By Maggie Raye

Growing up, we socialize only with people our age. We have friends in school, our parents set us up with playdates with kids of a similar age. All we know is how to be friends with people who are our peers, but that changes eventually, and especially after college. Eventually you make friends who are on all different walks of life, but never is this more challenging than when you find yourself as the oldest one of the group.

You’re probably called “wise for your age.” When you didn’t get a mid-80’s reference, and were immediately queued to explain how old (or rather, young) you were, you were showered in a warm light of amazement. Someone so young, yet so cool! How do they do it? Let’s be honest, you loved it.

But if you’ve been graduated from school for a little while now, you may be feeling a disturbance in the networking force. Maybe it was a small thing. You’re starting a conversation with a new friend who looks about your age (probably older though, am I right?) and you use your solid Harry Potter reference to explain why you’re a hugger, but they don’t get it. “Huh? What’s a Hufflepuff?”

You’re getting older, and you will no longer be the Young Friend in the group anymore. Soon, you won’t be the go-to on up-and-coming music or social media sites. In fact, other people who will start to look more like children than your generational peers will make references to technology you’ve never even heard of, and couldn’t even figure out if you knew where to find it.

It would be easy to start into the usual drudging “Kids these days” conversation packed full of bitterness and lamenting your lost youth. Super easy. But if you’re in your mid-twenties and suddenly find yourself in between the youngest and older people in your social networks and groups of friends, you have more and far better things to do then stare out windows and recant all of the things you used to do “When I was growing up…”

1. Remember that growing older is a gift.

There’s a quote that circulates whenever it’s someone’s birthday. “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” The quote’s author may be unknown, but is impact is widely understood. It’s a dose of perspective, when we start counting wrinkles that aren’t there yet and glorifying our glory days. It’s a gift to live even one day. Be grateful for each one you get.

2. What is cool for you may not be cool for them and that is okay.

Some things happen once in a lifetime, as though they were gifts specifically for that generation. Do not lessen the value of your experiences or favorite things because they are no longer “cool.” If comparison is the thief of joy, do not give it any help in stealing from yours. Plus, remembering things like the great Backstreet Boys v. NSYNC battle of the early 2000’s is like an inside joke now with whoever else is around you, growing older with you.

3. It’s easy to give advice.

And it is so unlikely that it will be helpful. Remember all of the things that older people used to tell you and you never did? We’re human beings and we tend to learn best from experience. There are moments when we’re ready for advice and using the experiences of others to skip the learning curve of our own experiences, but for the most part, we actually need to let our car almost break down before we accept the importance of routine check-ups and oil changes.

4. Be the kind of person you needed when you were young.

Keep in mind that even though hanging out with your new younger friends can feel a little bit like watching the later Degrassi seasons (not nearly as good as the first ones), remember that you wouldn’t be able to even share that thought with your older friends if they hadn’t welcomed you into the group in the first place. And now, look at how great you’re turning out! Pass on the kindnesses that were bestowed to you. Be the kind of Squad Leader that Taylor Swift would want you to be and support and empower your young friends whenever you can.

5. Enjoy the Gandalf experience.

Suddenly, people are asking you for advice and listening to your every word. Can’t you just feel yourself getting stronger and more powerful? You’ve got a new laugh now, too, one that’s a little heartier, aged, and deeper. You know things now. And people, younger people with beautiful skin and hopeful eyes want to learn from you. Enjoy it. Share what you’ve been taught and have learned for yourself, but try to do it only when asked.

6. Have the courage to be humble.

These younger ki-people… they know a lot of cool shit. It’s hard to admit that you may not be able to navigate your phone with the latest update or how to determine if that online clothing site is legitimate or an online hacker waiting to steal what little money you have. Ask your new friends. They’ll know. Also, they may know things that you haven’t even thought about, like how to start a business online or how to travel for next to nothing. Age is not a determinant for valuable contribution to conversation or the world. Let’s have the courage to learn from each other, even if it makes us feel a little vulnerable.

7. You’re allowed to be human.

While you’re busy enjoying what it’s like to have the answers – or at least some answers, kind of – remember that you do not have to know everything. We tend to believe that while others can operate on a human level, we, individually, have to be perfect, or else we will not be respected or revered the way we want to be. However, what we all truly connect with is innate humanness, including flaws and fuck ups. Letting your younger friends see you as a real person rather than an idea will create a deeper connection between the two of you than any kind of false heroism ever would.

8. Let them in on the big secret – “It’s okay, we all do it.”

It’s one of the most comforting things you can tell anyone. You mess up, I mess up too. We’re all getting through it as best as we can.

9. Celebrate your older friends.

While you’re probably commiserating at least a little bit about how few beers it takes to incite a hang over these days compared to what you used to consume, there is more to talk to your older friends about then how good you were once. Thank them for their wisdom and willingness to teach you. See who you used to be in your younger friends and who you can be in your older friends and find inspiration in both.

10. Treat yo (older) self.

Admit it, you still love to get at least a little rowdy now and then. And while your older friends may give you the knowing eye brow raise of disapproval when you skip your work out for a haunted trail tour (“Don’t you have work tomorrow?”), your younger friends are resilient like brand new rubber bands. They’ve never seen Saved By The Bell and they are totally up for whatever ridiculous adventure you’ve been craving. Indulge yourself every once in a while, but in a healthy way. Even Van Wilder had to graduate some time.

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