Today is my birthday. It is a birthday I have been looking forward to for at least a decade because it is also my golden birthday. I turn 22 years old on this 22nd day of February.
I’ve been told that this birthday is an insignificant one. I celebrated the most monumental one last year when I turned 21 and legally became able to drink in every part of the world.
This is a conundrum that many millennials are facing. It feels like birthdays at this age are all downhill from here. It might seem like there aren’t extra rights or privileges that come post-21-years-old. Conventional wisdom tells us that the ensuing years will be filled with responsibilities, more serious relationships and other real-world situations.
Therefore birthdays begin to just feel like — in DJ Khaled’s own words — “another one.”
But for all the young adults who are going through their 20s right now, settling down and locking down a full-time job becomes less and less plausible given the economy and changing American society.
Like I have written about many and many times before, what makes millennials special is how we adapt to a changing climate. Our generation has pushed back the marrying age to a median of 27 for women and 29 for men, according to a Pew Research Study. In the 1950s, the median age for women to get married was 20.
We’re also not finding full-time gigs as readily as our parents did when they were our age. You can blame this on changing industries, the economy and us being the most overeducated generation this nation has seen. Instead of a three-bedroom house, we might have to get used to living in shoebox-sized apartments or back in our parents’ house for a while.
These societal shifts are pushing back the traditional life milestones we should be expecting in our 20s. This period in our lives have been coined as “emerging adulthood” first by psychologist Jeffrey Arnett.
So we can look forward to blowing out more candles on our 2-fill-in-the-digit cake. We don’t have to dread the years ahead of us. We can use these years to travel, hop around cities and try out different jobs to know what we really want to do before fully settling down. It’s a gift not given to 20-somethings before us.
America, some scholars have written, is backing us millennials up on our plan to redefine our 20s. Arnett, a professor at Clark University, explained in his 2014 report that as our generation eases into adulthood, we help shift the mindset of the whole country.
“American society has become more tolerant of young people using most of their twenties to make their way to adulthood at a gradual pace, and to enjoy a period of fun and freedom before taking on the enduring responsibilities of adult life,” Arnett wrote.
Without the milestones of marriage or having kids or buying a house, we can start determining our own milestones. This year, after graduating college, I have plans to see Beyoncé live in concert, I want to drive to a country I’ve never been before — that means you, Canada — and I want to remember to pay my rent on time every month — we can all dream, right? And by the time my 23rd birthday rolls around I want to have another list of milestones that I will spend the year checking off.
Those goals don’t have to be inconsequential just because they are not the traditional ones attained during this decade of our lives. Now is the time to get as personal as we want. This sets ourselves up for the future, living the lives we imagine adults having.
It’s true that nothing might ever top the promise that comes with your 21st birthday. That taste of legality mixed with the comfort of college is priceless. Yet these next birthdays to come don’t have to be without meaning.
But we can remold our 20s into what we want them to be. Become the person you want to be using each year of this decade. Remember to have fun with the process, and live your 20s out like they’re golden.
After reading “Wait An L.A. Minute” on Tuesdays, join Jordyn Holman in her millennial conversations on Twitter at JordynJournals. She’s a senior studying print and digital journalism.