The Opposite of Ideal
Dissatisfied and Deflated at 29
Recently, I celebrated (lamented?) my 29th year. While I certainly feel fortunate to be alive, this birthday brought with it some negative feelings, to even worse than my last few birthdays since the onset of my quarter-life crisis. Each time I grow older it feels like a countdown as I get closer to 30, The age which I have arbitrarily designated the age of true maturation. The pseudo-adulthood of my 20s that I’ve been able to skate by on (though less gracefully than I would have liked) feels like it’s coming to an end. I am looming over the precipice and I find the transition daunting as my deadline, self-imposed but culturally enforced, approaches. While many people my age may start to fret over marriage or children, it isn’t my biological clock ticking away, but instead my Clock of Accomplishments. And it’s ticking so loudly that it is deafening. As I take stock of my life, only one year away from 30, two thoughts repeat themselves over and over like a bad song stuck in my head: I am a failure, and I have just under a year to get my shit together.
To claim that this age snuck up on me would be false. While it is true that time feels like it’s passed by too quickly, the fact that I will soon be 30 has been on my mind almost every day for the last few years. My hold on my youth and excuses — already tenuous at best — is slipping from my grasp. I realize that I sound dramatic, but that’s because this feels like A Big Deal. Yuge. Age 30, personally, feels like the age where I should have it all figured out. When I turned 29, then, I reasoned that I should at least be getting close to that point. Except… I’m not. And so, since I have a little less than a year before that day comes, I’m scrambling frantically, trying to figure out what I can do to suck less. I am responding largely to internal motivation, but I can’t ignore the external factors either. It would be nice not to avoid attending social events because I’m too embarrassed to answer questions about myself.
I compare myself to others in my age demographic constantly, and not just while scrolling through their social media profiles, which I know are often carefully curated. I look at them and wonder why I have not done more, seen more and lived more. I cannot yet bring myself to look at the Forbes 30 Under 30 list this year as I usually do because I remember how depressed I became after the last time I read it. Perhaps I should have felt inspired and motivated but instead I found myself experiencing feelings of despondency, inadequacy, contrition, and self-loathing. The contrast between me and my peers brings to mind everything I lack, and how much of that lack is my own fault (hint: a lot of it). The older I get, the more this is true. I chastise myself, berate myself for my poor decisions and lapsed opportunities. In all of this self-flagellation, what I feel most of all is a profound shame, shame of all that I am not. As I inch toward — well, hurtle toward might be a more accurate description — I’ve started tallying all of the things that I haven’t accomplished; things I would have liked to have done before turning 30. To name a few, I wanted to be a homeowner, to publish a book, to apply for a Fulbright, to be more well-traveled. At the very least, I wanted to be established in my career and to have made a significant dent in the king’s ransom that is my student loan debt, the result of a master’s degree that I’m not even using.
I don’t think I’m alone here; I’ve heard a few other millennials mention similar feelings of regret, dissatisfaction, or uncertainty. While most of us probably realize that we are not old by any post-medieval stretch of the imagination, many of us are no longer blissfully ignorant of our own mortality. It doesn’t feel like it did before, where almost anything was possible. We sense more acutely than ever the pressure to have everything in order. We cling tightly to clichés like “life’s too short” and “the time is now.” Aging, something that we used to look forward to in our youth, becomes a source of considerable anxiety or even dread. Those milestones now feel like millstones.
Assuming I reach the average life expectancy, I’ve even calculated how much time I have left on earth down to the hour (I’m mostly sane, I swear) and then from that I subtracted the estimated time I will spend sleeping and therefore can’t be productive.
Needless to say, I’ve been freaking out.
While I’ve calmed down quite a bit since this arithmetic-fueled crisis, I’m still not ready to embrace this whole thing with open arms. I’m optimistic though that with time, these feelings may be tempered. I will reach The Age That Must Not Be Named and the world will not end. I will go on, I will better myself in the ways that I can, and I will find peace about the ways that I can’t. I hope that I can do better at not lending these thoughts, unproductive as they are, any more legitimacy. In the meantime, I am trying now to find comfort in the few good things that I have gotten done, and to remind myself of people who got a late start in life but nevertheless succeeded at making their marks on the world, big and small. I would urge anyone reading this to do the same. We’re not as bad as we think we are, and we’re just getting started.