Being 23

I never knew being 23 would be what it is.

One unshakeable feeling is that time has become more elusive. Entire days feel like hours and weeks feel like days. The flow of time seems to accelerate with the years. At times, you almost want to slow down everything but you can’t.

23 is the age where you’re young but not that young. It’s the age that’s awkwardly right in between your early twenties and mid twenties. On occasions, you start getting invited to a few weddings because some of your friends are getting married. You come to terms with paying bills (ie. try out 5 different budgeting tools!) and wonder how your parents managed to make ends meet for years. You see more wrinkles on your parents’ faces and come to terms with the fact that they won’t be around forever. You feel an encroaching sense of responsibility to take care of them but also an autonomy that is liberating. This freedom and sense of control is also at times a little daunting.

Most of your friends from high school and college have moved away from you - unless you live in NYC. Many have day jobs, which take up the majority of their weekdays, and you have a harder time relating with their occupations than when you were all students. You have to make explicit plans with most of your friends days in advance, because spontaneity is harder to come by with fixed day schedules and commutes.

Many of my friends feel content in their day to day but not necessarily fulfilled by their jobs. There are also definitely a few who don’t feel this way. Whether fulfillment in life and work matters or not, it’s a question that’s become more relevant and present in the everyone’s mind after graduation and leaving school. For the ones that are in medical school or graduate school, they are busier than ever, their schedules packed with rotations or research seminars.

A recent personal realization, one that seems relatively common, is that life is actually really short. Not like short like until next week, but shorter than what I would have expected. It’s something that everyone sort of knows about and considers, but this realization becomes more concrete with every year. Now, I can start to vagueley feel how long I’ll live, and my expected lifespan being four times how much I’ve lived so far actually doesn’t seem all that long, especially compared to when I used to think life would just go on forever. And I can’t actually make time pass slower - the best I can do is to stay present and try to not waste large amounts of time.

I’ve personally found that my days get shorter when I get addicted or engrossed in things. When I watch a Netflix show I like, entire hours can just go by. I stay away from games because I can end up playing for entire days and make them feel like they were a few hours. I’ve noticed that my commutes to the city have felt shorter and shorter over time, as I’ve listened to podcasts and my favorite Spotify tracks on repeat. Not that getting engrossed into things is necessarily bad, but passing many days without being very conscious of how I’m spending time doesn’t seem a luxury I will be able to afford forever.

Beyond trying to avoid addictions, practicing awareness (of surroundings, time, etc.) has been huge for me. Whether that be through intense meditation for some or jogging for others, I think everyone can start with just noticing their surroundings more and become more present. For me, becoming more conscious of time is a work in progress, but this process has been immense in helping me live a richer life.

On my commute to NYC on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ve started to pause my podcasts and music in my ears just to appreciate the surroundings here and now - the traffic that the bus is stuck in, the fabric of the seat I’m sitting on, and the little commotions inside the vehicle. Rather than reduce the commute to an unfortunate requirement necessary for me get to my next destination, it’s become a more memorable part of my day.

In my attempt make time more memorable, I started catching up with old friends who I haven’t talked to in 6 years. Last week, I threw a housewarming party for the first time out of whim and I’m incredibly glad I did it. Easily one of the best decisions I made that week. In the past, I’ve never really even celebrated my birthdays, and I’m planning to change that. There surely cannot be too many moments that are worth celebrating.

As I introspect about how conscious I am of the passing of moments, I also have many dreams for the future, some I really hope to realize. I want to climb to the summit of Kilamanjaro, despite my proneness to altitude sickness. I intend to build an important and massive healthcare company that will leave an imprint in modern history. I also want to own a soccer club as my love for the sport stays as fervent as it was when I was a child. Building a loving and healthy family as a father is a shared aspiration among many, including myself.

I don’t know how I will look back on being 23 in a few years. I expect that it will be similar to today how I think of my younger myself at ages 21, 20, 19… The feeling I have is that I’m yet being molded, but the clay is gradually hardening. The idea that these evergreen days of youth are slowly fading is somewhat frightening. Against the backdrop of aging, however, I’ve also found a lot of excitement in this age. Being both young and old enough to pursue one’s wildest dreams is a window of time that won’t be open forever. Having more than pocket change money for the first time and having a salary is empowering. Truly, with its ups and downs, being 23 is remarkable.