Being 21 — What Kind of Milestone Is it Really?

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Twenty one years anniversary. Birthday chocolate cake with white burning candles in the form of number Twenty one. Dark background with black cloth

It is a weird feeling being 21.

A few hours before the clock struck 12, I was flushed red from the few bottles of booze. I was staring at the clock with each second just passing by consecutively feeling longer than the last one.

Being 21, what does it mean to be that? What’s going to change?

Am I going to be responsible, a more mature man with better fashion sense?

Am I going to start speaking to everyone I know like those politicians in suits?

Will I lose liberal values? Will people think I am a different person, again?

The next day, nothing extraordinary happened. The day started and ended like any other. The same thing happened with the next day, the day following that, and the day after that, and so on…

A few weeks ago, I was talking to someone who was still freshly smiling from the marriage he celebrated last summer. He was great at poking me in getting me to talk.

For those who don’t know, I carefully choose people to have conversations with because I take a lot of delight in participating in lively discussions about topics I and the person at the other end find a lot of interest in.

He is by far, one of the fastest to get me to open up and he does so by asking the right questions.

He always made sure that the conversation starter had to be about me before he could start talking about himself.

It was the end of 2019. 

He asked me how much I thought I’ve grown. I gave him a confident nod, and replied “a lot”. He posed another question: “How so?”

I wasn’t exactly prepared to tell anyone about this, to an extent not even myself.

I haven’t given much thought on putting the pieces of the events of last year altogether, I’ve only deeply reflected on individual events.

So, I clenched my hand to a fist and gave the left side of my chest where my heart is a few firm pounds. It was in hopes that he would understand what I was referring to.

He nodded and didn’t question further.

“How old are you again?” He asked.

“21, this year,” I answered.

“Ahhh. It’s an interesting age to be at. You grow so much in your university years. It is almost unbelievable.”

“How do you know that? I mean, you say it like everyone grows exponentially at this time of age.”

“When you leave school, your growth just starts shooting upwards and outwards. Before the years of working adult life, you will be exposed to so many new triggers. Life will become complicated, very hard to understand. But it will be much more…”

“Colorful!”

“Yeah, you could say that. So, make full use of that time. During your real adult years, the growth will no longer be…”

“It’ll be a flat line but maybe slowly going up instead?” There was this optimistic instinct within me that tried to finish his sentence with my own words before he could.

Living Life with a “Constant”.

Being a Malaysian, no matter where I go, I will always be surrounded by the people of my country. And the thing with Malaysians is that a lot of us live a life of wanting a “constant” with us.

A “constant”, like in Mathematics is of fixed value, never-changing. Without it, life feels dull because our expressions operate based on having the constant to give life to our equations.

Life is of substantial value because the constant is there to deem it so. And being that many Malaysians thrive in social settings, their constants are more often than not the people around them.

With that said, it’s very hard to judge whether people of the same cultural background are growing with or like you or not.

One of the reasons is because you will never know how much value the constant they’re carrying is worth, sometimes they might not even know their own.

So it’s hard to say whether they’ve grown a lot or a little. Their life in mathematical expression can be so long and winded that it’s tempting to say that the end-product will be of large value.

But, the simple mistake of underestimating or overestimating someone’s true constant value will render any clever prediction to be faulty, always subject to be wrong.

How Do You Know When You’ve Made It?

That alone makes life very hard to drag through because of the absence of a point-of-reference.

You have to start celebrating on your own because what defines success is now entirely in your hands.

You have to settle for less sometimes, for the fear that some are more confused and miserable than you are.

You have to walk out of comfort zones with people having no knowledge that you were braving yourself to do exactly that.

That makes life stressful, conflicting, suspicion-driven and gives you a very weird sense of having a third-eye.

The third-eye is more of a new lens than an actual eye. You see things differently, and for each person, the result varies.

I see things in more shades and tones than ever before. 

Because of that, I got myself into very specific kinds of situations that not a lot of people would have the opportunity to.

Simple things like talking to a stranger for hours in a coffee shop…

Meeting new people at live gigs and moshing with them…

Offering directions to a group and getting their Snapchats in return…

Discussing best waifu from an Anime with a lawyer and a newly graduated bar student, getting a love confession…

If you told 17-year-old me that these events were to happen in the future, he will tell you that future is probably one in a million you’ve looked up and foretells little to nothing of the actual future.

It’s a weird spot, being 21.

If the way I narrate these stories and expressions sound anywhere near depressing or sad, it’s just the emotion I’m feeling right now as I’m writing, because I’m letting a lot of today’s feeling doing the writing.

But beneath all that is a very grateful boy for the things that have happened, small and large.

My wish, is that if I were to read this back in the coming few years, I hope my future-self would be very dissatisfied with how this ended up.

That shows that I’ve grown. That will become my point-of-reference.

My constant.

For more stories like this, read: Single at 30: What the ‘No Plus-One’ Life Taught Me and Three Keys To Surviving Your First Quarter-Life Crisis.

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