Why I will never grow up

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By the end of the year, I will no longer be a teenager, and I will be more than halfway through college. It’s been more than a year since I became a legal “adult,” and yet, I have not experienced that sense of clarity toward life that adulthood supposedly brings. Heck, I’ve never felt more lost in my life.

Coming to UC Berkeley, I had a plan: major in political science, attend law school, delve deep into studying constitutional law and become a lawyer and eventually, a judge. Fast forward two years: I’m now majoring in media studies, political science and history and minoring in journalism and gender and women’s studies. What a mouthful. Not to mention, I’m no longer involved in most of the extracurricular activities that I joined when I started college, and I don’t know what career I want to pursue for the rest of my life. 

In the eyes of my younger selves, I’m an unequivocal failure. By stepping away from classes, extracurriculars, career development and the overall hustle and bustle that are so characteristic of UC Berkeley, I’ve become lazy. According to the voices in my head, I’ve become a failure because I’m no longer pushing myself to work hard so I can achieve success and happiness.

But, what even is success and happiness? When I strip away the aspects of myself that are inherently tied to academics, finances and profession, what is left? I don’t know how to define myself without comparing myself to others or pinpointing myself at some notch along the made-up timeline that denotes exactly where I’m “supposed” to be in life.

Success, in the broader societal context, has come to be narrowly defined by capitalistic markers that are further perpetuated by schools, media and professional institutions, ergo creating an intangible yet suffocating burden of constant comparison and judgment of ourselves and others. There is this unyielding pressure of always feeling as if there is something I need to prove or someone I need to please.

I’ve become so blindsided by this reliance on capitalistic validation that I didn’t realize that rather than trying to run toward certain “goals,” my entire life has been about trying to outrun this bogeyman of “failure.” As a student, I’ve constantly felt the fear of being deemed a failure by others nipping at my heels.

In trying to run away from failure and toward materialistic goals existing outside of my person, I’ve ignored the ever-growing dysfunction inside of me. I hid all my problems and mistakes from friends and family to the point where no one really knows me in my entirety, not even me. All in the name of an image that hid the fact that I was falling apart under the seams, under the massive weight of taking on too much, just so I can prove a point to myself and others that yes, I could do it all.

But I can’t, nor do I really want to. The mask that I’ve constantly worn over my soul has morphed into a grotesque, splintering shell — a prison robbing me of the power to live my life fully. Well, no more.

I refuse to shrink down to nothingness by devaluing my desires, and I refuse to give up my power to choose and demand. I refuse to impose parameters and constraints on my definition of happiness.

Maybe stepping away from the path I thought was the end-all, be-all road to success and happiness was a good thing. It’s quite possible that everything isn’t falling apart, but rather falling into place.

Take away the academics, the finances, the career, and I am still me. I am my experiences and growth. I may not recognize myself in the mirror anymore, but that’s alright; it doesn’t even capture my depth and beauty in its entirety. The mirror that society cast upon me has distorted my reflection beyond recognition by the fears and insecurities of those who fashioned the mirrors and shaped my vision.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m scared of growing up. I don’t want to turn 20. I hate how time seems to pass by more and more quickly the older I get, how I can feel the last tendrils of childhood slipping past my fingertips like sand in an hourglass, and all I can do is watch. But I take refuge in the fact that I will never consider myself to be a “grown-up” at any point in my life, because every day is filled with learning, and as long as I am learning, I am growing.

As I enter my “roaring 20s,” I hope to learn to be my own validation, beginning and end. I promise to myself that I will continue to dream of adventures and maintain my love for the excitement and beauty of life. I will create my own magic and work with what I have learned and what I have left to build a future that will eventually become a past free of regret. Here’s to never growing up.

Jenny Lee is the night editor. Contact her at [email protected]