Reflections on Turning 26 in a Foreign Country

I’m deviating a bit from my usual travelogue itineraries and landscape photography to bring you this special edition of Erica’s quarter life crisis.  I hate that term.  I don’t even know why I used it just now.  I could go back and delete it, but I’m going to leave it even though it doesn’t quite encapsulate the word vomit that follows.   

Today I turn 26 years old.  Assuming I live to be close to 100 (which I recognize is a very generous assumption), I’m no longer in the first quarter of my life.  I don’t usually get sentimental with birthdays and I certainly don’t see any use in fighting them.  It seems to me so frivolous to fret and worry over losing your youth.  But I’m feeling extra reflective this birthday because although 26 is usually not a milestone, it’s the first birthday I’ve had where I’ve noticed the world around me take its own shape.  

Birthday week hikes are the best hikes.

Birthday week hikes are the best hikes.

Within the past few weeks, two sets of my very near and dear friends announced their pregnancies.  I’m ecstatic for them and can’t wait to hold their little bundles of goo and pretend to know exactly what I’m doing when they ask me to change a diaper.  What a genuine thrill to be able to bring life into this world.  If the process of having a child wasn’t so terribly demanding, I’d have some serious FOMO (for my older readers who don’t keep up with internet lingo, FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out).

All through my twenties I’ve been warned: Just wait, they say, there comes a year in your twenties when everything changes and suddenly you have ten weddings to attend in the summer and subsequently all of your friends go to bed at 8 pm after being exhausted by their kids.  When I was given this warning, I did as every ambivalent young person does and laughed.  Yes, that may happen to every other human on the planet but surely it won’t happen to me!  Sure, most of my high school acquaintances are married with kids now but that will never happen to my core group of homies.  (Do people still use the word homies?  Probably no, right?)  

But I’m thinking they might have been right and this is the year. Two of my dear good friends are getting married in the fall and another two sets of friends will be birthing human children in the coming months.  How do I come to terms with that as I sit in a tent 8,000 miles away wearing two-week old clothes and no idea where I’ll be next month?  Couple this with the fact that 90%* of the travelers I meet are all younger than me, many between the ages of 18-21.  Should I be having that “holy shit, what am I doing with my life?” moment?  Should I be worried that I’m entering my late twenties and have yet to sustain a healthy, long-term adult relationship?  If I start a relationship now and spend a few years fostering the relationship (or more because I’m a commitment-phobe), I’ll be well into my 30s by the time I have kids.  And I’ll have to have them right away because of that damned biological clock everyone keeps talking about, right?  

What a horrible way to start a marriage and to bring kids into the world though.  These huge life changes shouldn’t happen because you're trying to beat the clock and keep up with the Joneses.  They should happen when you’ve given it serious thought and careful deliberation.  I haven’t and I’ve decided I don’t feel bad about it.  I don’t feel bad about not wanting to have kids right now.  I don’t feel bad about not actively looking for a person to marry.  I don’t feel bad about being the oldest person in the hostel.   I don’t feel bad because I’m 26 and despite all of these tiny fears quietly nagging me every so often, I’m as young as I want to be. When I stop and think about it, I wouldn’t go back and I wouldn’t go forward.  

I’m exactly where I need to be and whatever happens to me in the future will be exactly as it’s supposed to be as well.  Does that make me fatalistic?  Maybe.  But what’s the alternative?  Trying to micromanage the highly unpredictable future?  I spent my early twenties doing that and all I got was a bad case of anxiety.

I’m not going to compare my life to my friends and I’m going to trust the path I’ve chosen.  I don’t feel bad about it now and I won’t feel bad about in five years.  It’s a privilege to grow old and it’s a privilege to make decisions in your life.  I’m over the moon happy for my friends, but I’m so incredibly grateful for the hand I was dealt and the life I’ve chosen to live.  I think when you become a parent, one of the natural goals is to ensure your child has a good life, whatever that means.  To me, that means providing a life for your child where they have options and capacity enough to make their own adult decisions.  I thank my parents for giving me that gift and I wish that for the future babies of my friends.  

As for 26, I'm celebrating the end of a tough four-day hike by spending the night in a tree house with my birthday present to myself: a novel called The Japanese Lover by one of my most beloved authors Isabel Allende, a Chilean known for her poetic stories of courageous women making a difference in their world.  Cheers to another year.  May this one be the most unpredictable yet.

This is what I look like at 26 years old.

This is what I look like at 26 years old.

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