I was chatting with a friend and suddenly came to the realization that this is the last month I’ll ever be 21. 21: the magical number that has so much significance, pertaining to the law, to adulthood, to personal choices and decisions.

“Age is just a number”

is a phrase often used by older men and women. But it is true, not just because it’s a nice comforting thought. Who defines age? I would say mostly social norms and governing laws. Our lifespan used to be much shorter, so nurturing duties naturally fell into our hands at a much younger age. Marriage, career, family and responsibilities are all part of the functionality package. You do what you have to do, to survive, and then to thrive.

Today, our social norms have developed to form much more complicated relationships that augmented the meaning of life and injected activities that expanded our beliefs of a fulfilling/ successful life outside of family. Ages like 16, 18, and 21 became milestones that we cross because governments all around the world decided these are the ages we become mature to perform certain reasonable, rational choices in life – be it to drive, drink, vote or be subjected to legal punishments.

However, age is not just a number. It comes with strings attached. In the Western culture, 21 is the age that all parents look forward to, because they expect financial independence from their children. In the Eastern culture, 21 is the age parents expect maturity from their children to share some of their financial burden and household responsibilities. No matter where you are, 21 is a significant age that comes with significant expectations. But today, many people are entering the workforce at a much delayed stage because of the stratified education system. Many are pursuing higher degrees in hopes of gaining greater future returns or simply because they were unable to find desired jobs with their current education level. Age is also not just a number because at 21, you are unexposed to the dangers in the world. You have the capacity to soak up information, gain knowledge and face the world with an innocent outlook. Sure, you might have had a tougher childhood than others, or you were forced to be 21 at a younger age. But the world is your oyster, and call it ignorant or foolish, you have the courage to fight for the ideals and dreams you believe in.

I have been 18 for a long while (don’t remember actually being 19 or 20) and it seems like yesterday that I turned 21. But the day is coming. The day that will flip me over from being 21 to 22. I am dreading that day, to be honest. I don’t usually care about my age but there is something about being 21 that I will miss. I know I won’t be watching Spongebob Square Pants in a while, but I won’t be giving up my cheesecakes so soon.

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