The New Retirement Age Is Thirty
The Changing Face of Work
Growing up, assuming you came from a decent home, you probably watched your parents haul off to work every day so they could put food on the table, clothes on your back and a roof over your head. Or some variation of that theme.
But it probably never felt like your parents were stuck in an existential malaise, longing to run off so they could find themselves. They weren’t stricken with the “why me?” disease that it seems everyone under the age of 30 has now.
That’s because things were different then. Baby-boomers came of age at a time when the idea of having a job at all was a big deal. They stayed employed at their companies for long periods of time. By the late 90s, the economy was booming and companies took care of their employees. Having a career meant you were secure.
But in the past twenty years everything has changed. Kids now aren’t taught to find careers. They’re taught to find their ‘passions.’ Then they’re encouraged to pursue them.
Except the world doesn’t bend to everyone’s beckoning whim— it doesn’t really give a shit about your passion— because it needs people to do normal stuff like collect garbage, police streets, put out fires and process applications at the DMV.
Which makes it hard. Torturous, even. Here you were, told that you were awesome and that you wouldn’t have to settle for a life of mediocrity, and that’s all you’ve got. That sucks.
Years ago, when someone was a ‘creative,’ they were off in their own space. If they were successful, if they’d made it, you might have heard about them through word of mouth. Maybe you saw them on television or in a magazine.
But they weren’t posting on their Facebook feed, or updating their Twitter timeline, constantly telling you about their really cool life. They weren’t digitally showing you whatever it is they were working on while you were sitting in your lowly cubicle, making you feel like a failure.
Spectating has become a full-time job in and of itself— looking at other people’s LinkedIn pages, their Facebook page, their Wikipedia page— and now we judge ourselves too often by what we haven’t done, instead of what we have.
And so by age 30, if we haven’t done X, Y or Z, we’re left unfilled. There seems like there’s so much life out to be lived, and we’re called to it… whatever ‘it’ is.
The myth of entrepreneurship doesn’t help, either. The American fantasy that you too can make your dreams a reality, all you have to do is try.
But that’s not reality. Reality is that bills need to be paid and life has to be lived, and no matter what you’re doing these days, there is no respite. Your parents left an office at 5 PM and their work was over. It did not begin again until they walked in the next morning.
Now, it’s almost assumed that whatever it is that you’re doing, you must love it. Otherwise you wouldn’t be answering email at midnight and sleeping with your phone in your bed.
So as you get older, and have spent years plugged into this matrix where everything is work work work— where your mind is never able to turn off— you age a lot. Maybe not in physical years, like in the sense that you’re 60. But you’re 30 and you’ve somehow managed to squeeze double the amount of work into that period of time.
You’re old. Mentally.
Your parents didn’t have to deal with this sort of thing. Rest assured, they had dreams and goals just like you. But they may have been able to spend a few hours on the weekend or in the evening entertaining these pursuits. And they weren’t answering email in the process.
They certainly weren’t idle, watching what their old high school friends are doing, making themselves feel like shit in the process. Heck, they probably had to go to their office just to use a computer at all.
So being unsettled and wanting more out of life is not a millennial problem or a hipster problem or a ‘whatever new word marketers are using to describe young people’ problem. It’s really a problem of being ‘plugged in’ all the time, and never being given the freedom to shut off.
Because society has a problem with leisure. The idea of sitting around doesn’t sound sexy. Winners never quit. Go hard or go home. Always be closing. Or some shit like that.
You need a break. Just retire. Then start on something new. You may fail. But ultimately you’ll thank yourself later.
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Paul Cantor is a writer, editor and music producer based in New York. Formerly an editor at AOL Music, his writing has appeared at Rolling Stone, MTV News, VICE and Billboard, among others outlets. Throughout his 10-year career he’s written/produced records for dozens of artists and provided creative services to brands like Disney, the CW Network, Verizon, Converse and HBO. His commentary has been tapped by the likes of CNN and Al Jazeera, and a selection of his recent work can be found HERE.