Lesson 27: turning 26

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So last week, I turned 26. That’s four years from 30. That’s too old to get a young person’s travel card and, let’s face it, it’s too old to fall asleep on the night bus and wake up in Orpington, with no phone and ketchup down your front. I am no longer in my early twenties, and do you know what? I quite like it. Here’s why.

Often one to let nostalgia lure me into believing that things were so much better in the past, I was all set to feel a bit weird at the prospect of leaving my early twenties behind. I had an absolute blast, and, more importantly, I had an excuse for when things didn’t quite go to plan. Ignorance and lack of experience in youth are the best excuses we ever have. And then, quite out of nowhere, we suddenly accumulate enough mistakes to know better. It’s not that life has to start being serious, I don’t think we should ever have to take ourselves particularly seriously; it’s more that I want my life to start having a different purpose. I want to reach a new level of productively, to embark on a new type of challenge; one that comes from hangover-free weekends and spending less time worrying about what to wear.

During my birthday celebrations, a friend and I had a conversation about whether we’d rather be 21 again. He said he would, and I disagreed. In fact, I can’t think of anything worse. He argued that back then, life was one big party, a party we were entitled to and expected to participate in. We didn’t have a care in the world. We were self-assured and the future felt far away. We could dream of being whatever we wanted to be. We were arrogant without reason.

It’s not that I’m necessarily happier at 26. I just feel like I’m more the person I was supposed to be. At 21, I couldn’t see past my degree and my next night out. My life feels a whole lot fuller now. Complex and challenging sure, but it’s grown and developed in ways I never expected. I look at pictures of 21-year-old me and feel like it’s not me at all. That hair, that place, those clothes, those relationships etc, etc. I was having a great time at the time, but with everything I’ve learnt and experienced since then, I would never want to go back. For anyone who is wondering why, here are 10 reasons why I think being 26 is better than being 21:

1. I look better
After so many years of experimenting with my hair and face, I have finally worked out what suits me, and it’s definitely not a side-swept fringe, heavy bronzer and skin-coloured lipstick. In fact, I now look more like me at 17 than 21, I’ve reverted back to a more natural me (but with bigger eyebrows). At uni, I never quite looked the way I wanted to look. Lack of extra cash had quite a big part to play. I couldn’t always afford nice food, a decent hair cut, and skin-care products that actually work. All my money went on booze and books. Somewhere between graduating and finding my first proper job, I started to feel much more at ease with my appearance, more so now than ever.

2. I can dress myself
The same goes for clothes. I would rather go naked than trade my wardrobe with the one I had five years ago. Being 26 and earning a decent salary means being able to buy the things I always wanted but could never afford. It also means I’ve worn enough what-the-fuck-was-I-thinking outfits to know better.

3. I can drink responsibly
Kind of. In comparison to how horribly drunk I used to get anyway. Vomiting from too much alcohol has thankfully become rare and I actually remember my nights out now. Plus, I drink in much nicer, less cheesy vicinities. I go to places for the music, rather than getting wasted because the music is so awful.

4. I’ve found ‘the one’
I am now capable of being in a serious relationship and I no longer question whether I’m too young to properly settle down. Being so excited for your future with someone gives you very little reason to look back. I couldn’t imagine life without Joe.

5. I’m more interested in the world around me
Which has brought on a burning desire to travel and volunteer. I actually feel guilty about how little I’ve experienced of the world, and how much I could be doing to make some sort of difference. If I had travelled at 21 (which I’d originally planned but couldn’t afford to), I would have partied my time away.

6. I can picture my future
The future is no longer the bleak, scary place it used to be. I’ve worked hard and can see where my career is going. The thought of marriage and babies isn’t terrifying and there’s a slight possibility I might someday own my own house. Although, there are quite a few things I still need to get out of my system.

7. I have a more positive outlook
Which has largely come from learning to let go of the things I can’t control. I also care a lot less about what people think of me. There is very little point. Converting negative energy into positive isn’t easy, but I think it becomes more possible with age, confidence and experience. We have a limited amount of energy, what we spend it on is up to us.

8. I know who my friends are
I’ve discovered what true friendship is. I’ve met many of my closest friends in the last five years. We’ve come together through shared experiences, tastes and values. I’ve learnt that sometimes people drift apart, and that’s ok. Very few things last forever, and that’s what makes the things that do so amazing.

9. I’m no longer a junior or assistant at work
I’ve worked for successful brands, going from intern to editorial assistant to copywriter to senior writer. I’ve been rewarded and promoted and I now have a level of confidence and authority I couldn’t have dreamed of at 21. I used to worry that hard work and ambition wouldn’t be enough, but it turns out, it was.

10. I’ve made so many amazing memories
In the last five years, I’ve graduated, fallen in love, lived in three different London boroughs, covered London Fashion Week, doubled my salary, been to countless festivals and far too many crazy nights out, visited Paris, Ibiza, Aruba, Fuerteventura, Cape Verde, Austria, Egypt, Venice and Lisbon. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words and read hundreds of books. I’ve discovered the music that really moves me, and people I’d do anything for.

There have unavoidably been lows as well as highs: unemployment, uncertainty, loss, illness, mistakes, sadness and big changes. In fact, the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with have happened in the last five years. The most important thing is that regardless of the darker times, it’s the positive things I hold close. I’ve learnt so much, and I hope reading this encourages you to always look forward. Keep learning from the lessons life throws at you, and the good will always outweigh the bad.

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