I am 21 and I already feel old.
I can understand why this is a ridiculous sentiment to most people.
I am just starting my life. In fact, I graduated from college a year early. In certain respects I am younger than my peers. I technically have an entire year to “kill” because, I mean, I would have just been tucked away in Poughkeepsie anyway if not for some technical maneuvering. I have a lot to learn. I have potential, but I am not really great at anything yet. This is because I don’t have the experience. How could I? I’m, technically, young. But then why do I feel so old? Why do I already feel behind everyone else? Shouldn’t I already have sold a screenplay when I was 17 and marketed myself as a teenage prodigy? Shouldn’t I at least be signed to some sort of agent for… something???
I just read a review of “Fame” which explained these feelings perfectly.
A more critical shift, however, is that the median age of mainstream stars has plummeted in two decades — especially for women — and the expiration date on a young person’s acting or singing career is steadily rivaling that of a dancer’s or a model’s. Twenty years ago, when adults like Sigourney Weaver and Dustin Hoffman starred in movies, actors often spent their formative years honing their craft… But the sad truth is that, for teenagers craving fame today, it might not make sense to spend what are now the most castable years of their lives tucked away in a classroom. For better or worse, the modern training model might more closely resemble the nightmare territory of “Toddlers and Tiaras”; if you want a kid to know how to execute a perfect arabesque, you’d do best to start teaching her while she’s still in diapers.
And I really don’t even aspire to be on One Tree Hill. The most I’d want to be in the spotlight would be as a regular improviser at UCB. I wouldn’t mind doing a few sketch videos. And I suppose I’ll admit that my ambitions stretch as far as Saturday Night Live. But I see myself as a writer first and foremost. So it’s weird that I feel old at 21.
It’s true though. “Obtaining success” has become a normal concept for even sixteen-year-olds. Girls younger than me even have their own clothing empires. Where’s mine? And of course I recognize that it isn’t exactly normal to be so young and already have so much notoriety and money. And the issue here is not even that I want to be a Hannah Montana pop-star sensation. Of course I don’t. It’s easy to see how those girls are also under a lot of pressure and that it will be difficult for them to maintain their level of success throughout their premature careers.
And like I said, I want to write. So overall the existence of this phenomenon should be irrelevant to me. But the standard has been lowered, or raised, whichever way you want to put it. The expectations for people to be amazing are not only at a challenging level in the first place, but the amount of time in which these accomplishments are to be achieved is also steadily decreasing.
And forget acting and singing. Forget fame. There are people I went to college with who already started their own record labels and already have legitimate names signed to them. That’s insane! It’s great. But also, wow, I don’t think someone twenty years ago would have said the same thing about one of their college classmates.
The point, overall, is that as the bar keeps being pushed higher, it is reaching a point that I can’t imagine anyone can really reach well. Not only this, but I feel like my generation’s expectations of where they should be at in their careers at any given point is at a much higher place than it was in the past.
I graduated college and immediately most of my friends and I scrambled to find jobs. The economy sucked. Some found work, others didn’t. I sort of did. I’m pretty sure most felt disappointed, regardless of what happened. And we all recognize the limitations of the job market on our opportunities. But I think we also felt we were supposed to do more at this point. I’m not speaking for anyone in particular, but rather for the general population of recent college graduates.
So it’s difficult. Because we live in tough economic times, but we also live in an era where great things happen quickly. Instant gratification has become a more normal ideology in our society. As the above mentioned article quotes, “[there is a] reality of today’s instant celebrity, when YouTube stars like Chris “Leave Britney Alone!” Crocker and the sixth runner-up on ‘American Idol’ are more likely to enjoy name recognition than a kid who learned how to play the oboe at a performing arts school.” But beyond celebrity, we also have instant mashed potatoes, “intensive, accelerated” classes, and airplanes. Things happen quickly. We expect returns for our work at a much faster rate.
I think it’s gotten to the point where perhaps our own expectations of ourselves have become unreasonable. Again, a generalization. But 13-year-olds are giving each other blowjobs. People are graduating college a year early, or two. We’re all getting from A to B in less and less time. Pop-stars are emerging at age 15. Executives are now in their 30s, instead of their 40s. Also I guess the Internet. You know, that stuff about information becoming more instant and accessible. A web-page downloads in less than 20 seconds. We can absorb all the answers to the test in twenty seconds, creating a world of instant (sort of) geniuses.
In some ways, it’s nice that we spend less time waiting. But then, again, I think a lot of the important things in life take time. Learning how to write, for example, is a process. There are certain structures in a screenplay that are important to master to make sure that the story is solid and has reached its full potential. And yet casual strippers can hack out a script (which was decent, but not great) and make headlines.
Don’t even get me started on dating. Sex happens before you even know a person’s last name, maybe not even first.
I think the lesson I am personally trying to learn is that GOOD THINGS TAKE TIME. Unfortunately I feel like I live in a culture that does not value this concept very much.
I am trying to be patient. I am trying to accept that my flaws now are not really flaws, but works in progress. I am trying to believe that I do the things I do because I want to become the best I can be at that thing, and not because I am solely invested in the eventual outcome. It’s hard though. It’s hard to work on developing skills and values when you ultimately feel like it should have already “happened” for you. It’s hard to not give up, and also to recognize that many successful people that I look up to now were actually working at The Gap when they were my age. It’s hard to perceive yourself as being exactly where you should be at this point in your life. It’s hard to not give up because you feel like you aren’t as far as you should be… at age 21.
It’s ridiculous, I know. A lot of the time I try to use “reality” to my advantage. I try to remind myself that the people who have reached the level of success I crave are also older, and more experienced. I try to tell myself that I still have time.
But ultimately I am only painfully aware of just how quickly time will go. Right now I am 21 and I can feel okay about that, but before I know it I will be 30. And 40. And 50. For me, especially as a woman, these are particularly hard facts to accept. And it’s not that I think that people who are 30 or 40 or 50 are old. I don’t. But I know that a lot of society does feel that way. Youth is celebrated, but it is so temporary. The guys who are interested in me now will deem me “too old” in the amount of time it takes me to figure out how to actually be with a guy. Abby Elliott is the odd-21-year-old out on SNL right now, but by the time I have honed my craft I would be the odd-35-year-old out on a show full of kids just out of college. These ideas are possibly not true, but that’s how it feels to me right now.
I sort of wish we would all just slow down a little, myself included. I don’t wish that fast food or the Internet would go away, but I do wish we would appreciate and understand their value a little more, and not take it for granted. I don’t wish that people stop accomplishing things at a young age, but I also wish the pressure to grow up quickly were less. I don’t wish for people to lower their ambitions, but I do wish that our expectations of ourselves and others were a little more reasonable. You know, just that kind of stuff. Good things take time.