Here’s what being young in 2021 feels like

A group of 19 to 30-year-olds from around the world reflect on losing two years of their lives – and they’ll get them back.

What’s it like to be young in 2021, in the aftermath of a deadly pandemic?

Not easy, my friend. As we start to turn the corner on a brutal 18 months, it’s hard not to mourn the lost time, stolen from right under our noses. We’ve had to accept aging not one, but two years since last March, as we faced on again-and-off again lockdowns. Some had to solemnly wave goodbye to coming-of-age holidays to Malia with mates; others turned 18 without a club outing in sight. And that’s before we even mention the A Level result fiasco. Ouch.

The majority of young people have also had to bear the brunt of the socio-economic ripple effects of the global pandemic – and it’s been no easy ride.

Those aged 25 and under are 2.5 times more likely to be without a job due to Covid, while 16 – 24 year olds are twice as likely to be experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation as a result of lockdown. Some students even found themselves physically trapped in their Manchester University halls last November, in a bid to stop them from travelling home.

With the UK’s Freedom Day” fast-approaching, we asked a group of 19 – 30-year olds from around the world to reflect on the past year. How are they making up for lost time? Will being young ever look the same again? And what does youth even mean these days?

The good news? According to this lot, stepping into the future might not be so bad, after all…

  • ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF.  ON… YOUR SENSE OF SELF. 

I don’t want to waste any more time. I’m not hanging out with people that don’t make me feel good, and don’t encourage and stimulate me. But I also value downtime, self-care and being alone. I’m much more aware of my social battery. I know when I need to stop and I’m less afraid to say it. Neve, 19, London

I’m a lot kinder to myself now. I feel even more comfortable in saying that I am young, that I don’t have it all figured out. I’ve always taken myself really seriously and spending this chunk of my 20s in quarantine has given me all the more appreciation for this period of my life. Adina, 25, Dallas

My sense of self has certainly changed in the past year. Unfortunately, myself and my peers are losing our 20s to a pandemic! I went from being excited about the future as a new graduate, to worrying about the rising unemployment rates in my country. One seems to be living in a constant state of survival, worry and stress. Nondumiso, 24, South Africa

  • ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH  ON… THE MEANING OF YOUTH 

Twenty-five seems to be an age where things start to make sense and people feel more in control of how they see themselves. Experiencing that mid-20s shift during a pandemic feels like it’s only intensified those changes. I’ve come out of it a completely different person. In some ways, I feel a lot more mature. Adina, 25, Dallas

As a young person in the last year of my teens, slowly easing into adulthood amid a pandemic was… different. Pre-pandemic, my older brothers started living independently in college and it was the norm that I would follow. Growth, in terms of how my siblings and I were raised, meant going out into the world, but the pandemic changed all that. I’ve been holed up in my home for more than a year amid socio-political unrest in my country. Alec, 19, the Philippines

I feel a renewed sense of energy. It’s obviously scary the older you get, as time feels more precious, but missing out on 18 months has given me a new perspective, which I’m grateful for. I’m not so critical of what it means to be youthful anymore. I’m not going to lose more time sitting inside worrying about it. Jordan, 30, London

  • ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES  ON… MILESTONES 

I think it’s less about changing the plans that were already in place, and more about re-evaluating my relationship to what I want to do and how I want to conduct myself. I think the pandemic has just made me want to have more experiences with more people, to be bolder and more present. That isn’t so much a change in the future, but more of a new way of thinking about my life. Adina, 25, Dallas

I feel like I’m starting to micromanage things, especially for my future, by narrowing them down so that I can pace myself. What’s there to rush for now, anyway? I’m choosing my battles [in terms of] pursuing academics and, by extension, my future career. The pandemic also highlighted what really matters the most in my life right now – family, love and friendship – and I’ve figured out how to give those as much energy as possible. Alec, 19, the Philippines

In some senses, the pandemic made me feel more pressure, as work became the main focus. Without everyday life, you focus more on where you should be when you hit 30. I’m yet to really live life as a 30-year-old, but I know that I’m now more open to looking forward, rather than worrying about lost time. Jordan, 30, London

  • ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE  ON… RESILIENCE 

The biggest takeaway for me is that I can survive pretty much anything. I think I was the most anxious person I knew throughout the entire pandemic and, on top of that, my mum was dealing with pretty serious health issues for the entire time. I made it through without completely falling apart. Learning that resilience has totally changed things and allowed, weirdly enough, for me to let go of a lot of worry. I’m excited to take that knowledge with me as we go back slowly into the world. Adina, 25, Dallas

The main thing I learned about myself is how I can adapt, even though I never had the choice. Catching up with friends is done online, studying is done online, watching movies is done online. All of that is so much further from what my world was almost two years ago. I never imagined it could work this way. Lai, 19, The Philippines

I’m very, very resilient. There have been so many moments where I’ve been really miserable and thought, in that moment, that things would always be that way, but I’ve pulled myself out of it. I’ve seen so much power and strength in the people I’m surrounded by. I’m really proud of myself and I have no shame in saying that. Neve, 19, London

  • ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME  ON… MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME 

I moved back home to Dallas in August 2019. I had a little opportunity to explore the city as an adult pre-pandemic, but then everything shut down. I definitely lost the chance to form connections here. From now on, when I do move, I want to be much more intentional about getting out in the world, getting involved in the local community and making friends. Adina, 25, Dallas


I really love education and I miss it. I was happy when my A Levels were cancelled, but I’m looking forward to my brain being stimulated at university – four years of learning stuff, having an opinion and writing it down without it just being posted on my Instagram story. I can’t wait to have real debate that doesn’t take place on my phone. Over the last two years, I’ve been thinking about the same things over and over again: have I got my mask? When am I going to get my vaccine? Do I need to self-isolate? Does there need to be six people when I go to the pub? So mind-numbing. I’m really looking forward to thinking more widely and looking after my brain. Neve, 19, London


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