34 Going On the Rest of My Life

I haven’t blogged for a while. To my surprise, I missed it. I missed pouring out my thoughts onto a blank page, translating — approximating — their complexity into a string of words. Words with meaning and rhythm. I missed the revision process of trashing, trimming, tweaking — searching for the right words that seemed to be lodged in the abyss of my gray matter ready to be found, so close yet so far. Yes, it is still an agonizing process, but the lonely dance of writing can still be beautiful.

So, why haven’t I blogged recently?

I turned 34 last Tuesday. I had been dreading this birthday for weeks, more so than usual. The downside of not working crazy hours is the luxury of spending hours and days dwelling on unpleasant topics, like aging. Rationally I know November 23 is just another ordinary day in a continuous span of life. The increase in a number has little impact on my daily existence. But emotion has its own logic and power.

As a budding thirteen year old watching Sound of Music, I loved the duet under the gazebo between Rolf and Lisle (despite the fact that Rolf turned out to be an asshole). Sixteen going on seventeen is magical — “an empty stage for fate to turn the light on”. I still remember vividly when I wished that four years could speed by so that I could turn seventeen sooner.

Now, I wish time could slow down for me to cling onto membership in the “25 to 34” club a little longer. Many surveys use the age brackets of under 25, 25-34, 35-44, and so forth. I like being grouped with people in their late 20s because of the sense of possibility. A struggling artist in her late 20s sharing a tiny apartment with roommates and partying all night is a hipster. The same person in her mid-30s would be considered irresponsible. According to societal standards, she should be juggling a career and babies (hopefully with a husband), tending her 401(k), and taking care of the mind-blowingly boring chores of domesticity.

Indeed, turning 17 twice at 34 — on a stage half full — is the cusp of middle-age. The US census lists middle age as including the age brackets of 35-44 and 45-54.

The past ten years passed me by in the blink of an eye . How long do I have before my boobs sag and my ass cheeks wrinkle? Probably sooner than I expect.

So, I was down. I felt old –- despite having recently felt young upon my liberation from BigLaw. The lines on my forehead seemed to have deepened. Brown speckles, which could be sun spots or, worse, age spots, seemed to appear on my face overnight. I couldn’t help thinking about all the possibilities that have been foreclosed. I would never qualify for any of those “30 under 30” lists. Soon it will also be too late to qualify for any “35 under 35” lists.

The day before my birthday, I happened to come across the web site that profiled the evolving careers of alumni of the Soros Fellowship, a prestigious award that supports the graduate studies of 30 “New Americans” each year. I applied for this fellowship nine years ago, but wasn’t selected.

Losing out on the money was disappointing, but I took the rejection more deeply. I knew a few Soros fellows personally. I compared myself to them and decided I would never achieve the greatness they could. I was simply not as resourceful, as creative, as visionary… When I later succumbed to the embrace of BigLaw, the soreness of the rejection along with my dream to become a “somebody” faded away.

So it was with special interest that I now read through the profiles of the fellows, seeing the life they have chosen and settled. Their achievements were certainly impressive, but I didn’t feel that these achievements were so far outside my grasp had I wanted or tried their paths. I questioned whether my belief in my inadequacy was well founded. I felt my dormant ambition stirring.

I pondered this over the next couple of days. I was attracted to these Soros fellows’ seeming ability to follow and to succeed in their passions. Can I ever succeed in something that has meaning to me?

At the age of 34, I accept that certain aspects of my physical state may be in decline and certain opportunities may no longer be available, but my mental agility and energy level (especially after months of recuperation) are in tip-top shape. Why wait for fate to turn the light on? Why wait for opportunities to open or foreclose? Why not forge my own path?

Indeed, I have a rare opportunity before me right now. The timing may in fact be better than nine years ago. I have the advantage of being more seasoned and stable and am equipped with the financial means and emotional support to explore, achieve, fail, and try again.

I am exploring now. I may succeed. But I may fail and that would be okay because I am going to pick myself and try again.

I have 358 days remaining in the 25-34 age bracket. Not sixteen going on seventeen, but 34 going on the rest of my life.

