I have incredible amounts of birthday fear. With my twentieth rapidly approaching, I am stewing in anxiety.
I cry every year on my birthday, feeling so unaccomplished, so unimpressed with myself. I comb through pictures and texts and journals, all serving as a reminder that I didn’t do enough this year. I’ll look up the ages of actors when they got cast in their first movie, singers when they released their first album. With each passing year, I find myself further and further from the age of a star.
I am not a singer or an actor, I just equate their fame with greatness. As I note the ages of their accomplishments, internalizing the articles that lament on how they’ve done so much at such a young age, I feel like I’m too old to ever achieve that level of greatness.
But with every birthday, I’ve found new ways to combat the upcoming identity crisis. I like to remind myself of my permanence. I don’t want to forget who I was before I was twenty.
As my teenage years come to a close, here’s some advice for both the past and the future.
For the past: Combine your old creative pursuits into collections
I’ve deleted so many pictures to give myself a fresh slate, ripped and trashed the pages of old diaries to record newer, shinier versions of myself. I even used to “restart” my savings by clearing out old coins, or would pick a day of the week to start over as a “new” person. I was meticulous about reinventing myself, even in middle school. Around seventeen, I broke the habit, but there’s still so much of my teen years that I lost to insecurity and perfectionism.
Before I moved back to the city, I collected every journal entry I could find from the ages of thirteen to eighteen and combined them into three complete journals. They were overflowing. There were gaps, sure, but there was still so much left. These collections are a good reminder that I was a person worthy of being recorded, of being remembered.
For the future: Prove to yourself you exist
Consistently journaling is hard. It’s mentally draining to be constantly reflecting. With that in mind, here are some lower-energy things I’ve done to prove my existence to my future self.
During the height of the pandemic, my friend and I recorded our every waking thought and put it on a podcast that no one listened to. I’m so grateful that I have so many artifacts of my life from a time I barely remember.
I currently have an account with eighteen followers. I dump photos of everything I’ve done since I’ve gotten back to New York. It feels good to have a low-maintenance way of documenting my experiences.
It’s important for me to curate spaces that aren’t reliant on other people’s consumption. I like having things that are good because I made them good.
Often, I feel like I’ve lost myself to time. The only way I can combat this is to put roots down in a place where I can always see the growth.
Lauren is a 19-year-old Politics and Creative Writing major at NYU. She currently lives in Hamilton Heights, but is from a small town in Ohio near Lake Erie. She's previously been published in online zines such as Unpublished, Lithium, and Luna Collective.