On Sunday, actress Nicole Kidman gave a poignant acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards about the crumbling age barriers of Hollywood. “How wonderful it is that our careers can go beyond 40 years old. . . twenty years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives,” the 50-year-old said.
She’s right — we live in an era where happiness, success and beauty are no longer limited by age, and dialogue surrounding the realities of getting older has never been more alive. In fact, Allure editor-in-chief Michelle Lee recently announced the magazine’s resolution to stop using the term “anti-aging,” in an attempt to make the aging process sound less like a condition and more like the natural process that it is.
From teenage entrepreneurs who are building their own empires before age 20, to adults in their 50s and 60s starting encore careers, often referred to as “second acts,” it’s no secret that people of both older and younger generations are shattering expectations and stereotypes of what it means to be a certain age.
But just as Glinda from “Wicked” claimed that black was the new pink, it seems as though there’s always a new decade that’s “the age” or “the new phase of life” to be reckoned with, so to speak. Twenty-somethings have been described by some psychologists as living in their “defining decade,” which means the experiences humans have in their 20s will set the stage for, or define, the rest of their lives.
College students are typically referred to as adults, or at least in the beginning of the adult stage but interestingly enough, some researchers are now saying that the early-to-mid-20s are technically still part of the adolescent stage. In a recent study published in the child and adolescent health journal The Lancet, researcher and author Susan Sawyer explained that adolescence — the period between childhood and adulthood — should no longer range from ages 10 to 19, but should instead extend through age 24.
Sawyer explained in her article that sociocultural and biological factors have prolonged this in-between phase of life. Today’s 20 to 24-year-olds are likely still in school and waiting longer to get married and have children, making their lives fit more so into the mold of adolescence than pure adulthood.
So, what does this mean for today’s not-kids-but-not-quite-adults?
These new definitions of adolescence and adulthood that are adapted for a modern generation of 20-somethings should empower youth to embrace their ideas of success and happiness on their own terms. Amid vibrant discussions on aging and the course of life, it’s only fitting that young people — and all people — no longer feel boxed in by typical expectations of what they should or should not be doing or focusing on in a certain time of their life.
As a participant of the apparent defining decade myself, I find it’s often easy to get caught in the glamour of simply referring to myself as a 20-something. While wanting to make the most of the present and near future is exciting, the truth is that happiness and success can stem from and be experienced in different phases of life.
And even as social scientists, parents, children and students of all generations continue to redefine the meanings of different life phases, when it comes to the number of years we have to our name, many people may still want what they can’t have.
We may not always believe the saying, “age is but a number,” and we can’t turn back the clock, but we can embrace the fact that the most important decade is the one we’re in now.
Darcy Schild is a UF journalism junior. Her column focuses on human behavior and sociology.