Well, this is it: the final few hours of my teenage years. Tomorrow I will be 20… Damn, that sounds so freaking old! It sounds “I don’t know if I’ll be able to blow out all the candles on my birthday cake with one breath” old.

When I was younger, numbers like “20” and beyond represented things like birthday money, minutes in time-out, and answers to “what is 4 times 5?”, not the number of years I have been alive. Now here I am. And I feel old, which is funny because really, I’m not at all. And besides, age is just a number, right? Then again, tell that to my 20 grey hairs.

What is the ideal thing to say when people ask you what your future plans are, and you have no idea whatsoever? Recently, I’ve been going with “I plan to write fan fiction online and get famous, like that Fifty Shades of Grey lady!” The reactions are great; if you are in a similar boat you should try it sometime. But in all seriousness, I guess the best way to describe my current “life path” would be that I have been waiting to become spectacular.

The truth is I have a ton of ambitions for my life: I want to write at least one novel and get it published, I want to become fluent in (at least) Spanish, I want to run a non-profit organization (or start my own), learn how to program, travel the world, and hey, why not get featured in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People issue? Just like everyone else my age, I am young, naive, and ready to change the world!

Now let’s disregard the fact that statically speaking, my impact on the world will be minimal. Let’s pretend that I can change the world, if I just work hard enough, become accomplished enough, become spectacular enough. That all it takes is a little elbow grease. For some reason, I do not have the drive to even make small steps toward achieving any of the above goals. I do not write nearly enough to write a novel, much less get it published. I am not using the Rosetta Stone software I got for Christmas last year. I am not going online and teaching myself Java. I am not taking these simple steps.

Why am I not taking more initiative? Good question. Sometimes I think it’s because my aspirations aren’t really aspirations, just things that sound cool or that will make me look cool in other people’s eyes. Sometimes I think it is because I am lazy. Mostly, I think it is because I am growing up and accepting defeat.

This may be a grim outlook on growing up, but I feel like getting older translates to settling. Settling for that not-so-great job. Settling for the minivan because it will be better for the kids. Settling with never being spectacular.

Sometimes I feel like if I was supposed to write a best-seller, or start a world-renowned non-profit, I would have seen something within myself by now. I would have more confidence. And I would have physically done something by now. You think you have what it takes, Paul? Where’s the evidence? That’s what I thought.

It’s a pretty depressing state of mind.

Maybe all this worrying will only result in more grey hairs (I’ve already settled with the fact that I am going to be grey by the time I’m 25). But maybe it’s a wakeup call.

Maybe I need to start realizing that living a spectacular life can be achieved today, right now. That by living authentically each day and cultivating genuine friendships, I can mean the world to at least one person, and shouldn’t that be the equivalent to meaning something to the whole world? Maybe I need to realize that life is about things far deeper than what I can physically produce. That it’s about family dinners, meaningful conversations, playing with my dogs, and sharing favorite books with friends. It’s about commiserating with friends about our shared fear of never being spectacular, but at the end of the day being okay with the way our lives are/are heading, because we are all in it together, this weird thing called “life.”

And if I want to achieve my life’s aspirations, then great! But I should achieve them for myself, not to appear accomplished in the eyes of others. And there is no rush in achieving them, either. As long as I remain happy with the things I have done and the person I am, then there won’t be much room for complaint.

And if along the way I change the world, that’s icing on the birthday cake.





(But I still want to change the world)



2 thoughts on “20

  1. Paul, happy birthday again! I just want you to know how proud and privileged I am to be your friend. It’s truly an honor and a blessing. And you change the world for the better every single day just by sharing your smile and being a part of people’s lives. God will provide the most excellent of opportunities for you to change the world in so many different ways – ways you may not even expect. You’re incredible! Love ya!
    – K. Lu


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