As my friends and I enter the year of the 30th birthdays, I have found myself in the midst of many deflated discussions and a whole heap of panic. Although 30 is still bloody young in my opinion, it’s quite commonly the age where people think they should have their shit together.
What someone actually defines as having their “shit together”, however, is ridiculously subjective. The variance of worries and concerns is huge.
- Some of my friends believe that they don’t earn as much as they thought they would be earning by this age.
- Some are in debt, when they thought they’d be millionaires by now.
- Some can’t believe they’ve missed the boat to be considered for Forbes 30 Under 30 list (I’ll admit, this one hurts me a little too — why did we all think we’d end up on here?)
- Some haven’t found ‘the one’ and are struggling amongst the bombardment of engagement and wedding posts.
- Some thought they’d own a house by now.
- Some are worried about their biological clock when it comes to their desire towards having kids.
- Some aren’t happy with their career choice, but feel like 30 is too old to start again (it isn’t).
- Some are considering going back to university to study something else.
Many are simply lost… and everyone is a little confused.
Are we where we thought we’d be?
Are we where we’re ‘supposed’ to be?
For those of who are reading this and are over the age of 30, it’s completely fair for you to have a little chuckle at the above.
We know 30 is still young.
We know that for those of us lucky enough to make it through to old age, we still have a few decades to go.
Deep down, we know we have plenty of time to achieve a lot of what we want.
So why do milestones like this hit so damn hard?
What has caused this unnecessary stress, and imposed all of these feelings of self-doubt?
Society’s obsession with success stories and young prodigies is hugely to blame for this wide sense of failure. Throughout our lives, we are bombarded with articles, documentaries, interviews, films and news stories of these amazing people who have achieved incredible things at ridiculously young ages.
We in turn begin to question our worth and our contribution to the world. We watch these people achieve quite mind-blowing things and wonder what the hell we’re doing with our own lives.
We look back at our younger selves and feel a sense of guilt for how we’ve turned out — would we disappoint them? Because we don’t have the huge house and the “nice” car, and we haven’t written a best-selling novel or won an Oscar or popped out 6 kids and we don’t own our own company and instead have thousands of dollars in university debt.
In order to tame these feelings, it’s important to remember that young prodigies (whether you define “young” as a child, teen, 20s, 30s) are not actually the norm.
They’re the exception to the rule.
Sure, they are amazing people achieving wonderful things, but they are an anomaly.
There’s a reason why society is so fascinated by them, and that reason is because they are so unique. We all love a great success story, if not to find inspiration for ourselves within them. But as we get older, and the success stories aren’t are own but are instead of those far younger than us, it’s hard not to feel the twang of failure. Even though, you’re not failing at all.
For every Picasso, Greta Thundberg, JK Rowling and Tolstoy, you have an Alan Rickman (who landed his first role at age 41), Harland “Colonel” Sanders (who was 62 years old when he franchised KFC), Viola Davis (who didn’t become a household name until her role in Doubt at aged 43) and Vera Wang (who entered the fashion industry when she was 40). A simple google search about people who have achieved great things later in life brings up a huge amount of stories.
Why? Because age is but a number.
We must always remember that firstly, genius isn’t reserved for the young.
You have not missed the boat simply because you didn’t do what you wanted to do by a certain age.
Secondly, we need to remember that success is more commonly attributed to perseverance, experience and the life lessons that we’ve learnt along the way.
Sometimes, we need those years of experience to ready ourselves for what’s next.
Rarely are we ready to write that book or start that business or have that family in our younger years.
Something I’ve learnt over the last few years, which has brought me an incredible sense of peace, is that we can’t always force or manipulate our experience and time in this world. It’s easy to feel like we should never be resting. That every waking minute should be spent being productive. We bullet-point journal and buy expensive diaries to lay out our plans and we read countless ‘productivity tips’ on Medium and constantly feel that if we aren’t moving towards the life that we envisioned for ourselves, then we are letting ourselves down.
This simply isn’t true.
You don’t always have to be forcing yourself down a certain path just because time is a factor. Time isn’t always the enemy — sometimes it’s a necessary tool to be able to better achieve, appreciate and handle what life throws at you.
Most importantly, regardless of what you think you’re supposed to accomplish, you are doing just fine, as you are, right now. Everything you are is enough. The only thing we have is the present, and it’s important to focus on all you have and have done, rather than what you don’t and have not. Everything else will follow suit.
I know it’s incredibly hard to not measure our successes against that of others. It’s not helpful to the cause that we live in a society that bombards us with the highlight reels of friends, families, celebrities and old class mates across multiple social media platforms every single day.
Influencers and celebrities post their luxurious homes, cars and holidays all over our feeds. Just when we feel content with something that we do have, a post shows something that we don’t. Social media exacerbates comparison, and in turn, the feeling of failure.
But we can appease this sense of longing by practising gratitude and re-defining our idea of ‘success’. More often than not, we are far more successful than we think. There would be thousands of people who would like to be where you are, have what you have, have done what you’ve done.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
But this mentality doesn’t always ease the pain and discomfort. Sometimes, we really do want more — and that’s okay. What’s not okay is thinking that your success is defined by what age you reach certain milestones, goals and successes.
Nothing is less possible simply because you have reached another decade of your life.
Also keep in mind that not all successes are as fabulous as they seem. Rarely do the success stories, articles and Instagram posts highlight the negatives within that person’s experience. The media tends to turn a blind-eye towards the difficulties and failures that the majority of people face throughout their lives, especially those who are achieving amazing things at crazy ages. The difficulties and the failures experienced don’t make for such a poetic, inspirational and mind-boggling story. Don’t be fooled.
Our idea of what defines success can change daily, monthly, yearly.
Sometimes a major life event can shift your perspective. Desiring money, fame and recognition can change to simply desiring a sense of safety and feeling of contentment towards the health of yourself and your loved ones — two completely different perspectives on what it means to be wealthy.
Your career goals can be overtaken by your family goals which can be overtaken by your travel goals and so forth.
Nothing is static, which is why it’s important to take each day as it comes instead of constantly fearing the future and worrying about all the things you ‘should’ be doing instead of simply living in the moment.
The moment is all we have.
It’s okay to admire those who achieve wonderful things at a young age, but never let them determine your own sense of success or self-worth.
You don’t have to set yourself unrealistic goals only to feel horrendous when you can’t make them work.
If there’s something you want to do, achieve, get, have — whatever it may be — don’t be put off just because there’s another candle on your birthday cake. It really doesn’t mean anything, in the long run. Breathe, relax, all in good time.