pick a college and a major; the rest would topple into place like dominoes in a line.  All I had to do was make one last choice and then I would be set for life.

Four years later, I’m starting to learn that I will never not feel that way.

For example, I’ve been in the workforce for six months and am seriously considering a career change.  As I think about what I could do next, I feel the same sense that my next choice will blessedly be the last I’ll every have to make.  Not in a morbid way, but that if I take this next step, the rest will be easy.  Right?

How can a person know everything at 18 and nothing at 22?

Wrong.  Some days, it feels like growing up means knowing less about myself every day.

I don’t have a nice, bow-tied way to end this.  Just that I’m starting to learn that there is no X marks the spot on my treasure map.  There is only a dotted line swirling all over the page, taking me to new places every day with the promise that, one day, I might reach the treasure.

Originally written December 16, 2021.

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