on 25.

by Michael King

When I was younger, and I thought about the age of “25,” I enjoyed the idea that – when I was 25 – I would have life quite figured out. Looking back at my year as a 25-year-old, I have this to say to my younger self:

“That’s adorable.”

I don’t know where this notion came from. I’ve loved “Friends” for years, and it’s a show that revolves around the uncertainty and challenge of the mid-twenties to mid-thirties transition. And there’s a lot of talk about the quarter-life crisis (which sets a lofty goal of a 100-year life, but it’s fine). But you get it. I had my hopes.

I turned 25 at a karaoke bar in Muncie, Indiana, surrounded by new friends and colleagues. I sang “Friends in Low Places,” enjoyed a little Captain and Diet, and woke up the following morning in good health and good spirits. Being 25, as it turns out, feels quite a bit like being 24. (A similar sentiment is expressed by the lead character in “Sixteen Candles.” Milestone birthdays, it seems, are relatively anti-climactic.) What I did not expect, however, was that 25 would be a year that hurled me right outside of my comfort zone. It was a hard year, yes, but it was a growing year.

I made the jump to the real world. It’s a strange thing to say, as working in the higher education environment can feel a little bit like a prolonging of the undergrad and grad school years, but entering the professional realm is a pretty intense transition. Having completed my master’s degree at 24, I entered the workforce with a notion of seamless transition, but I learned something very quickly: I have a lot to learn. The art of supervision, I learned, boils down to more than a simple combination of intuition, passion, and drive; Within my first month of professional work, my RA staff called a meeting to tell me I was unreasonable. Despite my best fight, my first year was characterized by a mixed bag of mistakes and successes, the former of which pushed me to grow outside of my comfort zone. And, without the structure of the school year, I found myself more in charge of my growth trajectory than ever before.

I started working on loving myself. I am a lifetime believer in positivity, but my year at 25 forced me to take a light and shine it on the broken parts of myself. I’m reluctant to take up space, I found – perhaps a side effect of growing up in a large family or struggling with my weight in my teen years or fighting my romantic inclinations. For years, I have made it my job to hold up the ceiling so that others can rest. But, as it turns out, I am both human and deeply fallible. Forgiving myself through hard mistakes and owning all the pages of my story has taken sleepless nights, restless days, and a medley of courage and stubborn persistence. But I have begun to dig at my absolutes, and I like the more vulnerable and honest person I am finding myself to be. This I owe to the hard age of 25.

I began to own and share my story. When I look back at 25, I will remember it as the year I was made to turn to my story, own it – not just the highlights reel, but the heartbreaks and character failures, too – and be brave enough to live it. At 25, I lost people, I found myself, and I strained to stand on my own. Utilizing this blog, I shared my story and came out, no longer living beneath the shadows of vagueness and secrecy (and I was, as a result, honored and moved to be trusted with messages of support, love, and – yes – others facing the struggle of owning their story). Through what was a very hard, at times heartbreaking year, I had to summon the courage to stand and begin writing my story. Authentically. Understanding myself as a flawed and complex and beautiful human being, like anyone else.

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And now I am 26. 26 has always been something of a lucky number for me. As the marker of my birthday each July, it has always brought fun times with family and friends. (There is also the curiosity that it is comprised of two “13’s” added together, and yet it is not considered unlucky.) I learned, through 25, not to try to control or predict the story my years will bring me, but I do want to keep a mission in mind:  I want to spend 26 finding my best self, my most authentic and courageous and vulnerable rendition. I want to do and be better.

Goodbye to 25.  A friend and I joked recently that 25 is the year that it all sort of just falls to hell. “The Curse of 25” seems to be a common experience for my friends moving through their mid-twenties, but the growth within us makes it all seem worthwhile. Maybe this is in our heads, or maybe it’s an invention designed to make us feel better about our missteps, but 25 pushed us – pushed me – into a period of learning and transformation. I don’t have it figured out, despite the hopeful notions of my younger days, but I’m stronger and braver than I ever believed I’d be.

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