Twenty-five. Why is this age so significant? Why does it feel like we should accomplish something by this time? Why is it a marker -- like 30 or 40 or 16?
I don't have all the answers, but every day people from all over the world search the internet using keywords such as "turning 25 year old," "I'm turning 25," "what 25 years old means," and, my favorite, "25 and freaking out" -- and they land on my blog, where a version of this post was first published.
It's a milestone year, for sure. But why?
When I was turning 25, I wrote this in my journal:
I'm 25 in almost a month. Everyone freaks out about this birthday. The guy who signed me up for my gym membership and I talked about why. He said, the "life goals" aspect of it -- meaning people start to think about where they are in life. He said I'm probably not freaking out because I'm on track, doing what I want to be doing and thinking about it.
At the time, I thought I was "on track," doing what I wanted to do. I had just finished graduate school classes, and I had just started my semester student teaching high school English in a Chicago suburb. My career was "on track." I was in a long-distance relationship with the man -- who was 11 years my senior -- whom I thought I would marry; my plan was to move to New York to be with him when the semester finished.
Plans change. They always do. Two months into student teaching, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I wasn't sure I wanted to move out East to start my career. I'm a Midwest girl. Lake Michigan pumps through my blood -- and once I moved to Chicago, I felt at home; I didn't want to leave.
There were many reasons why the guy from New York and I broke up -- but I think a big factor in our break-up was the fact that I was turning 25. I had found my career and I wanted to start it, but I wanted to start it in the place I wanted to call home: Chicago. When I signed my first contract a few weeks after I turned 25 at a school in another Chicago suburb (the same school I teach at today), I knew my relationship was truly over. It had ended a few weeks prior, but -- as break-ups often do -- it took awhile for it to be over for good.
When we broke up (over the phone), he actually said the words: "Oh, you're turning 25, no wonder." At 36, he knew what 25 meant. Twenty-five is when things start to change, begin to turn over -- the slow march toward the machine of life. For me, it would be five more years until I got married and eight more years until my first child, but at 25, the notions of responsibility and "settling down" kicked in. My career and my city were chosen -- and the rest was soon to follow.
Now, at 38, 25 seems young but important -- like my entire life could have gone in one direction or another. With one decision -- breaking up with this one man -- my future changed.
Throughout our lives, we make decisions for unknown reasons, or reasons we won't admit to ourselves at the time, or can't. These decisions lead us down new paths, take us new places, places where we meet new people and suddenly, the world shifts again. Suddenly, what was going to happen can no longer happen and what will be slowly turns into what's meant to be. One decision folds into the next, and our life lays out before us. Most days we are so caught up in day-to-day life that we don't stop to think about how each decision leads us to the next opportunity --or away from it.
Not every year -- and the decisions we make during it -- matters as much as the next one. For me, 25 mattered. I may have not realized it at the time, but looking back, it does stand out as an important year, one that lead me down the path to where I now live and love.