Coming of age in an altered world

Young adulthood in the pandemic age


In March of 2020 I was studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain with a group of friends, enjoying Europe in the way only a careless 21-year-old can. 

We were out at a bar one night when suddenly someone pulled up a news clip on their phone of a national announcement back in the U.S. Trump was speaking onscreen, explaining that within the next 48 hours the U.S. borders would close due to the dangers of COVID-19 and all Americans abroad must return home immediately. 

The chaos that ensued was indescribable—flight prices skyrocketed, students were hysterically crying, parents were receiving frantic phone calls, and dreams of traveling and carefree adventures vanished in an instant. 

As I munched on cold McDonald’s fries that I had the forethought to procure via DoorDash during the pandemonium surrounding me, I wondered in a state of dissociative disbelief how I so pointedly ignored the signs all around me that this pandemic was not just another flu. 

After ransacking a dorm room and a brief sleep on the airport floor, 14 hours later I was home in my living room and began to watch the world around me collapse from within my own four walls. 

I fell asleep that night a confused yet hopeful 21 year old, and it seems as if in the blink of an eye I woke up at the age of 23 a little more jaded and a lot more restless. 

There’s a peculiar sense of disbelief with the loss of time, especially when it comes with the loss of youth. Your twenties—particularly your early twenties—are a time of emerging adulthood. It’s a time in which many individuals emerge from their parents homes and take the time to explore career paths, love interests, and attempt to carve a life for themselves that they want to live. 

Your twenties are some of the most fundamental years for personal development, but for almost a year and a half any sort of personal exploration and discovery came to a standstill. 

Now, many 20-something-year-olds, myself included, have graduated from our Zoom universities, lived in painful solitude, experienced unbelievable loss, competed for internships online, and tried to maintain friendships that were ripped away in an instant. Our lives became virtual in a way that we could never have anticipated, and for the first time in our generation we became unwilling participants in a digital reality. 

Emerging from this time period that seems both monumental and simultaneously so forgettable, many of us questioning who we are and how we are going to reclaim both our youth and identity. In this time of emerging adulthood many of us choose to seek new adventures, new beginnings, and new surroundings in an effort to make up for lost time. 

Paulo Coelho may have said it best: “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine—it’s lethal.” 

For me, that adventure-seeking manifested as moving to Boulder on a whim, 1,980 miles from my home in Boston. There was no job in sight, no family to see, and no guarantee that anything would work out, just a desperation to grasp onto and maintain that effortless carelessness that our twenties are supposed to consist of, and this seemed like the perfect adventure for that. 

Though daunting at times, it’s brought incredible exploits, new friends, and a new outlook on what we can make of our lives. All around me I see this same trend emerging. The past year has taught us all that nothing is guaranteed, so now is the time to take the risks we’ve always wanted to take, go on the adventures that always seemed insurmountable, and plan for a future that seems unplannable and impossible. 

As American psychologist Sheldon Kopp once said, “the unlived life isn’t worth examining.” In these pivotal developmental years, we must make sure to give ourselves memories of a life well lived. After all, if online graduations, Zoom birthday parties, and at-home happy hours have taught us one thing, it’s that time is never guaranteed, so seek experiences now and do so thoroughly and with exuberance. 

We will never get to repeat these years, so make sure they are worth remembering.