23

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When I turned 18, I thought this was the milestone I’ve been waiting for, that every birthday after that would all be the same until that next milestone.

Somehow after that 18th year, the transition is quite easy. You’ve been initiated into adulthood and people basically expect you to act like one thereon. What is it about turning 23 that is significant anyway? Adele made great music at 19. Taylor Swift sung about being 22. But search the airwaves, try to read literature, and you’ll see nothing describing what it feels like to be 23 years old.

This is what I know: There was no epiphany.

The past year passed by so quickly. One day I was just 22 and the next, I turned 23 on a Sunday. The busyness of life somehow left little room for introspection of what my past year had been like. I was preoccupied with thoughts of the future and without ever really noticing, the future is today. This is my life. For me, turning 23 means confronting the past and the future: who I was and who I hope to be. And it isn’t always an easy thought. I had these grand visions of what my life would look like when I finally reach this age: Changing the world, making a difference, leaving a mark in my chosen profession. I can honestly say at this point that I am not as remarkable as I want to be.

The past year had been characterized by a lot of highs and lows in my personal life that if I have to summarize what it had been like, it would be these: Change. Growth.

I struggled to find my path, fought tooth and nail to pursue my dreams, and had my heart broken in the process. The past year brought me some major disappointments but it has also given me beautiful, unexpected things. The past year had taught me that greatness takes time and that struggle is not always a bad thing. It had taught me that it hurts because we tried for something. I learned to trust in the process.

The past year had been about family and friends. We don’t always get to be with them but we learn that it’s okay. What matters is that they are there when it matters.

The past year taught me to enjoy life. To embrace spontaneity. To live in the here and the now. To say yes to opportunities coming my way. To be content.

The past year had been about finding my voice. It’s about pursuing the things I am passionate about and doing things that make me happy. It’s about standing up to the causes I believe in. It’s about trusting my capabilities. It’s about appreciating myself a little bit more. It’s about realizing that I don’t need anyone’s validation to know my self-worth. It’s about staring at my insecurities straight in the face and telling that girl in the mirror that:

“You are beautiful. You are enough. You have always been enough.”

It is so easy to dismiss everything that happened in life as just circumstances. But when you take a breather and look a little closer, every day is presented as a lesson. I may have been too immature to realize this before but part of growing up is being open about your mistakes and acknowledging your shortcomings. I realized that the past 22 years of my life have been very fruitful. I am learning and re-learning. Am I in a place where I imagined I would be? Definitely not. But it doesn’t mean I don’t like it. The winds of fate brought me to where I am now and I am nothing but grateful for how my life is turning out.

I don’t want to do my life some disservice by looking at it like a glass half empty. There are many things to be thankful for in turning 23. For one, not everyone gets to reach this stage in life: a classmate of mine whose hopes and dreams died with her at the precious age of 14, my cousin who never had a chance to become a teenager and experience what it feels like to fall in love for the first time, and my own brothers whom I never had a chance to meet because they died even before realizing that they did live.

To all the lives they could have lived, I am living it for them. And it is a waste of time to dwell on the fact that I am not quite as remarkable as I wanted to be because the fact of the matter is: I am alive. I guess birthdays serve as reminders of our own existence.

On a recent trip to Singapore this year, while cruising at an altitude of a thousand feet, I remember the girl who went to that trip: somehow, she was quite content of how her life is panning out, but she can’t help but feel there’s something more: more to do, more to learn, more to explore.

As I’m entering my 23rd year in this vast, beautiful world, I vow to live it with much vigor. I want to embrace everything life has to offer with my arms extended and eyes wide open. I want to seize the moment. I want to be excited about the doorway of possibilities that the future holds.

I will try to make a better story for my 23rd year and the following years to come.

For now, I will savor my cake, celebrate the day with loved ones, and look forward to a great year that lies ahead.

Words: Frances Damazo

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