From peers, mentors, teachers, and friends, I’ve often gotten comments on how mature I am for my age. I’m logistical when delegating tasks or work, realistic when reflecting on my progress in mental and physical health, determined to fulfill a future career path, and very good at offering advice to those in personal conflicts. In the world of online interactions, my apparent maturity is highlighted even more when I describe my thoughts and opinions so prolifically through writing. But I didn’t realize how far nor effectively my ‘maturity’ stretched, despite the regular compliment it is, until I saw a conversation about age assumptions on an online server of mine. There, many of my server friends admitted they thought I was within young adulthood, with estimates from 18 years old to 24 years old.
A small part of me wanted to be proud that I was able to act like the young adult that my parents- and myself- always wanted to appear as. Ahead of the game, and ahead of life. But I actually felt near-defensive, at the idea that they were contemplating my age based on my behavior. In the end, I didn’t give my specific age, only admitting that I was a teenager close to legal adulthood. The conversation promptly ended there, and I was quite glad. Yet some unease lingered in my mind, about having told them my age range at all. I trusted none of them would use the information maliciously, but a different discomfort refused to leave me alone. Would they stop taking me as seriously, because my demeanor didn’t match what they imagined for a teenager? Would they view me as pretending to be more than I really was?
It bothered me a while afterwards, and still does. I felt frustrated at being so sensitive about my age, wondering if I had subconsciously been doubling down on my composure this entire time, just to appear more mature and sharp than I ‘actually’ was. For years, I’d felt most authentic by unearthing more complexities in my thinking and reasons for being the way I was. It wasn’t a guise, to use and love ‘big’ words. It wasn’t a guise, to preen at compliments for my evocative and descriptive writing. It wasn’t a guise, to be glad my words could genuinely help comfort another person through their struggles. I wasn’t a guise.
And yet I felt so strangely nervous, at the idea that I would be viewed differently for the age at which I managed all this. I never wanted my age to be a barrier for what I could do and be, yet I was imposing those roles on myself before anyone else could. The first time I was made aware of my youth’s capacity was back when I was going into elementary school. My parents had enrolled me to skip kindergarten and head straight for 1st grade, making me just five years old for my first day of real, public school. When introducing myself to my new peers, that was one of my proudest and loudest fun facts to deliver about myself. Never could I say this without some fascination from other students, and never would I not adore the attention. I loved the idea of being exceptional to others back then, and age was such a simple and true way I could do it.
I maintained the same pride up until high school began, when I truly started focusing on what I wanted to do in life instead- which was creative writing. My younger-than-expected age just became something to briefly chuckle about when asked for my birthday, and I felt confident in myself regardless. I was mature, I was happy, and I was accomplishing everything I wanted to. But, as I discovered when my behavior was compared to my age, my own youth was still a personal, internal sticking point. I was almost overcompensating for the emphasis my younger self placed on being younger than almost all my peers, by trying to avoid any talk about my age at all. I didn’t want to be viewed as sixteen, or any age at all. I just wanted to be me.
Yet that was due to my own fears about what ‘being sixteen’ meant. The thirst to be exceptional never truly left me. I wanted to be serious, I wanted to be mature, I wanted to explore complexities and curiosities that many of the other sixteen-year-olds around me were not expressing- but I operated with the unconscious belief that I couldn’t do that and still be sixteen. I wanted to be everything but me, as if peeling off my skin only to realize how cold my bones are without it.
It’s taking me some time to feel comfortable wearing my age and my mindset in tandem. I still have nagging doubts about whether I’m truly acting authentically by being so mature, or if it’s more genuine to ‘let loose’ even when I don’t know what that means. I have different personas that I put up in front of different crowds, some more mature than others- but that’s no different from how we all act, adult to child, toddler to teenager. I’ve been toying around with accepting that however I act, as long as I’m content and happy with it, is still genuine. There’s too much feeling and desire in any one person to just be one type of ‘genuine’- and I am no different. I am not different.
When I was younger, not being different was a fearful thought. Perhaps it still is, in ways I haven’t unearthed yet. But becoming comfortable with being human, alongside everyone else around me, is certainly something to strive for. Hopefully, deep down, I’ll be able to truly believe it one day. And my skin will fit comfortably again.
T-Wolf (he/him/his, she/her/hers)
Editorial Team Member