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Turning 20 made me realize I didn't meet any goals I set as a kid

'Instead of being a world-famous pop star, I’m celebrating 20 in a dorm room that I am going into debt to live in'

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"No other year has felt like this one. " Illustration published on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.

Every year as the numbers stack up, so does the responsibility of crafting the perfect birthday wish and blowing out all the candles in one go. Are they trick candles? Are they real? It was when I turned 20 that I realized the trick was on me all along.

Perhaps it was all the "High School Musical" I consumed, MTV’s "My Super Sweet 16" or growing up adoring the teenage rebel and skater punk Avril Lavigne, but as a child I was so excited to be a teenager. 

In fact, I never spent much time considering life past the age of 16. Why would they call it “Sweet Sixteen” if any other year could be sweeter? 

When I did think about being 20, I assumed that I would have accomplished more by now. I figured by 20 I’d already be a famous rockstar living the dream, touring with my two best friends from grade school — and boy was I wrong.

My 6-year-old self thought I’d be just like Hannah Montana. I’d be living it up in Malibu, kicking back at the beach all day and performing all over the world by night. Dressed head-to-toe in sequins and decked out in bling, I’d be leading such a glamorous life. My hair would always be perfectly airborne too, almost like there was a fan on me anywhere I moved.

Luckily that 6-year-old self isn’t here, because she would be utterly disappointed. Instead of being a world-famous pop star, I’m celebrating 20 in a dorm room that I am going into debt to live in. Sometimes our sink doesn’t work and our room smells like old soup. Other nights, our air conditioner wakes us up with loud, sharp sounds I can only describe as a hawk’s final screeches before dying. 

I don’t have a personal chef on call, but I do have access to all the cereal I could ever want from the dining hall. Once I even found a bonus Cheerio in my bowl of Froot Loops

Those best friends I had in elementary stopped talking to me in middle school, but the band part still happened. That has to count for something, right? Sure, I'm only able to play in the band when I have a few spare minutes between work, school and other obligations, but at least I didn’t give up on music. 

When I got a bit older, something led me to assume that by the age of 20, Harry Styles and I would be madly in love. Probably even married. Even though we share a birthday—and Aquarius on Aquarius is incredibly compatible— that goal is also yet to be fulfilled. 

Even though it's not what I expected, I'm trying to stay optimistic about my 20s. Turning an age I used to consider ancient is weird, but I have to accept it. Leaving my teenage years behind for adulthood came with a lot of reflection and clarity.

Being an independent adult going into this decade was an intimidating realization, but it helped me figure out where I want my life to go in the future and the steps I'd need to take to get there. 

No other year has felt like this one. Eighteen did not feel the same. Neither did 16 or 13 or any other seemingly significant year so far. 

Getting older can be scary, even if 20 can be considered a young age. Like it or not, every year comes with more responsibility and independence, but I accept that reality with open arms and plan to make 20 my best year yet. 

Reach the reporter at and follow @SaraWindom on Twitter. 

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