Anti-aging secrets: A personal essay

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In the past two years or so, wherein I’ve begun to wonder more and more often whether I can call myself young for much longer, I’ve developed the following troubling behaviors:

 

  1. When I inquire of someone their birth year and hear anything past 2000, it is only a slight exaggeration to say a wave of nausea overtakes my body. 
  2. When I consume a piece of media or artwork so thought-provoking or wonderful that I must ponder on it for weeks, I  immediately look up the age of its creator, confirm that they are sufficiently older than me, and create for myself a subconscious deadline by which I must complete something of equal magnitude.
  3. When I listen to “Class of 2013” by Mitski, casually crying in my car, I scream along to the words, “Mom, am I still young?” as if it is the final battle cry of my lost childhood.

 

It is no secret that society favors the idea of youthfulness — not necessarily young people themselves, but the idea and perpetual pursuit of looking and feeling young. Forbes publishes 30 under 30 lists every year. Cosmetic products boast of anti-aging skin treatments. The words “You make me feel so young” are the pinnacle of romance. 

Like nearly everyone, I fear the day I will no longer be considered young. I fear the day my metabolism slows down, when my joints stop forgiving me so easily, when my memory strains from overuse. While my 20s have only barely begun, I am already dreading their eventual conclusion.

At the age of 21, I know I should consider myself to be at the peak of my youth. Perhaps it is the monotony of 12 months spent inside due to a pandemic that arrived during the so-called “greatest years of my life” that has mentally aged me. Perhaps the existential threat of climate change has made the future, and with it the idea of aging, look bleak. Perhaps I spend way too many hours rotting my brain on TikTok, where it feels like anyone over the age of 22 can be branded as old and irrelevant. 

More than anything though, I probably feel anxiety about my age because I’ve invented an urgency surrounding goals I’ve set that have not yet come to fruition. I entered college hoping, if not plotting, to meet the person I would marry, to establish myself in a career I am passionate about, to have things figured out and neatly stored away, to find myself on a trajectory toward general stability by the age of 25. But more than halfway through undergrad, I seem to have made less than zero progress on this laundry list of milestones. 

I become even more self-conscious when I compare my progress relative to that of my peers, some of whom are already landing the jobs of their dreams, some of whom might very well find themselves on a 30 under 30 list in the next few years.

It’s a cliche to say that everyone moves through life differently, but the sentiment is true. For every Time’s Kid of the Year there are thousands of people who have mid-life career changes, who go back to school and study something they are truly passionate about later in life. I think of my mother, who spends nearly every day at the wheel making pottery, a hobby she discovered only after her retirement six years ago. 

Time is simultaneously the most scarce and the most plentiful resource I have. It is also perhaps the only resource I have that I can truly say belongs to me. Any time I spend mourning the past or feeling anxiety about the future is just that — a waste of time. On any given day, I could try to systematically plot the next ten years of my life, or I could go outside and just enjoy the weather. 

Whenever I find myself in an existential crisis, I consider that right now, in this moment, I am the youngest I will ever be. I tend to neglect the fact that, at the same time, in this moment, I am the oldest I have ever been. And I know myself better than I ever have before.

When I need to remind myself that I am still young, I think of the following reminders:

 

  1. I have only been old enough to purchase alcohol for three months. I have only been able to drive for five years. Many of the hobbies I now build my life around are ones that I’ve started relatively recently.
  2. Truth: It will be harder for me to learn a new language or play a new instrument or develop a new skill now than if I had grown up mastering it. Another truth: It will be impossible to learn anything new if I never try.
  3. Mitski released “Class of 2013” when she was 22. I still have another year.

 

Eventually, thinking through lists will no longer work for me — I truly won’t be young anymore, and there will be no way to convince myself otherwise. But when that happens, I will know myself better than I ever have before. I will feel even more like myself than I do now. I hope by then I will have realized that aging is a wonderful privilege. One day, I won’t be young anymore, and it won’t matter at all.

Contact Sarena Kuhn at [email protected].

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