A few days before my 27th birthday, I had a short exchange with an old friend. She asked if I was excited for my birthday, which I normally am. Historically, I love my birthday.
But when she asked, I realized I wasn’t excited — I was dreading it.
“I’m starting to worry about getting old,” I told her.
This may sound obnoxious if you’re older than me — but I’m not afraid of aging. In fact, I often literally daydream of being an old woman. Some of my favorite people in the world these days are old women, and I admire their strength, wisdom, and bravery. No, I’m not afraid of being old.
I’m afraid that the years are passing me by, and I haven’t accomplished enough yet.
My friend's response was that most people our age feel that way, and I was surprised. Almost everyone I know my age is accomplishing great things. All of my friends have successful careers, are building families, or are doing amazing activism that improves the world. I would never think that they “should have accomplished more by now.” I realized we judge ourselves more harshly than our friends and, in times of transition, we are particularly vulnerable to feeling like we are falling behind.
The shame of having not “made it” yet can hold us back from moving forward, telling us that we are not good enough and don’t deserve success in the future.
The truth is, in my 27 years, I’ve done a lot:
I was the co-President of a student organization that reduced suicide on my college campus.
I worked as a neuroscientist, designing and implementing my own study as an undergraduate.
I held seven or eight different jobs so I could afford to stay in school, including as a maid cleaning bathrooms.
I graduated from college (early) with honors.
I survived an abusive relationship and sexual assault.
I created my own job at an organization I wanted to work for, and convinced them to hire me for it.
I helped my family through the aftermath of my mother’s death.
I moved to the city I had always wanted to live in.
I co-founded and led an animal rights organization, grew it from a small handful of members to over 200, and rescued 20+ animals.
I found love with an amazing man and built a life with him.
I learned how to code, and got a job as a software engineer in only two years, working alongside people with degrees in computer science.
I went to therapy, and learned how to handle my PTSD and anxiety.
I spoke at conferences about creating powerful social justice movements for both animals and technology.
If you are in a transition period in your life, like a birthday or in between jobs, and wondering, “Have I done enough?” — try listing out everything you’ve accomplished in your life.
Maybe we’re not all high-powered executives with prestigious jobs and maybe we haven’t solved all the world’s problems yet, but maybe we can also have compassion on ourselves for having made it this far.
This year I’m recognizing that I have accomplished enough so far — and probably, so have you.
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