The past four weeks can be summed up with two words, “getting accustomed.” I have been getting accustomed to my work and all the processes, the expectations, and the communication. I have also been branching out and going to different events, meetups, and festivals. And so far, I have been enjoying it! I have found a good balance between getting out and discovering new sites along with more relaxing activities like walking around the open space by my house and walking around Denver metro area just to see the sites.
I’ve met a surprising amount of people who are not local Coloradans but come from across the country (or world). I’ve met a couple of people who have lived here their whole life and are really passionate about discussing how much Denver has changed because of all the transplants. I really love people watching. I write every weekday morning in Union Station and I still can’t get over seeing all these tourists with their huge suitcases coming to visit Denver because Colorado seems like plain ol’ Colorado, not like a tourist-y destination. I like seeing the people on the train who wear business casual clothes and almost all have their earbuds in or are reading a book. It feels like the proper professional bustle and that energizes me to be a part of it.
One of the things I’ve noticed as I’m out and about is my age. I’m undeniably young. At my job, I’m the fresh-out-of-college twenty-something-year-old and the occasional generation gap joke with come up. My co-workers are in serious relationships, engaged, or married with homes. The people I’ve met at the different events and meetups I’ve ranged from their thirties to seventies. The professionals who hop on the train range from mid-twenties to near-retirees with a majority in the thirties and up.
A lot of the conversations involve talking about the housing market, planting long-term roots, or raving about how nice Colorado’s weather is compared to wherever they last lived. It’s actually odd that the other key difference between me and most of the people I come across is that they are usually all transplants coming from the South, Midwest, or East coast. I’m usually the one who has lived in Colorado the longest despite being the youngest.
While I’m enjoying my time so far, there’s this nagging thought in the back of my head about my age.
This isn’t entirely a new experience. When I was in college, I went to a couple of activist groups where the average age of the members was fifty and up. I did some work with the ColoradoCare folks who were all retirees in their seventies and eighties. And even on my travels, I tended to gravitate towards the travelers who were in their thirties and up. For the most part, the people didn’t care. But, while these groups either knew what they were getting into or were recruiting the young college kids, here it feels different because now it’s about social groups.
In general, I feel like U.S. Western society is very odd about age. We highly value youth from a physical and aesthetic standpoint. There are so many beauty products that advertise looking young or reducing wrinkles. One of the big factors of why K-Beauty (Korean beauty) has become the big new beauty fad in the West (Europe and US mostly) is because of the alluring idea of “looking young like the Asians.” (I’m not really going to go into comparing the West and East’s view on youth and age, that’s a bit different of a topic).
Youth is valued in this society and I think that’s particularly prominent for women. In general, young people are often told to enjoy their youth and enjoy their body while it still works. I’ve heard other older women talking about how young other women look. “You don’t look thirty! You look twenty-five!”
I haven’t yet felt the pressure to look young. I got a little bit of that when I was in Korea and sometimes I have gotten the occasional, “You look older than you are.” But I’m still in that spot in society where my age and youth in looks is valued. A phony aesthetic-based value…
But less on the aesthetic values, a lot of people are also scared of death and scared of getting old. It makes sense. Our care system for elder and older people in the U.S. is poor and with this value placed on looks, it can feel like you have no worth when you no longer fit the ideal. I think that while there are legitimate reasons for being scared of growing old because of our systems or because we love life and living, there’s the undeniable pedestal that youth is placed on. I think a lot of young people are scared of getting old because everyone says the twenties are the best times of your life. And that’s a huge pressure to both live up to and scary to think when it’s so-called “over.”
On the verse, a lot of young professionals like myself, straight out of college, have to deal with being treated like a kid. And I know it’s coming from a place of understanding that we usually really are barely adults. We don’t have that experience and we need guidance. But we are also sufficient self-thinking people. I think the Parkland students are a well-known example of how young people are demanding to be taken seriously.
I have had countless times where I have been talked down to because of my age. Even though most comments on my age in these social circles aren’t said with malice, I’ve also had a couple of comments on my age that are meant to undermine me. I know lots of stories from particularly Asian women, who are literally talked to like they are kids because they look young and are shorter in stature. So, they detail how they always wear shoes with heels, lower their pitch, and wear professional clothes more often just so they stop getting treated condescendingly.
And the current trend of most of our lawmakers, presidents, CEOs, and other powerful society builders is that they tend toward being older rich white men. Although the landscape of power is changing from old rich white men to young rich white men. Either way though, that intersection of class, age, race, and gender is important to our perceptions of age and power. I think maybe that’s why most of the people who comment on my age are women because youth, particularly for women, has more consequences.
All these kinds of things increase the pressure to act older, be older, and look older.
Age is not a competition
On Oprah’s podcast she talked to Mitch Alborn who wrote Tuesdays with Morrie and Alborn recalled Morrie saying age is not a competition. Alborn asked Morrie, “Here I am. Younger and healthier getting to visit him every week. How do you keep from envying me and my youth?” Morrie replied, “Mitch, age is not a competition. Inside me is every age I’ve ever been. Ten-year-old, twenty-year-old, thirty-seven like you. Also, a fifty, sixty, seventy-year-old man. So why should I be envious of who you are? I’ve already been where you are.”
