by Hayley Doyle
Considering that age is our most reliable constant in life, on the eve of my 25th birthday, I couldn’t believe that I would be turning the incomprehensible figure of… 25. I remember gathering in a pub with friends, eye-rolling at the very thought of my decrepit “past-it” self, as one pal gave me a supportive shake. He was 28. Ancient. In his wise old voice, he reassured me that 25 was the best age ever, “People will finally stop treating you like you’re too young to understand.” I nodded slowly. Took what he said on board. He was a whole three years older than me and I’d been brought up to respect my elders.
In some ways, my pal was right. If you’ve gone through traditional routes of growing up, studying and finding a job, it’s likely that by the age of 25 you’re a few years into your life in the workplace. You might not be career climbing just yet, but you’re also not a recent graduate. If you make big announcements like engagements or pregnancies, you might get the odd judgemental look of being “a bit young” for all that, but you’re definitely old enough to take on those responsibilities. You can still go out partying until dawn and rock up for work the next morning knowing you’ll get through the day with a coffee and some toast, and probably feel up for another session by 7pm. If you devour a late night bucket of fried chicken, you won’t feel it repeat on you for the next 24 hours. In short, you’re doing whatever you fancy, allowed an opinion and earning some degree of money. 25 is the best.
What a shame we only get to be 25 for a mere 365 days.
Am I in mourning?
Not at all. And here are 3 big reasons why:
1. Following the Crowd
And in particular, into grotty bars and clubs.
For those of you who suffer from FOMO, I hear you. Whilst this condition settles (somewhat) with age, it peaks in your early twenties when anything and everything is possible on a night out in town. Shame it involves sticky bars with sticky floors serving sticky drinks. But that’s where it’s all happening, right? Not to mention having to pay a fiver and get your wrist stamped just to get through the door. My heart would race edging into the crowd, eager to make it to the bar without my new skirt falling victim to a ciggie burn. My (lack of) height made it more difficult to get served and easier to get pushed and shoved around. I despised it when some random bloke would give me a “friendly” nudge and say, ‘Cheer up!’ Boom, Boom! The music was always dreadful. And why was I the only person amongst hundreds and hundreds of squashed sardines not loving it? I’d fake dance, pretending to be on their wavelength. WHOOP! WHOOP! SHOTS! The queues for the toilets snaked around the walls, the inappropriate groping from strangers was disgusting and who can forget the pain of another person’s stiletto heel accidentally trodding into the top bones of your foot? Crunch. The night always - always - ended waiting for a taxi that never showed up, shoes off and stumbling towards a flickering strip light to eat something dripping in grease. Home once the birds started singing, I could never sleep due to the throbbing in the balls of my feet and ringing in my inner ears. The next morning, I’d have no voice from attempting multiple failed conversations. The following weekend, I’d do it all over again.
The thing is, I really thought I was having a good time. And when I clearly wasn’t, I thought it was my fault. That there was something wrong with me. I was different. Boring. A granny. When we reflect, we tend to remember the good times and block out the bad, but when I think back to clubby-bars and feeling like I had to go, I don’t feel nostalgia for these nights out. I feel absolute relief.
2. Social Media
It’s a common conversation amongst my generation; being on the fence about social media. We remember a world before it; I was 26 when I joined Facebook. My previous dabble with MySpace wasn’t even a dabble, more a distraction from a dull temp job. Entering my details into the Facebook signup, along with my colleagues, we thought, “This won’t amount to anything.” That old saying, “ignorance is bliss,” couldn’t be more apt. My younger self would not have handled the boom of social media well. My older self still can’t. But I’m grateful that I was young during a time when I could make a fool of myself on a night out (in a sticky bar) and not panic about seeing it online the next morning. I could take wacky photographs and, once developed, I could make a decision whether to frame one or add a few to my cork-board collage or burn them. My heart aches for the young people who want to follow the crowd, but see their lack of invites shoved in their face through their smartphones. For the anxious ones, still unsure of themselves, who instantly regret every single thing they say or do, terrified somebody will name and shame them. And all the comparison! Oh, it was hard enough comparing myself to movie stars and pop stars on the front cover of glossy magazines.
Of course, I see the tremendous positives about social media, but personally, its never sat well with me. I scroll a lot, I ‘like’ a bit, I comment rarely. I delete the apps from my phone for periods of time, then reinstall them. But my longstanding friendships weren’t grown through social media. In fact, most of my closest friends hardly use it or have a similar relationship to me. For the younger generation, they only a know a world full of likes and follows, concrete evidence of your popularity. And for an over-thinker (like me), this must be torture.
3. Pressure to be Sorted
At the age of 23, I landed a dream job. A starring role in the West End musical, Mamma Mia! In some ways, as elated as I was, it also felt deserved. I’d been training most of my life; dancing lessons, singing competitions, and landed a place at a prestigious drama school, throwing myself into every module with enthusiasm and passion. The audition process wasn’t a walk in the park, either. Numerous (expensive) trains back and forth between Liverpool and London, and no less than nine recalls later, I got the offer. Finally, I thought, FINALLY! I’ve made it. Fast forward 18 months and more than 600 performances later, contracts were up for renewal. I made the decision to leave. I’d loved my time on the ‘greek island’ and belting out Abba Songs, but it was time to find myself another West End show. A fresh challenge. I was 25 years old. I had experience. I wasn’t a young graduate anymore. But landing another role that you’re absolutely perfect for in a professional musical, up against thousands of other talented, eager individuals, isn’t easy. So when my contract ended and I went home to see my family, the blues kicked in. Everybody wanted to talk about Mamma Mia! Why did I leave? What was I going to do next? The pressure was insane.
Back in London, I temped in offices, staring at my mobile phone waiting for my agent to call with an audition. Nothing happened for months. I felt like my entire career was over. A total failure at the age of 25. I couldn’t have ever imagined what lay in store for me, and even if my fairy godmother had appeared in a puff of glitter by the water cooler and hinted at the amazing paths I’d take in the future, I wouldn’t have believed her. All I allowed myself to see were other 25 year olds who were “successful”.
And that was before Instagram existed.