I turn 35 in less than a month.
It shouldn’t be a big deal, not really. 30 is supposed to be the big number, the gateway to true adulthood, but that milestone slid by me without much hand-wringing. It was a time in my life when so many other things seemed much more pressing. 30 was no big deal, comparatively.
35 feels like a very big deal.
It’s the point after which you are no longer described as young- you’re not a young woman, or a young novelist, or a young painter. Once and for all, the stigma that comes with the adjective “young” is relieved- and with it, the cushion of being considered “young” is also relieved, or rather, yanked right out from under you.
By 35, you better have all your shit in a sock.
I don’t even know where all my socks are.
I’m a failure at 35 before I’ve even gotten there.
Here’s what doesn’t worry me about 35- the grey hair I already have in spades; the laughing crinkles around my eyes; the extra 30 pounds I’m carrying around proudly, the love child of me and and the sexy, irresistible Durham restaurant industry. For better or worse, I’ve never been all that concerned about how my physical appearance works for others- if I’m happy in my body, then I’m happy.
But I’m very concerned about my appearance in other ways. At 35, I’ve already had one traditional career. What about that creative career that I hoped to have? At 35, I should at least be traveling down that road, not standing on the side of it, studying the bus schedule, trying to pick a route. I should already be at a mid-sized city in the Midwest, metaphorically speaking. Here I am, all the way back in my hometown, where there’s not even a stoplight. Square One. And that’s what bothers me most. I feel like at 35, I should already be somebody.
Here I am, at 35- a nobody.
Before you protest, yes, I know how lucky I am. I’m happily married to an awesome guy, I have a healthy, loving child with an amazing personality, and loyal, steadfast family and friends. I am so blessed to be surrounded by folks that care about me and help me in so many ways.
But careerwise, accomplishmentwise, legacywise, for-the-ages-wise- I’m nobody. This realization should be freeing- do whatever you want! There’s no one to see you screw up! You can get crazy creative- go nuts! But instead it feels stifling- I’m already behind, there’s no way I’ll ever catch up, I’ll die with my music still in me and no one will care.
At 35, the clock isn’t just ticking. It’s speeding up.
After a few small professional successes last year (first essay published in an actual, honest-to-God book! first photograph accepted into a gallery show! first professional photograph sale!), I felt both energized and paralyzed. Now what? I don’t know where to go from here. What do I do? And instead of reaching out to knowledgable friends, or making polite queries of other professional creatives that I admire for advice, I…I just stopped. Still vibrating with hope, but frozen by fear.
At 35, I’m ready to explode.