Last week I had a birthday.
When I was a child, birthdays used to be exciting (“Presents!”). As a twenty-something, birthdays swung between awesome (my husband is a GREAT gift-giver) and depressing (“I’ve accomplished *HOW* little in my life?”). See, I had expected to rule the world (or, um, at least dominate my profession) by thirty.
As you can tell, that didn’t happen. And I’m fine with it.
As a society, we are very impressed by the accomplishments of youth. Competition with our age-mates starts early. Even before we can walk or talk, our parents are comparing notes with other parents (“Johnny rolled over when he was six weeks old!” “Well, Suzie didn’t roll over till the longest time, but she crawled at four months”). I know, all of us parents think our babies are geniuses. I, at least, try not to rave too much about it.
It only gets worse from there on out. There is such pressure to be the best as possible, as young as possible. It’s not enough that we must read, but that we must read early (at 4, or 3, or even 2). It’s not enough that we play the Moonlight Sonata beautifully, but that we must be five rather than fifteen when we do so. It’s not enough that we go to college, but that we go at sixteen rather than eighteen. It’s not enough that we graduate in the top tier of our class, but that we must then sally forth and “change the world” or “be the leaders of tomorrow” (whatever THAT means). Society and the media fawns over the prodigy, to such a point that we feel that we have to accomplish our dreams young–or else we are failures.
It used to bother me, in my 20s, that my other age-mates were doing great things. Other 20-somethings got agents and publishing contracts, and here I was, with 30 marching inexorably closer, while my days were measured out in feedings and diaper changes.
And the I hit 30 (or it hit me :D) and you know what? The world didn’t turn all flat and grey. Life didn’t slam its doors shut on me. I still had plenty of health and opportunity and time left. What’s the rush? I don’t have to march lock-step with my age-mates, or one-up anyone. Life is not a zero-sum game, and there will still be plenty of chocolate cake at the finish line, whenever I get there. (There had better be, because hell hath no fury like a woman deprived of cake!)
What about you? Do you feel the pressure to be better than everyone else? How do you cope?