I Had Anxiety About Turning Twenty––Then a Pandemic Happened

Two months ago I turned twenty, marking the start of really being an adult (because let’s be real eighteen is a completely arbitrary “adulthood” marker). I had a lot of anxiety leading up to my twentieth birthday because so much is going to happen to me in this decade of life and there is so much I feel that people expect to happen to me. In just the first sixth months of my twenties I will move to a new city and start my first internship experiences relating to my intended career path––and that is only the beginning. In the next ten years, I will graduate from college, most likely meet and marry my future spouse, watch my closest friends do the same, pursue graduate education, establish a career, and possibly have a child––and those are only the big milestones. 

row of balloons

Even though people say that my twenties will be “my decade” where I am in the driver’s seat and can explore everything that the world has to offer me, there is no way I can fully prepare for all the big life events that are about to happen to me. There is so much unknown about my twenties, and that is what gave me the most anxiety about turning twenty. But then within the first month of my twenties, a pandemic happened. I think its safe to say that no one factors the possibility of a worldwide virus outbreak into their future plans. The outbreak completely changed how the rest of my sophomore spring semester looks, it has changed some of my summer plans, and I have had to adapt to a new living arrangement of being back home after not living at home since I was fifteen (I went to boarding school for high school). Having this pandemic be the first major event of my twenties has actually made me less anxious about the rest of the decade. It has taught me to not hold so tight to all the expectations and plans I have for myself and to really take life one day at a time––because in the end that is all I can actually plan for. 

When I talked to my friends and family about my anxiety regarding my twenties, I got the common response of, “Well a lot also happened to you in the past ten years.” But the structure of pre-teen and teen-years are fundamentally different than the structure of your twenties. There is a more natural and universal progression of events during those years, largely in part because you are in school and living at home for the majority of them. There also aren’t a lot of decisions that you have to make for yourself during those years. My twenties will be the first decade of my life where I won’t be dependent on my parents and where I will be the one making decisions for myself. There is simultaneously this expectation to be carefree in your twenties but also to have a plan for the rest of your life, to be responsible because you’re an adult but not so responsible that you don’t have fun and make the most of the decade. But part of my anxiety about turning twenty also stemmed from the fact that while I was nervous about everything I couldn’t plan for in the future, I was also anxious about letting go of my childhood. 

woman walking on a pathway with fall leavesOne of my favorite quotes is from a song by Sara Bareilles that says, “To get yourself a new life, you've got to give the other one away.” Part of my anxiety around turning twenty stemmed from the fact that I didn’t feel fully prepared to give away the old, predictable life of my pre-teen through my teenage years. Turning twenty was, in a sense, a giving away of my childhood and leaving it behind in order to become the person that I have always been becoming––one day at a time. In all honesty, even though I am anxious about my twenties, I am also excited. It took a pandemic to help me let go of the anxiety about not being able to plan perfectly for the future, and it also has helped me let go of the past and adapt better to change, something that I think is crucial to help me flourish in the next decade of my life.