One thing remained consistent from the moment I turned 20 until I crossed 29: I never felt truly adult. I am an adult now by virtue of age, but there’s so much I haven’t done that in many ways I feel like I’m still not old enough. I’m quite convinced that it’s either the height of my successes or the weight of my failures that would make me think, ah I’m a real adult now. I just don’t know when that height will be tall enough or that weight heavy enough to make me feel a lot less like Peter Pan.

Maybe I’ve been looking for adulthood in drastic changes in my life. The transition from an emotional early twenties to a calmer mid-twenties didn’t force any grand changes in personality or perspective in myself. More responsibilities and weightier decisions make me feel a lot more adult than usual, but I hadn’t made big risks. I haven’t made legal commitments like marriage, I’m not responsible for a life, and I haven’t committed wrong decisions that would’ve put me in debt. At this point, it’s easier to say 30 is the new 20 because I’m fairly behind the experiences and sacrifices my parents have achieved at my age. With a fairly sheltered upbringing, my journey in achieving adulthood feels glacial in its progress.

My early twenties was a balancing act of fun, focus, and failed friendships. I was a bit like the typical shounen protagonist — prideful, temperamental, and stubborn — minus the superpowers or luck or fate or a special destiny. Unlike Naruto or Ichigo, I didn’t exactly defeat my demons. Flight was easier than fight and I left my issues behind, literally, by moving overseas. Honestly, that wasn’t very adult-like. But I was young and a dreamer so I forced my way into a new arc by relocating.

Leaving home finally made me independent, somewhat. I was paying rent like those Americans who moved out of their parents’ homes that I saw in the movies. That still didn’t make me feel like an adult adult. I felt younger than some colleagues my age just by this aura that they possessed and I didn’t. I saw it in the way they talked, the way they carried themselves, the way they worked, the way they managed people at work. It was an awareness that I didn’t think about too often. After all, we were mostly kids in the startup world, and I was too ignorant to understand people skills that I should’ve been learning.

My mid-twenties seemed to be a string of lessons on trying (and failing) to handle office politics. There was still too much of that prideful, temperamental, and stubborn youth in me to handle work relationships with the finesse of what I thought was a real adult. The complexity of human relationships was just being shifted from a college setting to a work context. The first time, I just wanted to escape from it. The second time, I wanted to learn from the past, to not give up and face things head-on and take inspiration from seniors around me. I was frustrated but I wanted to believe that I could make myself become more mature with each challenge life threw at me. I wasn’t particularly successful in both instances, but it’s affected me and I’ve learned a lot about humans. Now at my late twenties, if someone threw me in the same circumstances, I would know how to navigate complex situations while pretending I knew better.

When would I feel ah, I’m an adult now? I’d probably rank my adultness based on how well I’d handle the unexpected. How well I’d handle human interactions and relationships. How well I’d learn from failure. How well I’d take advantage of success. How well I’d fulfil new responsibilities. How well I’d grow my career. How well I’d manage my savings. How well I’d be able to turn things around when they don’t go the way I imagined. What have I been doing these last eight years if I haven’t been learning from life experiences? Do I handle clients better than when I was 22? Do I handle my finances better than when I was 25? Do I build better relationships than when I was 20? If I’m not doing any better, aren’t I just wasting my life by not improving the third, fourth, fifth, sixth time around?

I’ve just finished being 28. I’m a little more conscious, a little more cautious, also a little more concerned. My sense of alarm or regret is more pronounced now when I ask the question, What am I doing with my life? What have I been doing these last 8 years? How will I be spending my last year in my 20’s? In the past, I end the year being thankful. I reminisce, I look back. This year I started doing something different. I started early, and sometimes I waver, but sometimes I pull through — I’ve been focusing on what I should be doing to improve myself and to gain personal achievements. I’ve been emulating Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) into my personal life and it’s been more effective than a to-do list. I want to see progress in myself as an adult at 29. I only have a year and I don’t want to waste it.

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