This struck a chord with me because it reimagines how we should look at life and age. Life shouldn’t be seen as plateaus where our age predetermines the highlights of our life but as a steadily increasing line. With every year comes more experience, you learn more about your body and the people around you, you cultivate more interests and ideas. You have lived another day, hour, week, and have talked to more people in this world than you did a week ago.
It almost seems inappropriate to compare your twenties to your fifties because your body is so vastly different, you’ve seen and experienced thirty more years of life and hopefully, you have grown as a person in ways you couldn’t have imagined at twenty years of age. I don’t really want to think of ages being better than one another. I can look back at being a kid and reminiscent at the carefree times of playing on the monkey bars in oversized t-shirts with tangled hair while also acknowledging that life here and now is a beautiful as well. Different, but beautiful.
The Awkward Age Transition
All that being said, it still leaves me at this awkward stage of being too young for the adults but no longer a part of the young college crowd.
There are societal expectations of how you should be living your life and what experiences you should be having. They aren’t all bad. They are born out of the average experiences of maturity and coming-of-age.
I’ve heard a lot of anxieties coming from my peers about age. My friends who recently graduated are comparing their experience to the ones they see in movies and think they didn’t do it right, even if they had great times and made friends. I’ve heard people say they regret not going wild in college or going out to the bars on the school nights. A really common phrase my college friends (all in their twenties) would say is, “I’m a grandma” when they do something outrageous like go to bed at 10 pm or decide to stay in and watch a movie instead of going to the bars. I think a lot of my peers feel pressured to make this decade full of excitement, adventure, growth, partying, friends, and everything life possibly has to offer. Which is a lot to live up to.
A downside I haven’t mentioned is that this immense expectation leaves me feeling lonely.
I can’t help but feel a little disappointed when a person in the group comments that they don’t want to go to that bar because they were around all those twenty-year-olds. I am disheartened that I feel nervous about going to trivia nights because everyone else will be in their thirties and up. This voice in my head just creeps in and whispers, “This is not something you should go to. You should be with other twenty-year-olds and now you’re the weird one here.”
I’m in need of a haircut soon and I was debating whether or not to cut it short or just get a trim. I was interested in going short to be bold and also because the summer heat is just not fun. But then I read short hairstyles make women look younger and my brain was immediately opposed to the idea. I started thinking about the groups that I hang out with, all these fun people in their thirties and forties. I already look young and I don’t want to stand out any more than I already do so why would I intentionally get this haircut that would make me look even younger? And then I got annoyed that I was letting this stupid societal pressure dictate something as silly as how I should cut my hair.
I still don’t know whether or not I will get a short haircut.
The thing is, with all these societal norms and the idea of resisting societal forces is that it’s not quite that simple. It’s a balance. I wish I could just toss all my nerves away, the anxieties about living up to the expectation of your twenties, and all those pressures to be young and old. But life isn’t really a one-way street and while I can toss all those things out the window, it doesn’t mean the person next to me will do the same.
With this instance of my older friend group, I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable hanging around with me. I don’t want them to be hesitant to hang out with me because they don’t want to look like the thirty/forty-year-old with the oddball kid. Even though I’m annoyed at these societal pressures (look young, but not too young, stay friends with your own age group, do activities appropriate for your age), I also have to acknowledge that they exist, and that other people feel that pressure as well.
I know age is not the most talked about social identity, we mostly just assume our perceptions and expectations of age are okay. But ageism and all that stuff are very real issues. Usually, it occurs on the far ends of the spectrum. Lots of older people face ageism in ways beyond just aesthetic appearance, but opportunities and abilities. My post didn’t delve into those issues, it literally just stayed surface level. I even debated whether this was worthy enough to write about because my pressures are quite minute compared to larger discriminations. But this has been a common theme as of late. One that I find myself navigating nearly every day as I meet new people and join new groups.
I’ve rambled throughout all this and tried to give it some structure, but I think it’s essentially me just writing out my thought process on how to approach all this. Which is basically to just enjoy myself, the things I enjoy doing, and hope others will do the same.
“…the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that. This is your time to be in your thirties. I had my time to be in my thirties, and now is my time to be seventy-eight. You have to find what’s good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now…”
–Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Alborn
Recommendations to check out that are related:
- “Why Ageism Never Gets Old” by Tad Friend – The New Yorker
- “Battling Ageism With Subliminal Messages” by Cari Romm – The Atlantic
- “Why Ja’Mal Green, Kat Kerwin, and Hadiya Afzal are Running for Office” by Lily Herman – Teen Vogue
- Dignity, Death and America’s Crisis In Elder Care by Haley Sweetland Edwards – TIME
- “Why Are Grandparents Running America?” – Beme News
- Generations Throughout History – Buzzfeed
- Millennials and Baby Boomers Seek to Understand Each Other – Jubilee
- Meet 16 Year Old Activist in Korea – Asian Boss