Edit desk: Just short of 21


Emily Segal

One month from now, I’ll be 21 years old.

I’ve got to say, it’s not exactly what I expected. Growing up, anyone past the age of 18 seemed ancient. To be in your 20s — that was to be a mature and worldly soul. 

I remember when I was younger, my sister and I would tag along for dinner at my parents’ friends’ houses. We always asked, “Do they have kids?” 

“They do, but they’re in college,” my mom and dad might say. My sister and I would wave our hands at them. 

“Oh, so they don’t have kids,” we thought. “They’re away. They’re adults.”

I don’t feel like an adult. I always imagined I’d be taller by 21. I was just over 5 feet 2 inches when I was 16 years old, and I don’t think I’ve grown a speck since then. 

When I went to the DMV to get my first license, the woman at the desk asked me my height. I told her I was 5 feet 3 inches, rounding up a half-inch worth of optimism. She nodded, printed my ID, passed it over the counter and told me to have a nice day.

Emily Segal: Gender: Female, Eyes: Blue, Height: 5 feet 2 inches.

I guess her skepticism proved correct. 

It’s not just my height, though. When someone asks me what I want to be when I grow up, my eyes are sure to glaze over with fear. At seven years old, I would have said I wanted to be a lawyer. At 12, I would’ve said I was destined to teach. 

Now, I’m 20 years old, and the only thing I’m certain of is that I’m absolutely, positively, uncertain. It’s pretty terrifying, and it feels backward. I was supposed to have it figured out by now. I’ve been asked the same question since kindergarten, but I’m more confused than ever. 

I’m supposed to plan my life, but I still live in a double-sized room and sleep in a twin bed enveloped by banana-printed sheets. 

It’s especially scary when it feels like everyone else knows what they want. Not a single day passes when I don’t hear about my peers’ grand career aspirations, dream internships or certainty that their finance major is the optimal path. 

I do it, too. I imagine my possible futures and try to speak them into reality. My friends and I discuss summer jobs, piece together business-casual outfits and delve into the world of LinkedIn.

We use words like”‘management,” “meeting” and “master’s” as if they mark our coming of age, our emergence into the corporate world of adulthood. In some sense, they do.

In many ways, we are adults. 

I feel flashes of maturity when I prepare for an interview, reorganize my resume or when I — a Jersey girl — lift a handle to pump my own gas. I know I am learning. 

I feel like the classes I am taking are preparing me for “real life,” whatever that may be. My assignments are challenging, and I’m discovering what I enjoy, and just as importantly, what I don’t. I feel like after two years of college, I’ve grown exponentially as a student, as a professional and as a person.

But when I start to drown in the chatter, when the clock feels like it’s ticking too fast, I have to remind myself that my housemate has a “grow-your-own-dinosaur”  floating in a pretzel container in her room (hence its name, Pretzel). 

I remember that my friend who dresses in black loafers and always seems to “have a phone call at 3” also shopped online for an inflatable cookie Halloween costume yesterday. 

As for me? Sure, I worked on my research project and submitted an article about the impact of an on-campus organization, but only after I scoured the halls of my house for someone with Sour Patch candy. 

I’m realizing a few things. Even though we may pretend to know what’s coming, a lot of us don’t. I’m also realizing that getting older won’t always be what I want, and it’s almost never what I expect. 

We are on a perfectly-blurred border between childhood and adult life. I’m not afraid to keep one foot on either side. Although I’m surrounded by intelligence and achievement, I won’t pretend I’m at the peak of maturity. 

What do I want to be when I grow up? Am I grown up? 

I won’t let those questions scare me. For now, I’ll keep learning about myself, working hard and relaxing in my banana-sheeted bed. 

I’ll figure it all out when I’m 22.

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