I watched a video recently about the burden of expectations and the pressure there is to reach success at a certain age, whether that’s like, a lucrative career or having kids or getting married or reaching artistic milestones. I know I am only twenty-five, but I have constant anxiety about being successful enough for my age. I am now almost exactly four years out of college, and the years are starting to feel weighty with expectation. And I am absolutely positive that in like, five years, my twenty five year old qualms about not being impressive enough to other people will seem absurd to me but right now it just seems like SO MUCH. And I think part of it is, I don’t even know what would satisfy me. Because I have done impressive things, I have been successful at things, but it doesn’t feel like enough. And I don’t know what would be enough.
Lately I keep seeing people online talking about how the pressure to achieve outrageous success at a young age is just another way of wringing labor out of people at younger ages, like, just a constant pressure to work harder and do more, and produce more. I think for a lot of people, thirty feels like a really hard dividing line where you have to have things worked out, and I’m officially closer to thirty than twenty, so I’m beginning to feel a little antsy about it. But I think that is the wrong way to think about yourself and your potential. It’s perfectly valid and just as useful to work at yourself in less flashy ways and know that you won’t look outwardly successful until you’re older. Like, yes, I do not have a book deal at twenty five (and honestly, looking at that on paper, what a ridiculous benchmark to set for myself), but I’m way clearer about my goals and my aspirations that I was four years ago, and I’ve done a lot of therapy, and I’ve worked on my craft in quiet ways that have helped me improve in ways that I can’t particularly brag about at family dinners, but are valuable and useful to me nonetheless. And honestly, what am I even trying to prove by being younger and more successful than everyone else? I don’t know that I would be happier or less anxious or more confident if I had achieved some arbitrary marker of success. Because there’s always someone doing a little better than you, you know? If you’re doing really well in your career, someone else probably has a better relationship than you, or if you have a great relationship, someone else is probably doing better at work! You're not going to be the best at everything all at one time. And there’s time to do so much! Life is longer than twenty five years, or even thirty years. We have so much time to do so many different things and have so many experiences!!! It is not the SAT; no one is going to take our papers away after a certain amount of time. (I mean, except that death is coming for us all one day, but that’s a DIFFERENT BLOG POST, and a DIFFERENT THERAPY SESSION.)
The point is that you don’t have a countdown clock marking the time you have left before you have to meet a certain milestone. You can take as long as you want. You can skip achievements entirely. You are in an OPEN WORLD GAME, EXPLORE WHATEVER YOU WANT, WHENEVER YOU WANT. You’re not less valuable or capable than anyone else because you’re taking a little bit longer. Maybe those other more successful people have cheat codes, maybe they are staying up too late unlocking achievements and ruining their sleep schedules, I don’t know! It doesn’t matter. Either way, you have time. And whenever you have your big breakthrough or big win, I will be there on Instagram to post a thousand confetti emojis at you. You’re doing great, we’re all doing great.
I leave you with this Rilke quote, because I’m a pretentious nerd and I didn’t minor in English for nothing: “You have not grown old, and it is not too late/ To dive into your increasing depths where life calmly gives out its own secret.” Rilke’s very wise, so you know that’s gotta be true.