What It’s Like to Turn 23 When You Still Look 15

#DailyWings: “We lived our lives as if life was forever. To live one’s life without a sense of time is to squander it.” – Diana Trilling

Most of this blog post was written on June 22, the day of my birthday, but I haven’t been able to post it until today. As I wrap things up with my current marketing role, I will be able to blog more and more. Huge thanks to everyone who sent me well wishes after my career announcement!

It’s 12 o’clock in the morning, and even though I technically don’t turn 23 years old until 9:15 a.m, my birthday is officially here and I’m starting to feel nostalgic – which is pretty typical when you’re about to start a new year of living. I’m about to be 23, and yet I’m still very much happy, free, confused and lonely. Those feelings haven’t gone anywhere; if anything, they’ve intensified.

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to my birthday this year. In fact, I was dreading it. As someone who grew up absolutely loving surprise parties and sheet cakes and party favors and the special meaning behind birthdays, I can tell you this isn’t normal. Everyone tells me that when you pass all the exciting ages (meaning ages 13, 16, 18 and 21), the magic behind birthdays disappears and you just feel, well, old. When birthdays lose their charm, it means you’ve “grown up.”

The problem is that I don’t feel grown up at all. I don’t look it, either. Most people who see my face for the first time think I’m 15 or 16 years old. I used to think that when people met me and then heard my voice, they’d hear a bit of maturity and realize that looks are misleading. But the other day, a waitress at The Egg and I came up to me out of nowhere and said, “Excuse me, I know this is so random but you have the cutest voice I’ve ever heard.” Is it possible for the words “cute” and “mature” to describe the same thing?

What’s funny is that, since the start of my 20s, I’ve been going through certain “phases” that many people typically experience during their teenager years – for instance, experimentation with makeup and skincare (and, with that, alterations in appearance), drastic changes in personal taste (I used to hate sushi, and now I’m obsessed) and poetry writing. And yet, my personality seems to have stayed the same; if anything, it’s become more refined and I’m more like me than ever. It’s weird: even though I’m still the exact same person I was eight years ago, I’ve also changed a lot.

Sometimes, it feels like I’m behind. As a kid, I thought for sure that by the age of 20 I would have written at least one or two books and gotten them published. I had no other expectations or grownup-y wishes to be fulfilled. Just book-writing. And now that I’m closer to age 25 than I am to 20, I’m a little sad that I haven’t finished writing a book yet. Not even close.

I’m constantly learning how to be happy where I am instead of boo-hooing over the things I haven’t done in life but think I should have by now. Ever since I found out I got into graduate school for journalism, I haven’t really allowed myself a moment to take a breather or bathe in the good news or even think about where I want this opportunity to take me in the future. Maybe it’s because I’m too afraid to imagine the possibilities. Here, I am reminded of a significant quote by Nelson Mandela: “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.” It’s far easier to think about all of the things that I am not than to think about who I could become.

Having that much control over my own path is scary, but when I think long and hard – such as during my drive to work or in the shower or while I’m washing the dishes – about what I want out of life and I realize those goals are within my reach, it’s empowering. I strongly believe in making your dreams happen now instead of playing the what-if, what-about-later game. We’re not guaranteed 100 years to live. Perhaps instead of focusing so much on age as a measurement of growth, I should judge my personal success based on the experiences I have and the people I meet and the places I go while living my dreams in the moment, starting with New York. I plan to use this next year to see how far I can get.

9 responses to “What It’s Like to Turn 23 When You Still Look 15”

  1. Well, happy late birthday! The truth is, maturity is as individual at taste, talent, etc. Few women are truly mature at 21 and almost no men are. While you may feel life is passing you by in some respects, you are really only wading into living at this point. And when you are 60 you will appreciate the fact you’ve always had a younger looking face.

