The World According to Rachel: On Leaving Adolescence


Rachel Ruecker

Senior Editor Rachel Ruecker reflects on turning 20 and leaving the teen years.

Rachel Ruecker, Senior Editor

A little over a month ago, despite my best efforts, I turned 20 years old.

You know how on every birthday people always ask “Do you feel older?” And you say no, partially because you don’t and partially because you don’t want to surrender to whatever drunk uncle inquired. But somewhere along the line, you must’ve felt a little older, right? At some point between the 20 birthdays I have celebrated, there must’ve been some changes because, despite what I have told my drunk uncles — and drunk father but that’s another story for another column — I definitely feel different now.

The switch from 19 to 20 years old is a weird one. On Jan. 13, I was part of one social group and then on Jan. 14, I was part of another, while still feeling very much like a kid with no idea what she’s going to do when she graduates college with an acting degree in a little over two years.

Age is weird. There are all those quotes like “growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional” and other dumb sayings. We are in the middle of the adulting epidemic where every attractive 20-something with a marginally good sense of humour and a camera imparts wisdom on blossoming into adulthood as a millennial. I don’t buy any of it. Do I watch their Youtube videos? Sure. I’m only human after all. And if I could make a few grand talking to a camera for four minutes, you’d better believe I’d do it. I go to NYU after all. That is to say, no, I did not grow wrinkles and develop arthritis on Jan. 14. The amount of years representing my age simply increased by one and I entered my second decade of being alive. I’m still the same me, being 20 years old just makes everything feel a little more urgent, like needing to know what I’m doing for the rest of my life tomorrow, when in reality, none of us have our act together, even those who are the best pretenders. At least, I really hope that’s the case.

I think turning 20 years old is like a weird placebo effect. You think “Oh man, I’m in my 20s, I’ve got to figure everything out now” because when we were 14 years old, 20 seemed so far away. Now it’s here, and I’m a lot better at making self-deprecating jokes and I can do slightly harder math, but that’s really it. Nothing really changes when you turn 20 years old if you don’t want it to. Your younger friends, I have learned, make fun of you for being the grandma of the friend group, and yeah, you probably should make some vague semblance of a plan, but if you don’t, that’s okay too. My mom didn’t start the job that became her career until she was in her 30s.

The weirdest thing is that turning 20 years old made me realized that I’ll never be home in the same way again. My childhood bedroom, still covered in with stuffed animals and Barbies on the shelves, now is just my childhood bedroom. I still sleep there for a few months every summer, but in theory, that’s it.

I think that leaving adolescence is the first time I’ve become aware of my own mortality, like in an actual real-life way. Yeah, I saw Click” and cried, but I never missed being a kid. I never missed playing with dolls or going down slides. Growing past that didn’t faze me — I remember getting a doll for my tenth birthday and even then I was kind of over it. But when I stopped being a teenager, that’s when I realized how fleeting life is. It’s flying by and though it’s been a long 20 years, it’s also been a short few. I miss being independent but not being expected to do certain things, know certain things, be responsible for certain things. Now I’m an adult — and for these purposes I mean adult in the sense that I am no longer a teenager officially — I have realized that will never again start my mornings with my mother waking me up for school. I will never again live at home in the same way, only spending weird chunks of time there during breaks from school — a school that is no longer a 10 minute drive from my house, but a six-hour flight from that house. I have two lives, two friend groups, two homes. How weird is that?

So yeah, I’m getting older, whatever that means. But as I navigate that and this weird, amazing, terrifying and hard-as-hell thing we call life at this crazy school in this crazy city, I’m going to share my perspective on things, and maybe you’ll agree — or maybe you won’t — but maybe, just maybe, we’ll all feel a little less alone.

Email Rachel Ruecker at [email protected].