I turned 27 in 2013 and like many who start viewing birthdays as a countdown rather than a celebration, this caused me strife. Since I no longer flank the official mid-twenties mark of 25, I try to take an inventory of what this new age means and how I stack up against the expectations that one faces in their late-mid twenties.
Attempting to identify the origin of age-related stress, I realize that I’ve been living with the fallacy that my period of curiosity, learning, and being a student were over. I had this unrealistic idea that once you reach your late twenties, you were supposed to have it “figured out” and that you should have acquired a bank of knowledge sufficient enough to carry you through the bulk of your professional life. (I have a feeling it’s exactly this belief that causes many people to resent millennials, as I’m sure many 20-somethings believe they HAVE acquired a sufficient enough bank of knowledge to carry them through. Just to be clear, I am not one of them.)
I realize that I’ve had it all wrong and as a result I am wasting energy on something that is a product of my own imagination. Ironically, this way of thinking opens the door to fear and resistance and ends up stunting your potential to learn and do new things which is what started the whole quarter-life crisis panic in the first place. I was embarrassed to start my blog because I’m not a blogger, I’m not a writer, and I didn’t know the first thing about WordPress. The jump from where I was starting to where I wanted to be seemed like a treacherous chasm of frustration, mystery and expended energy that was proportionally greater than the potential return. I knew I wouldn’t be able to create something as beautiful as Refinery29, as funny as ManRepeller or as honest as Scary Mommy. But at a certain point, the opportunity to learn something along the way becomes more valuable than the end product. And as all entrepreneurs, self-help gurus and daily-quote tweet bots say, the only way you’re guaranteed to fail at something is if you never try in the first place.
My new goal for every additional year is to remain curious, never stop identifying as a student and never stop doing. I may not receive a certificate of completion, transcripts, or be able to qualify my self-guided learning with a series of numbers. I need to stop exclusively associating learning with school. School provides you a safe framework in which to learn so that you feel accomplished and build the confidence and tools needed to learn on your own in the real world. It is actually those who reject the notion of self-guided/life-long learning that are small-minded and have little promise for doing great things in their future. Many incredibly smart, successful, interesting leaders navigate their way through adult life by embracing and emphasizing the things that they don’t know but want to learn more about. Realizing that there is no end point to what you can learn or do makes the world (and YOU) a lot more interesting.