I just turned the magical age of twenty-seven a few days ago. According to my mother, I’m already old.
But I don’t feel like it. In my head I’m still just a kid pretending to be an adult who has her shit together, like Jennifer Garner’s character Jenna Rink in 13 Going on 30.
I can’t deny though that a small bubble of panicky thoughts has surfaced upon reaching this age. I have less than three years to be, as Jenna put it, “thirty, flirty and thriving.” People’s tolerance of me making stupid life choices is at its lowest because I should’ve honed my decision-making skills by now. And it doesn’t help that a slew of inspirational ladies like Taylor Swift, Tavi Gevinson and Malala Yousafzai have already achieved so much at a younger age.
I was chatting with my friend (C.J. 1988) recently and he said that he feels like he hasn’t achieved anything or lived his life to the fullest. He doesn’t find fulfillment in his work and hobbies. He thinks he wasted his youth being complacent and now it’s too late to start over.
I get where he’s coming from because I also misspent my time as a teenager. My life merely ping-ponged between our house and school during college. I didn’t explore what the world had to offer or expose myself to more people. I was too scared to fail that I didn’t even try. If I did, then maybe I could’ve found out at an earlier age that writing is my thing. And maybe I could’ve done something about it like changing my course in college or joining a creative writing club.
But even if I were that young again, I still probably wouldn’t have pursued writing because my insecurities—my self-perceived lack of talent—would’ve prevented me from doing so. Not that my pursuing writing now means I’ve changed my opinion of myself. I just care more about the actual writing process and less about my lack of talent for writing.
My conversation with C.J. reminded me of this passage in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar because it perfectly illustrates what deciding to do with your life feels like:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
My friend’s concerns and this quote comfort me because it confirms that I’m not the only person who feels confused and helpless sometimes. I feel vindicated and grateful whenever someone shares articles on how to be successful because then I’m not the only one who isn’t. In the same vein, it throws me off when one of my peers achieves a milestone. When this happens I remind myself that “I have no desire for anyone else’s throne” and to “never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” (Thank you for your wisdom, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Anne Lamott.)
I haven’t achieved the usual success indicators like getting a promotion, finishing a post-graduate degree or getting married but I’m doing my own thing to achieve what I want for myself: to be a writer. I read constantly to learn what good writing sounds like. I heed the advice of writers I respect, notably those who were published later in life. I have more than two years’ worth of journal entries and it’s been a useful tool for putting thoughts on a page. I blog to discover my writing voice and to practice for when I actually get paid to write. My posts are not New York Times-worthy but I edit them as if they were.
It’s sometimes difficult to muster the energy to continue doing these things when I think about how pathetic I appear to some people and with my efforts failing to take me closer to my goal. Whenever I’m second-guessing myself and nursing my insecurities, I look at my life in terms of The Grand Scheme of Things.
I’m just a speck of dust in this universe. And the fact that I exist at all is a thing of wonder. However, I will still die. The people who will remember me will die. Our sun will die and our home will die with it. In short, someday, all my efforts will be in vain. It’s a depressing thought. But it’s a thought that frees me from worrying about my “unsuccessful” life. The thought of death and insignificance allows me to say “Life is short. Do what you want. And don’t hurt anybody in the process.”
I know that’s easier said than done especially if you have more pressing problems other than self-actualization. Feel free to discard my advice. The real reason I wrote this anyway is for the same reason we read those articles about happiness and success in the first place: for hope and solace. I am alone in writing this and my feelings are my own, but I know I’m not alone in experiencing them. And my hope is for someone to read this, understand what I wrote, and find solace in my words.