It was the first week of October that got me thinking.

I had been back in Colorado Springs for less than a week, and I was catching up with my friend Jenny over a trail run and coffee. We had been discussing a variety of things, when she paused mid-sentence and asked, “How old are you again?”

“26. Turning 27 next month.”

“Man, you’re still so young. But I will say — 27 was a hard year. Not just for me, but it seemed like it was difficult for a lot of my friends. It’s something about being 5 years out of college, wondering if you’re on the right path…”

I acknowledged what she was saying, but I didn’t expect to hang onto the idea — the notion that 27 is a particularly difficult year in life. But I was curious. I started auditing friends and family, and it seemed like there was something to it. Of all the people I asked, only two said they couldn’t remember anything specific about 27. The remainder had wide-eyed, anxious expressions as they recalled that year of their life. Nearly all of them said something to the effect of: “it was a pivotal year in my life, not without hardship.” Now I was sort of scared.

My career counselor said he’d been doing corporate work for five years when 27 hit and he realized he wasn’t in the right spot. It was an emotionally and mentally draining crossroads. Another friend, from book club, said 27 was the year she moved and got divorced. My brother, Fletcher, texted, “You’re starting to feel like you’re in your late 20s rather than your early or mid 20s, so you put pressure on yourself to turn ‘potential’ into reality. And you worry that somehow your 20s slipped by you without you enjoying it (not true) and that you’re old now and life is over (not true).”

Fletch’s words were at least a little more hopeful (“maybe a year of anxiety and worry, but leading to positive change”), but I suddenly felt like I was about to be hit by a metaphorical truck, turning 27. This last year has felt tumultuous enough; in many ways, I want things to slow down for just a year so that I can get my head on straight.

I look back on age 26 (or maybe just 2023) as the year of tears — both sad and happy ones. Since turning 26, I have done and seen so much. I traveled to Las Vegas twice to climb. I cried into a 20-layer chocolate birthday cake. I visited Clif Bar headquarters for the last time. I drove from Moab to Durango to Ouray and back. I saw my dear grandparents in Florida. I ran the Boston Marathon. I connected with friends new and old from the climbing gym in Joe’s Valley, Utah. I watched my basketball team win the NBA finals. I spent the summer road tripping all over Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Canada, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. I celebrated my brother and sister-in-law’s marriage. In between, I got laid off, got a new job, lost that job, and got a new job again. I ran my first ultra marathon. I bought a house. The most special dog I have ever known died, followed soon after by my grandmother. I am exhausted.

Beyond recalling all of these moments, I think about all of the ways that I have succeeded or failed to “turn potential into reality”, as Fletch put it. By some metrics, I have done more than a lot of people my age hope to do — investing in real estate for one, traveling another. On the other hand, I have spent my entire life single and also have not held one job for more than two years. I think these are precisely the reasons for the instability I always feel. Beyond no longer having to move for the foreseeable future, the remaining aspects of my life often feel like a moving target.

What keeps me up at night is wondering whether I am always the determinant of my future or if I should be letting life unfold naturally. In certain aspects of life, nothing happens unless you take action. In others, opportunities and experiences fall into your lap because you don’t try to force them. Am I supposed to make this call on a case-by-case basis? What do I really want, anyway?

The reality is, as much as I think that life slowing down will allow me to sort through all of this, life isn’t going to slow down. And even if it did, would I really come to any conclusions?

I guess I am just bracing for impact when it comes to 27. Ideally, 27 will involve fewer tears — sad ones, anyway. I’ll look forward to growth from positive change, even if it’s fraught with uncertainty and pain. And whether I manifest it or let the universe do its work, I hope for a bit more stability. I won’t be making these wishes when I blow out the birthday candles, just so they can’t come true.

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