The best year of your life may be behind you. Time to have another one.
The other day I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, the joy slowly leaking from me like a pin-pricked balloon, when something woke me up. It was a tweet by someone I don’t know, in which the tweeter linked to a piece she wrote years earlier. Her commentary: “Pretty sure I peaked in 2011.”
Hush, little baby. Mama knows. I, too, peaked in 2011. I quit my terrible job with no idea what I’d do next and the sort of delusional confidence only a 24-year-old can muster. “I have enough saved to pay rent for three months!” I justified, forgetting about that food thing that costs money. “Certainly, that’s long enough to find a new job,” I reasoned, pacing my hallway and shredding the wallpaper with my fingernails. “And not just any job. A writing job!” I howled at the moon like a rabid, unemployed wolf.
But I wasn’t wrong! That year, I published tons of work with places I respected, had a full-time writing job by year’s end, and even got tweeted at by two of my childhood idols: Judy Blume and Ricki Lake. I was not just peaking, I was MOUNT EVERESTING.
It didn’t dawn on me until last year that my life and work have been on what I perceive to be a silent, downward trajectory since then. I haven’t been writing as much. I haven’t taken any risks. I pretty much refuse to do anything “scary,” because why take chances when there’s like, 40 Netflix Original Series on tap?
Mmm. Mostly because that’s a totally depressing way to live. If I peaked four years ago and it’s all downhill from here, that means—according to my latest tarot reading—I have forty years of plummeting to do before I die. In the words of Peggy Lee, is that all there is?
The short answer is no. The long answer is that I’m in a self-imposed rut. Maybe you are, too. The idea of “peaking” is a gift that our present self gives to our past self. Our brains filter out all the undesirable details associated with our peak moment, leaving behind a sexy montage of us being the fucking best at everything. When I think of my go-to peak year, I conveniently forget that aside from some small writing achievements, I was eating mozzarella sandwiches everyday, I’d just been diagnosed with a disease I’ll have for the rest of ever, and I had to rely on unemployment and Medicaid while I got my shit together. (You may think I have really low peak standards, but I swear—it was kind of a good year when it wasn’t a bad one.)
So why do I feel like I’m not doing enough now? It’s not because I peaked in 2011. It’s because my perspective is completely myopic. I see 2011 me as some rose-tinted person who acted on the whims I wish I could act on now, who got what she wanted without struggling. That translates to 2015 me being kind of lame and unsalvagable. I don’t bother taking into account any of the personal growth I’ve made, or any of the things I’ve achieved this year, on which I’ll probably look back and say, “Wow, 2015 me killed it. Wish I could say the same about 2019 me…”
There are all kinds of things that are beyond our control, external factors that can prevent us from pursuing what our younger selves could. But the one thing we can control is our perspectives. Keep yours. Life is not a victory march, nor is it a highway (sorry, guy everyone thinks is Tom Petty). Life is hundreds of peaks and valleys. It’s bold moves and mozzarella sandwiches. You can’t have one without the other.
So if you feel like you’ve already peaked, just peak again. You’re probably doing it right now, without even knowing it. Guess we’ll find out in a couple years.