This is the least fanfare I’ve ever had for a birthday. I’ve finally surpassed the youthful landmarks of 18 and 21, effectively lapsing into the kind of non-chalant birthday malaise that I thought I’d always evade. I thought I’d always want a big cake and a party, a bunch of presents and the acknowledgement of my special day from everyone who had ever so much as passed me in the street.
This year, without even really thinking about it, I just turned another year older. I managed to pass my entire morning routine and say goodbye to one of my housemates without him even realising. A few minutes later, when he was presumably on the train, he made a post of disbelief on my Facebook wall.
I suppose it has something to do with working. If it were up to me, I’d be having a blow-out tonight. Put out a few slabs, invite everyone over, do something stupid, ride a shopping trolley off a dining table. You can’t be playing drunken Jackass at two in the morning when you’ve got to be up at seven so you can help teach kids about art.
22 isn’t old. I find myself constantly having to tell myself that. There’s a lot of discussion these days about how the current ‘web generation’ of kids are suffering from a lot of anxiety due to their total exposure to the various horrors and wonders of the world from such a young age. They’re scared of the worst things that are possible, and equally scared that they won’t be able to achieve the lofty heights of the best of what’s possible, largely due to the possibility that one of the worst things will get in their way and stop them.
Then you’ve got the generation above myself and my peers, those who saw the world sans-internet, got a feel for it, then adapted and now mostly bask in the myriad things that our amazing network of technology can do. They found a new tool and made the most of it.
Between those two, you’ve got myself and others like me, who grew up in the thick of discovering all the could be discovered via the internet, before really realising all the things that could also be created. Now we’re in the position of knowing all the potential that we may have missed out on because we were too busy on ebaumsworld and customising our Myspace pages, and are desperate to catch up.
We suffer from what those generationally above us would call a lack of patience, but what would probably be better described as a fear of time. It’s not that we want it all now, we just know everyone’s racing to the same destinations.
I remember, when I was in high school, spending sleepless nights caked in sweat and the genuine concern that I’d never be able to read every book I’d ever wanted to read or see every movie I wanted to see or listen to every song I wanted to hear. It was a concern born of abundance, of discovering internet piracy and its ability to provide me with everything I had ever wanted, but knowing that I would not have the time to enjoy all of it.
Fear is often bred of comparison – of seeing your life, seeing what’s possible, and discovering the terrifying gulf between those two things. It’s paralysing.
Every day, every week or month, there’s a new story of some outstanding wunderkïnd who’s broken a new genetic code, perfected an acrobatic technique, written their first symphony. Often, they’re not wunderkïnds, just people marginally older than me who happen to have a much greater capacity for discipline. Every time I read one of those stories, I am wracked with guilt and disappointment.
How much more could I have accomplished? How much more should I have accomplished? Am I an idiot, because I’m not the best in the world at something already? Am I running behind? Is any progress that I have made meaningless? Will everyone mock me if I make my first million at 25 instead of 20? Would it be easier to just admit defeat now, accept I’ll never be anything of note? I mean, compared to that guy who’s on the world stage at my age, I’m bullshit, right?
Today, my 22nd birthday, is probably the first time I’ve been able to say,
No-one will give a shit. People don’t judge accomplishments based on time, they base them on the merit of the accomplishment. There’s no rush to do anything.
Yeah, the clock’s always ticking. Yeah, it’s better to be getting things done than not. Yeah, you should work hard and often. But there’s not some cut-off point after which you’re out of the race. The finish line isn’t creeping up on you from behind, it’s somewhere out in the distance.
Everyone has their own pace, and that’s cool. No-one’s fundamentally better than anyone else. Some people are better at things than other people, some people are slow-burners. Some people will probably realise stuff a little too late, and some people can harness their talents in cooperation with the scary, ethereal bastard that is time to create things that are world-changing and all-encompassing and exciting. No-one has to be in competition with those people, you don’t have to be in competition with anyone.
In fact, competition’s fine. Have goals, have people in mind to aspire to exceed. Have rivals, push yourself. Don’t be in comparison with anyone, though. Don’t mistake another person’s finish line for your second or third mile. Don’t let another person’s success affect your own progress.
What I’m trying to say is, I’ve just turned 22, and I don’t give a shit. I’m not running out of time, I’m just experiencing more of it. I was right, in high school. I won’t get to read every book or watch every movie or listen to every song, but I can prioritise. Today’s just another day that I should be doing all that I’m able to do to get the things that I want to get done, done. I’ve got all the time in the world, and I don’t want to waste a second of it.
Happy birthday indeed.