Twentysomething Candles

Written by NY Press on . Posted in Downtown Social, Our Town Downtown.


How believing that time and age are invisible enhances life satisfaction

Kristine Keller

I know life has its challenges. There’s malaria and questionable funds in the Cayman Islands—and I care about those things. I wouldn’t watch Kimmel’s opening monologues if I didn’t. But sometimes, anxiety levels skyrocket when thinking about the equipment needed for navigating the winding roads of “mid-twenties-hood.” This decade is notable. And I think it’s worthy of a hood like other respectable periods, places and people in life: childhood, neighborhood … I might be running out of … wait no … Robinhood!  I’m not the only one thinking the twentysomething phase deserves its own category; current pop culture and literature are saturated with the travails of the Millennials. We’re living at home longer, we’re needy, and we’re making HBO shows using only one gender name but targeted toward both dudes and chicks. Are you with me?

I’m only a little way into this period, yet my latest fortune cookie averred that age is only a number, and I can’t help but fall short of the optimism inscribed on the white slip of paper. And so I will use it for my gum.

But, while my gum sleeps snugly, I will also think about the meaning behind this proverb. Is age only a number? Because it feels more like a responsibility; each year brings new expectations. This includes a palate that can’t say no to fancy food like squab and becoming a polyglot without the luxury of traveling the world. Learning Spanish from Bloomberg’s speeches will have to suffice for now. What happens at the midway mark that separates us from our earlier years?

After pomp and circumstance, flocks of graduates migrate across the map and goals quickly diverge. But while it’s acceptable to dally with multiple jobs, lovers and apartments earlier, something happens in the mid-twenties. The conversations transgress into the meta questions. Where is your life headed? Don’t you want to be married soon? Circadian rhythms and biological clocks. Tick-tock, tick-tock. The barrage of questions loom over me. I keep them at bay with affirmations such as “I’m taking it day by day” or “I’m enjoying dating,” but that makes me seem like I’m a whimsical vagrant with a pixie haircut and power-bead bracelets from a Cameron Crowe film.

I’ve been spending my time thus far looking for that force to grab me like Newton’s first Law of Motion: An object will stay in motion, traveling in a straight line, forever, until something stops it. Where am I most likely to meet the force that will lead me to my fate? Do I veer right or switch gears left?

But, in the course of time I’ve pondered these questions, I’ve realized the time squandered on age dysphoria. The unnecessary worry and concern about the future. Existentialists argue that part of the human condition is a combination of exhilaration and terror. But if we can channel that terror into experiences that challenge us, we can enhance our mental equipment for the drive. And instead of trying to find meaning behind two prime numbers placed in close proximity, we should be creating meaning with the people closest to us. Part of building that significance begins with focusing on here, now and what’s in front of us. In fact, research conducted by Stanford University psychologists has found that inducing awe and living in the present can expand our perception of time. Believing that time is infinite and taking moments from each day to realize life’s beauties and wonders enhances altruism, mental health and our productivity.

If it’s true, as past philosophers like John Locke have promulgated, that we are born with a blank slate and learn by experiences, then it’s imperative we focus on living in the moment and creating those awe-inducing encounters. Jump off a cliff that isn’t fiscal. Dance at the Bowery Ballroom on a Tuesday. Believe your fortune cookies. Is there something you’ve been wanting to do? Defy Newton’s laws. Don’t wait for the force to find you.

Kristine received her master’s in
psychology from New York University.
She currently works at Vanity Fair.

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