I have a habit of looking up people’s ages. It can be anyone. An author. A TikTok star. Last season’s winner of the Bachelorette. Last season’s runner-up.

On my best days, I note with relief that I have another seven years to write my own renowned debut novel. On my worst, a 19-year-old’s Drunk Elephant sponsorship prompts the reminder that I, at 23, force myself to close my eyes when I pass that aisle at Sephora, making me four years of free luxury moisturizer (is this a unit of measure?) behind.

Age was once a promise of a boundless future. Now, it’s a frenzied tap on a bare wrist telling me to pick up the pace. My niece recently turned two. I may soon regret writing this into permanence, but I envy her. She has so much time

I struggle to relate. I feel like the sand in my life’s hourglass is falling at 3x speed, and I sometimes doubt whether I’m where I should be at 23. I have friends my age who are getting married and friends who are living back in their childhood bedrooms. Friends considering preventative botox (Ok *friend, but still) and friends with old souls buried deep in young bodies. Who among us is doing it right? 

Don’t answer that (unless you think it’s me).

Historically, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of having “my year.” I’ve defined this as the most pivotal year of one’s life. It tears you in half and sews you back up and you come out of it changed, evolved. But time is a fickle thing; I’d need to get torn in half by March at the latest in order to piece myself back together by December. What if life hits hardest towards the year’s end? Do I pivot to the lunar calendar, then, (very Muslim of me!) or do I toss the whole concept?

At this time a year ago, I’d just started my last semester in college. I was stressed beyond words about finding a job and getting out of NC, two boxes I’ve managed to check (by the grace of God). Despite the uncertainty, I remember being so excited. I was carefree and eager and I wish I could go back and talk to that girl. I wish I could hug her, warn her, but also soak some of her enthusiasm back up. 

By my definition, 23 might’ve been my year. It didn’t necessarily tear me in half, but I’m creased. I learned to work hard, to protect myself, not to let tests of this life harden me. A wise man once told me that you need to flub to learn. I flubbed and I learned that I’ll likely spend 24 doing the same. How naive was I to have thought I’d experience that struggle just once, wrapped up in a clean 12 months?

Among my mother’s gifts is her ability to summarize a person’s life in a story she relays in 10 minutes. These tales never include that the woman in question was 27 when she adopted her deceased ex-seamstress’s orphaned son, (the plotlines are insane, btw) only that she altered the course of his life by doing so. We’re remembered for what we’ve done far more than for having done it by a certain time.

I’m turning 24 next week. I know a lot of people who hate their birthdays and I refuse to become one of them. I resolve to give attention to what matters: not whether I’m hitting arbitrary, self-imposed, quantitative benchmarks, but what I want my own 10-minute highlight reel to sound like and whether I’m on track to get there. 

It seems I’m left with no choice but to do my very best to enjoy being me, right now, today. I’m proud of where I am while acknowledging that I have a long way to go. I think I’ll feel this way forever.

I’m not looking up anyone’s age anymore. Mostly because it’s proven toxic, but also because it’s sometimes wrong (y’all hear about Alexa Demie??)