And then I turned 30

There's no going back. No second-guessing.

0 Paola Chaaya | Stocksnap.io

It’s not for a lack of topics that I struggle to start a new essay. It’s more a lack of focus that’s keeping me from deciding on what to write first as the next essay.

This is my block. But is it a real block? Or is it merely my over-active, anxiety-riddled brain working against me with its partners-in-crime, Low Confidence and Self Censorship?

I want to be a writer.

How cliche.

Me and everyone else in this day and age of the Internet, blogs, and freelance writing. And the cherry on top? I live in New York City. Oy vey

No, really. I want to be a writer. I was trained to be a writer, of sorts. And for reasons known to my subconscious, failed to become what I wanted to become. But now? With at least a decade of figuring myself out, I have a clearer, if not clear, sight of where I want to go and what I want to be. I want to be what I want to be: A writer. A storyteller. A reporter. Hunter S. Thompson. Edward R. Murrow. Nicholas Kristoff. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Christiane Amanpour. Dorothea Lange (ok, she was a photog, but a storyteller nonetheless). Norah Ephron. Hannah Arendt. Diane Rehm. And so on.

So what’s holding me back? Will 30 be just like 29? 28? Every year preceding that? Will I amount to anything as I begin my third decade on this Earth? Will my grand aspirations fizzle by February 1 because of my inner, self-doubting saboteur? Do I even have what it takes to be what I want to be?

Comparisons are not helpful. They make us feel bad but we do it anyway.

I turned 30 earlier this month and when I reflect on years past with the year to come, there is, inevitably, a tinge of disappointment. Many of my peers appear to have surpassed me in meaningful ways. Whatever “meaningful” actually means. They’re probably making more money than I am. They appear to be established in their careers in one form or another. They own a home or have enough money to rent a place without worrying about needing roommates to bring down costs (let’s ignore differences in cost of living). They travel. They experience life. They appear to have things figured out for themselves. They appear, all in all, happy with where they are.

And me? I’m chest-deep in student loan and credit card debt. I have an anxiety problem. I’m nowhere near saving enough money for my future old self. Traveling, even domestically, always seems out of reach for me. I don’t even know if I’ve even started my career yet. I don’t own a home and I have to live with roommates to keep the cost down. The future, in light of the newly elected Cheetos-dusted man-child, leaves me worried about the future of social science, academia, and the humanities. Which means my future is at stake.

I’ve failed to push myself to get where I want to go in my journalism career, which has now morphed into a hybrid one of journalism and research in the sociology of education. Money is a constant worry and a source of my anxiety. Envy is another. The last time my name showed up in a byline was in 2013. 2012? It’s been a few years. I’m ready for more. But where do I start? I’m frightened.

Stop complaining, you say. And you’re right. Even I recognize that my life is really not as bad as I’m making it out to be. But in the world of peer-to-peer comparisons, and comments tinged with disappointment or skepticism by family, everyone else’s lives just appear better than my own. I feel like shit.

. . .

I told myself last year, when I turned 29, that I had a year to figure things out and set myself up for a path of success when I turn 30 this year. Well, I’m now 30. And it’s still too early too tell—it’s only been three weeks. But if I can’t even stop picking at my lip, how in the hell will I succeed at becoming what I want to be? Becoming who I want to be? How can I change my attitude, my outlook, and my habits so I can put myself on the path of success? How can I really cast off the inner self-doubt and be more daring? More adventuresome? Less burdened by the things that don’t really matter?

It’s a terrible excuse but change doesn’t happen overnight, I tell myself. But it also shouldn’t take forever. And despite my hand-wringing and anxiety about my professional future, I have to remind myself that so far, 2017 hasn’t been too bad.

I’m working for an organization that has a well-intentioned mission, and has great potential to be a future ethnographic research site. I’m embedding myself into its culture, learning, thinking, reading, formulating. And doing my grunt work for them at the same time.

This year I’ll be recommitting myself to actually preparing for the GREs, revisiting a paper I wrote for my master’s degree, and applying to Ph.D. programs.

This year, I’m committing myself to practice writing and become a better writer and thinker. (So far it’s been successful at an essay a week.) I’m looking to jump into freelance writing, working on a variety of pitches to send off soon. I’m also looking to not only read more but read a wider variety of genres, authors, and types of narratives. And I’m jumping back into photography.

All of these are good things. Another thing that I am, weirdly, optimistic about: The occupation of the White House by a Cheetos-dusted, tantrum-prone man-child, while terrible, is an opportunity for awesome things. Think of all the amazing writing prompts and inspiration he and his ilk will give us!

The man-child wants to make America great again? He wants to unify us? He will undoubtedly succeed in these two promises, just not the way he expects. (Look no further than the Women’s March as the introductory chapter to the next four years.)

I’ll be harnessing the energy from this opportunity to make 30 different from what the previous 29 have been. It’s scary. But there’s no turning back. There’s no second-guessing. Not any more.

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