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13 Responses to 34 Going On the Rest of My Life

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 34 Going On the Rest of My Life | Every Six Minutes -- Topsy.com

  2. 1/3rd down, 2/3rd to go. That’s a lot.

  3. Caroline Otero says:

    Idk, I’m 28 and finishing my bachelor’s. No husband, no kids: not interested in either- I only have two rabbits and a lovebird. And I feel pretty far behind. I thought I was supposed to have a husband, kids and a 401K by now too. Maybe I should loosen up! I can’t even *start* my career till I graduate in 2014.

    So, it could be worse. I think you’re on top of things. jmo.

    • everysixminutes says:

      One of the hardest things I struggle with in this journey so far is to stop comparing myself to others. Your two rabbits and the lovebird are lucky to have you!

  4. Daniel says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I came upon your blog through the NYT article. Your insights are so compelling, and having read (and in turn, subscribed to) your blog gives me as a reader even more clarity. Your writings are healthy for this reader; I also made a dramatic career leap, and that was one of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself.

    I, like you, had also subscribed to the conventional idea of success, and followed it. But how freeing it was when I made my change, and I am more successful now, because I am in a career that is so nourishing, and grows as I stay in it. Parental support means guidance, teaching and support. I was so lucky to have that.

    Re your ’34 Going on the Rest of Your Life’ blog, the rare opportunity you mentioned says it all. It’s better now because with the experience, you bring more to the table. That experience and means that I now have make me feel much younger now than I did when I was in my mid-20s. (I’m in the next age bracket.) Glad you’re in that place, and go where it takes you.

    I look forward to more of your posts.

    Best,
    Daniel

  5. Deloras Geoffrey says:

    Greetings from Colorado! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my mobile .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, wonderful site!

  6. Moria says:

    You ARE currently succeeding in what has meaning to you.
    I can see that you live in the present and are forward looking, both of which are very good ingredients for success. The thing is that up to this point you have had a program and self-discipline to engage and succeed in the program you have been a part of. Going forward, you must either chose another structured program to succeed in or create one of your own. Creating, now that is an immense challenge. Insurmountable for many. I appreciate that you are willing to “create” so openly in the public domain. I think you must have a healthy amount of confidence and courage.

    • everysixminutes says:

      Thanks Moria for your encouragement here and elsewhere. I do find it challenging to “create” — to face and subsume risks, not just evaluating them like I did before. There are moments of diffidence, but I am lucky to have a supportive husband and encouraging readers like you.

  7. CourseX says:

    Great post. I recently turned 35 and am contemplating the same things as I too have the found myself with the necessary freedoms to “explore, achieve, fail, and try again”. It’s both exciting and terrifying but if not now, then when? Looking forward to reading more!

  8. Ray says:

    Found your website off the MIT alum Facebook feed.  I’m also a ’99 alum, and certainly empathize with the age concerns.  Just turned 34 recently too, and many things are raising existential questions about life, the remaining time.  Most of all, I identify with the loss (however slight) of the youthful hope and ambition one has while in their 20s (and certainly while at MIT).  

    IANAL, but I am comfortably ensconced in the Silicon Valley technical world.   I quit my job once before (for 2 years of travel), and your blog has stirred the memories of why I quit the first time, why I came back, and ultimately, whether I should be doing other things. Ironically, although I lament the lack of time in my current schedule, I’m not unhappy. The difficulty is knowing whether I’ll look back and wish I had accomplished other things. Life can be rewarding when happiness is not in abundance, so I can’t use it as the only guide.

    Anyways, I don’t mean to be narcissistic, but your story is both uncommon and common, and very relatable.   Good luck with your experiment. If you figure out how to reliably recharge your dreams as you get older, do write about it!

    PS.  And similar to the Soros Fellows, I find myself doing the same thing with alumni notes in the Tech Review… :)

    • everysixminutes says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Life is a series of choices and choosing means foreclosing the non-chosen. Having choices is great — and I’d rather have choices than not — but it also carries the nagging self-doubt of hindsight what-ifs. I think aging accentuates these doubts.

      I am struck by one sentence: “Life can be rewarding when happiness is not in abundance.” Do you mean that discontentment and struggles give life meaning?

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