Sophia Zhao

I take an odd pride in being born in 2000; the cusp of a new millennium…how symbolic. My goal is to die in 2100, so my death will be just as arbitrarily significant. We speak of history in terms of decades, centuries, millenniums — numbers with nice round zeros at their ends which make them so delightfully divisible and even. We speak of lives in the same way too — I’ve heard so many people talk about the peace of one’s fifties and read so many thinkpieces on the ambitions of one’s thirties.

Aging along with the 21st century, I find it hard not to notice how I’m approaching the transition point, the moment when the switch flips from my teen years to my own roaring twenties (let’s hope there’s no “great depression” on the horizon for the decade after this). Yes, I’m going to be 20 soon.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to feel. When I was a child, I longed for adulthood, for the preternatural trances I thought were waiting in sweet alcohol and the fantasy lands which only credit cards could access. Then, when I was a teenager, I realized that wine is bitter and credit…credit is still pretty great. Now I’m 19, wondering what happened to my lemon-scented days of youth.

The way my Chinese ancestors reckon it, your age isn’t determined by your exact date of birth, but rather your birth year. Therefore, you get older every New Year. A person born March 2000 would be considered the same age as someone born November 2000. By the next Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), I’ll be 20 according to one culture at least. What a 2020…I’ll turn 20 before I turn 20!

What does it even mean to be 20? New Zealand’s government believes that 20 years olds, unlike their innocent and naive 19 year old counterparts, are ready to gamble. Taiwan stops recognizing you as a minor when you’re 20. It’s evident that, as with every other birthday, turning 20 means you’ll get more expectations of responsibility and, if you’re lucky, maybe some more mature self-assurance and hopefully more self-control when it comes to online purchases. You’re granted more agency, and thus certain protections are now denied to you. But this is merely the legal sphere. What really happens?

They say your brain doesn’t stop growing until you’re 26. Modern science has revealed our adolescence is longer than previously believed. It’s a relief to know that I’ve still got plenty of room to improve myself, to learn, to discover the extent of my own capabilities and expand them. I’m not yet past my prime…

I can’t help but wonder how young me would think of me now. I remember all the big dreams I had when I was a child: create and upload my own webcomic, get an eight-pack, stop being allergic to walnuts. There was, is such a sense of time-pressure, a dim understanding that time and energy go down considerably once one becomes a true adult. Have I lived up to my own expectations for myself? Not really.

Too self-critical of my own drawing abilities, too lazy to work out, too cautious to seek out allergic reactions — I never became what I thought I could be, what I thought a 20 year old could be.

What even is a 20 year old? Who do I know is 20? Some of the YDN editors, probably? My professors used to be 20. My parents used to be 20. Other than that…well, there’s AT&T (companies are people, according to America, after all). I realize I don’t really ask people about their ages — people, to me, are divided into babies, schoolchildren, my peers in college, and those wise old folks who have their lives and their taxes figured out.

… How freeing! Just as I can’t perceive other people’s ages, people won’t realize my upcoming twenty-ness. What it means for me to be 20, I can define for myself. Society constructs such arbitrary rules and expectations surrounding meaningless measures of time, so I can choose how to respond to my age however I want and I’m choosing to celebrate this.

Whatever your age, whatever your personal views on twenty-ness, you are invited to partake in these Turning 20 Celebratory Rituals:


Climb onto a roof (the taller the better) at 20:20 military time and count 20 clouds. If no suitable clouds are available, count people. If no people are around (which may be a good thing in this scenario), count the number of years you have survived.

Set your microwave to 20:20 and cook 20 chicken tenders. If chicken tenders aren’t your thing, samosas are good too.

Create 20 social media accounts and make 20 posts on each of those accounts. This may be tedious, but there’s no better way to celebrate the independence and freedom of being 20 than fighting against the corporate super-structure which commodifies our personal information and violates our privacy. Alexa send tweet.

Pay for something with 20 dollars and 20 cents.

Post 20 comments on this personal essay.


Claire Fang |