I’d like my success right now, thank you

Stop worrying — you don’t have to achieve smashing success by the time you’re 22 years old.

Kate McCarthy

When I was about 14, I carefully cut, folded and tucked away an Entertainment Weekly cover story on Lena Dunham.

The frequency of the word “wunderkind” made me feel self-conscious about my failure to become a savant or purveyor of something. 

Discouraged by the primacy placed on youthful feats, it seemed like all of my role models were full of unrelenting energy and continued to successfully surpass their previous accomplishments.

It’s been one full year since I graduated high school. While I had a great first year of college, I can’t help thinking morosely, “Wow, one year down. Only three years left to accomplish something truly impressive.” 

I can remember my mother and her friends complaining vapidly about their age. Now, at the ripe age of 19, I feel the same way. Is there life after 30?

I’ve always hated birthdays. Every passing birthday is a reminder of my great anxiety over procuring success early in my career.

I’m trying to unlearn all the severe categorizations I have in my head. These consumptive, toxic thoughts about success keep me up late at night, Googling the biographical information of luminaries I admire. Was it 1985 or 1896 when they reached the peak of their success? I’m trying to stop mentally calculating how old they would have been at the height of their careers.

At the risk of sounding trite, I’ve begun to understand that everyone’s path is different. What about the man who decided to take night classes to earn a belated GED? And what about the woman who scrapped her job for a new career? The value of accomplishments shouldn’t be tied to age.

But that’s a hard truth to accept in a society that places such a premium on youth. We’ve been taught that you must complete the most impactful work of your life when you’re young.

The web is littered with lists of “40 Young People Who Became Millionaires Before They Were 20” and “10 Successful Young Entrepreneurs” and “The Top Celebrity Babies Killin’ the Game Right Now.” We’re hungry for the prestige and novelty of having attained things by a certain age, to be the youngest person to achieve something. 

Of course, if you do it all by 23, what’s left? The impatience can be damaging. Attaining substantive skill or understanding takes cold, hard time. Every year, we gain new perceptions, thoughts, tastes and sensibilities. Time is valuable. 

As James Taylor once said in a sweet, soothing song, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”

And as I once said, less eloquently, “Pull it together, Kate, calm down for, like, two seconds. Bobby Fischer is an anomaly. An anomaly!”

I don’t want to pursue a goal plainly because I think it’ll be another fine feather in my hat. It’s important to be ambitious, but chasing the clock can be dangerous. 

Enjoy your ride, and your fleeting youth. In the end, you’ll age and yellow just like the pages of a Lena Dunham article.


Kate McCarthy welcomes comments at [email protected]