Yesterday I was 25. Today I’m 26.

Not a great start to the day. It doesn’t sound great, anyway.

As I drank my morning coffee, I asked myself the question people often ask on your birthday: ‘how does it feel?’.

It’s a silly question because we don’t feel ourselves slide from one year to the next.

We don’t feel ourselves changing.

We just are. And on rare occasions we realize that we’ve changed and we attempt to reconcile the person we were with the person we’ve become.

When asked how it feels to be a year older, our automatic response is often to feign depression, like “oh man, I’m so old”. But I don’t think growing old is a bad thing. Not so far, anyways. Maybe I’ll feel differently in time, when my body aches more than it already does and I’ve less to look forward to.   

If I could describe 26 as a feeling I’d say it’s relieving, albeit sombre. It’s a sobering feeling, the realization that adulthood is real and you’ve entered it. 26 isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way but it’s the strongest the feeling has been.

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It’s sad, but not in a grievous way. It’s sad in the way that anything irreplaceable is sad, understanding that a chapter of your life has concluded. You can attempt to replicate the way things were but they will never truly be the same, so your only option is to be grateful for your cherished experiences and not to mourn them.

26 is relieving because I feel like entering the latter half of my twenties permits me to indulge in the boring, responsible habits I’ve worked so hard to develop in recent years. Last night, for example, instead of flopping into bed and Netflix-binging myself to sleep, I tidied my room, did some work, and read until the weight of my eyes told me to turn off the bedside lamp and slink into a methodical slumber.

It was very old man of me. I liked it.

My generation holds a comical attitude towards happiness and aging, a sort of neurotic occupation with hoarding life experiences. We’re shaped by the belief that “no one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they got plenty of sleep,” which amuses me because the people most likely to look back on their lives and remember anything at all are the ones who got plenty of sleep, as they are scientifically proven to outlive their sleep-deprived counterparts.

To be fair, a complete and worthwhile human experience probably demands a steady pace of well-slept nights punctuated by occasional sleepless ones.

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When you start to think about what you value more, your experience or your longevity, you realize quickly that you value both, because you want to continue enjoying your life while reflecting on all the fun stuff you’ve done.

It’s this sort of tension that has defined my last few years and it’s something I’ve written about before, this conflict of YOLOs, a constant wavering between responsibility and recklessness. I’ve dedicated a lot of energy to preserving my chaotic university lifestyle, adopting a Jim Carrey in Yes Man persona to tackle the seemingly infinite task of making the most of my twenties.

I’m happy with the direction of my life but I’m exhausted by the pace. So I’m growing protective of my time, trying to expose it only to the people and things I love. I’ve said “yes” to a lot of good times and I’m grateful for all of them, but this year I think I’ll choose to be more selective when sacrificing time that could otherwise be spent alone, recharging, finding contentment in simple moments.

26 feels like a license to embrace the person I’m becoming, a person who is capable of dealing with what life now entails. It’s a journey towards increased productivity and accomplishment, but also towards inner relaxation and vitality.

For me, that’s the paradox of adulthood. Learning to take life more seriously while simultaneously trying not to take life so seriously. Taking hold of the wheel while sitting back and enjoying the ride.

Despite my best intentions to steer in the right direction, I have no idea where this ride is headed. Maybe I’ll check back in at 30 and let you know where the path has led.