July 5, 2022

DO | Turning 20: Reflections on a Second Decade of Life

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When this column is published, I will be turning 20 years old in two days. It’s a big milestone, of course, leaving your teens. Even though 18 and 21 get most of the attention, entering one’s twenties marks yet another shifting of the line for what is considered adulthood. As a child, adulthood means driving yourself around town with your friends. As a high schooler, it’s going to dorm parties without a curfew, and as a 19 year-old, it’s having your first drink at the bar on your 21st birthday under the supervision of a parent. Am I right, guys? Everyone’s with me? Smile and nod, people, smile and nod.

Whether it’s pretending to feel the burn on your supposed debut to drinking or complaining about back-in-my-day-isms, the landmarks for adulthood never seem to bring the full sense of maturity one expects. As I continually adjust to the added responsibilities that each new stage of life brings (it turns out that my laundry does not wash, dry or fold itself), the changes lose their coming-of-age glimmer. In the eyes of second-grade Noah, buying my own trash bags might as well make me a sage elder of wisdom. Can you tell I never had to do many chores growing up?

While I don’t feel quite comfortable in my adulthood yet, there are plenty of lessons I’ve picked up along the way that I think would be beneficial to share. I hesitate to use the word “lessons” because it implies both that I am someone worth learning from and that I have endured any sort of legitimate adversity. Nevertheless, as is tradition on the sophomoric observation-sandbox that is Noah’s Arc, I’ll be sharing my personal, rudimentary thoughts on topics that I am firmly under-qualified to write about.

My first piece of non-pretentious wisdom is that shallow pleasures are fleeting. Pals and cheap thrills are cool and all, but the kind of happiness that lasts is demanding and often unfun. It’s easy to find temporary comfort in the laughs and antics, but the friends that last won’t be the ones you had the most late-night Bear Necessities runs or Sake bombs with. In those kinds of adrenaline-fueled memories, the people you’re with are all but interchangeable — just other faces to fill the empty space.

A relationship that takes vulnerability and sacrifice can bring lasting happiness. Taking time to get to know someone and caring for their problems in the same way they do inspires an unselfish love that can’t be found at just about any Drake-soundtracked rave. We can almost always tell when we’re shortcutting our way to happiness because the effortlessness of it all means we have nothing to lose, and therefore nothing worth gaining.

Even if we resolve ourselves to pursue mutually sacrificial, emotionally vulnerable relationships, our desperation for happiness can sometimes stunt our ability to reach that level of openness. My second learned lesson is to avoid reading the room too much. Self-awareness and understanding social cues are vital to maintaining interpersonal harmony, but thinking too much about your place in the room often creates problems where they didn’t exist before.

In any group setting, my mind will inevitably section people off into tiers of clout or social leadership. Using such arbitrary metrics as physical attractiveness or the number of friends they have, I subconsciously place those around me on pedestals of varying heights. I may be intimidated by the sharp jawline chatting up everyone in the room, even if that fear is only founded in the assumption that my foolish judgments should determine whom I view as equals, superiors or otherwise. 

Being good-looking or a smooth talker aren’t bad traits to have, but they are so limited in how much of someone they can portray. Shallow assessments of character are an unfortunate fact of life, but they don’t need to be self-fulfilling prophecies if we can help it. I deserve just as much social prestige as the fluffy-haired six-footer with mysterious eyes.

My final bit of self-righteous insight is one that I’ve discussed on Noah’s Arc before: the beauty of stories. Life unfolds in such a fascinating and serendipitous way that expressing our differences somewhat paradoxically brings us closer together. If you do enough digging, everyone has a unique life story to tell that deserves to be heard by someone who’s interested. 

One of the great pleasures of being a human being is that we are surrounded by other human beings whose lives are drastically different from ours. The few stories I’ve heard at Cornell and throughout my life have greatly enriched my experience of living, even if I have no drunk dance floor selfies to show for it. 

As I embark on my twenties, I will continue to pursue stories that can further my admiration of the people around me. My life is not particularly miraculous or profound, but I live in a world created by someone who is, so while I’m here, I intend to learn and relate as much as I can.

Noah Do is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].Noah’s Arc runs periodically this summer.