I felt old when I was 25.
I guess it started when I became one of the first to get married in my friend group before I was even 21 and suddenly felt separated from my former dorm-mates who were getting apartments together off-campus. After having my first baby, sleep-deprivation and semi-confinement to the house added to my sense of removal from culture, the working population and my own generation in general.
I’ve always felt like an outsider, like many of you – like most of us? – but now I was an OLD outsider.
At the ripe age of 25.
So when this fresh-faced musician approached me looking for reassurance that he hasn’t yet passed his expiration date, I totally got it; the anxiety you feel when you have exactly zero momentum, zero accomplishments, zero opportunities in sight.
The funny thing is, I do remember being eager to turn 22, the magic age when you’re finally taken seriously as a grown-up with some valid life experience and opinions.
That eagerness to age didn’t last.
And if you feel over-the-hill at 25, then of course you’re going to cry in the shower the morning of your 30th birthday.
Of course you’re going to describe yourself as “early thirties” when you’re 34.75 years old because “mid-thirties” is basically the same as dead.
And you're likely to approach 40 sighing an apology to the world for no longer being relevant and salting every conversation with “getting old ain’t easy.”
But I think…you've been wrong about your age.
You’re wrong because you think that number has to mean a certain thing that's been advertised by a youth-centric media.
You think that the number of your years is the limit of your potential.
It is not.
Your age is not written in Sharpie on your forehead, nor is it remotely the most telling thing about you.
Those numbers – or rather, the conventional assumptions about those numbers -- are not the boss of you.
There is no need to walk through life like heavy-lidded prisoners in ankle chains, when we have legs ready to run, feet wanting to dance and minds able to innovate and imagine.
Yes, yes, the human body wears out eventually. That’s why we start signing up for 10ks and eating kale.
And so also can we fight the stereotypes that trap young(er) & old(er) alike.
Still in your youth?
Why don't you go blow those clichés about teenagers out of the water by showing up not because you need the volunteer hours but because you’ve learned early to care for others?
What if instead of being fascinated by who "they" are, you find out who YOU are, and instead of doing what "they" do, you do what YOU do?
Devastate expectations by asking your elders what the world looks like through their eyes. And listening to their answers.
Added a few years to your youth? (I like that framing.)
How about stepping outside your comfort, so that through discomfort you can step into a more vibrant & generous life?
Keep engaging with the world in the ways that move & excite you.
Stir up curiosity & admiration for the generations coming after you.
Keep being YOU, with all your affinities and quirks, because (p.s.) your license to be you was handed to you in the womb and it does not have an expiration date.
(Note to grown-ups: Life is short enough. Need we shorten it further by inserting a margin of 40 years to be bored, irrelevant and grumpy?)
Like you, I occasionally worry that my best is behind me, that it might be too late to try again.
Like you, I have felt I needed to wait for permission to add my voice to the important conversations.
But you know what?
I just had one of the best nights of my life, without anyone's permission and with a few years added to my 20s.
Musical friends helped me put together a release show for my recent COVERS ep at The Pour House in Raleigh. Not only was it incredibly fun, but the consensus is it was one of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of. I was a decent singer & songwriter in my 20s, but…I feel like I’m only now getting to really know my own voice, literally and figuratively. Quite honestly, I’m better now than I was then. Don't be afraid, dear 25-year-old! More good things to come for you!
That night a guy and a girl happened into The Pour House “randomly.” They hadn't heard of any of the artists in the lineup and said it was one of the best “randoms” they’d ever experienced. In conversation we realized we are 10-15 years apart, which surprised them. Their enthusiasm about the music affirmed again to me that we are wrong to assume people are incapable of valuing our contributions because of the numbers.
Are you doing the work that is yours to do?
Are you doing it with joy & care?
Are your thoughts and voice continuing to develop in substance & beauty?
Is your work meeting someone’s need?
Are you still here, breathing in your mortal body?
Then welcome. There is always room at the table for one more choosing to live this way, at age 6 or 92.
This is not a statement about earning potential, nor is it an exercise in sentimentalism. This is about the community of humankind, all of us learning to see & cherish each other because it is right & it is good & it is in our best interest to do so.
We begin to change the harmful, marginalizing system of age-ism (that travels both directions) right here in our own minds by internalizing the fact that our true worth does not ebb and flow with the hours.
Neither youth nor wrinkles have the power to diminish a reality which didn’t originate in the flesh but in the unfathomable love of the Maker who's devoted to what he makes.
You were BORN LOVED and SHALL REMAIN SO.
Every year added to your life is just a little more time to practice believing it.
That's what I think.