    • Wendy Lu says:

      Thank you Barbara! I like the way you phrased “wading into living”; it makes more sense and seems to hold less pressure. And everyone tells me that about my “younger looking face” haha. I hope they’re right :)

  2. Sara L. says:

    First things first: Happy belated birthday, Wendy! *gives Wendy a slice of virtual birthday cake*

    I know what it feels like to not feel your age because other people think you look younger than you really are. That still happens to me. I may be 30, but people still tell me I look like I should still be in college. But in the past couple years, I’ve learned to take it as a compliment. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten to the point where that compliment starts to make a different; it’s a lot better than being told you look 10 years older than you really are! *lol*

    As for life accomplishments: Things happen at different times for different people. I’m not married yet. I haven’t published a book yet. There are countless other things I haven’t achieved or done yet that I would love to. But that’s OK. The point is to continuously work on those goals and never forget about them. Have you ever created a dreamboard? I have one in my bedroom filled with words about the places I want to go, the things I want to do, the life I envision having with my life partner when he finally comes into my life. (I didn’t do images only because the pictures I found never matched the pictures in my head.) Looking at that dreamboard daily reminds me of my goals in my life, and to take whatever steps I can (even if they’re baby steps) toward those goals. Maybe that might help?

    Whatever happens in life, Wendy, never lose hope. Remember to be grateful for what you have. Sometimes it help[s to write down or verbalize one thing you’re grateful for each day during a set time. Making a gratitude practice part of your routine can do amazing things for your outlook and life in general. Maybe that might be worth a try, too?

    • Wendy Lu says:

      Hey Sara! Thanks for the birthday cake and wishes! It’s so great to hear from you…I love reading your comments :)
      Haha I totally get what you’re saying about age. I think my fear has always been that if I look too young to be the age that I am, then people won’t take me seriously or think I’m capable, you know? When it comes to capability, though, I suppose “acting the age” comes into play ;)
      Hmm, I’ve actually never made a dream board before. That’s a great idea! I have a bulletin board (cork) right above my desk where I pin postcards, photos, special letters and things like that. Maybe I could turn it into some sort of inspirational dream board. Thanks for the suggestion!
      I do have a gratitude journal, actually. Theoretically, I write in it once a day but I’ve been slacking the last couple months…mainly because of the career changes, the impending move to NYC, etc. In the journal, I write down what I accomplished that day, what I’m grateful for, what I’d like to improve on and a “fuzzy feeling,” or a compliment someone has recently given me. It’s a nice boost of self-awareness :)

    • Wendy Lu says:

      P.S. Regarding accomplishments, I think it’s hard for me to feel satisfied with what I’ve done so far because I’ve got such high expectations for myself. You’re totally right – I should learn to enjoy the journey it takes to get to my goals :)

  3. I can so relate. I’m almost twenty-seven and people still think I’m a teenager. It’s both frustrating and slightly comforting; at least I don’t look older. In some ways, I’ve also been doing the teenager thing. I’ve been figuring out who I am and how to live shamelessly. I’ve also recently been dealing with a random bout of acne. Sigh. I know exactly what you mean by feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything yet. I’ve heard that your twenties are supposed to be confusing, though, and that we have things better figured out when we’re in our thirties. I hope this is true for both of us, haha.

    • Wendy Lu says:

      Hi Kaylene! It’s nice to know I’m not the only 20-something adult who’s been reverting back to those “teenager” days lol. Acne is definitely the one thing about teenage-hood that I don’t miss lol. Have you tried using Benzaclin? You have to get a doctor’s prescription for it, but it’s AMAZING. I don’t have great skin but this acne medicine clears up my face every time. You should try it!
      Haha yeah, let’s both hope this is true!

  4. ann bennett says:

    I see I got to do a lot of catching up to do. I read the earlier title that you are moving to New York. How very exciting. You be careful and I know you will have a great time.

    I enjoyed the age gap. My first year teaching school, I had to have a physical for the job. My doctor asks me in earnest when I was graduating from high school. Then a substitute teacher asked me to come with her. She thought I was a student going through a teacher’s desk. Enjoy your youth.

    Take care.

    • Wendy Lu says:

      Thanks so much dear! I’m a little nervous about the big move, but with that comes a lot of excitement. I just registered for classes yesterday, and I absolutely can’t wait to get started! NYC must have at least a dozen stories on every street corner.
      How funny! I would’ve loved to have seen that substitute teacher’s face when you told her that you were actually a teacher yourself!

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