I intended to write a post today about ‘women who did not succeed until later in their life’, partly to subside the ‘should I know what I’m doing by now?’ voice inside my head that comes a knockin’ on the daily. What Google regurgitated on the topic was a seemingly infinite list of men who found success later in life ranging from business men, entrepreneurs and actors to every Tom, Dick and Harry, but only two women were reoccurring in my search, designer Vera Wang (who began designing at 40) and Chef Julia Child. The first search result was The Business Insider which describes Child as having “worked in advertising and media before writing her own cookbook when she was 50”, many more searches proclaim the same thing in their mini-bio suggesting she didn’t do much prior to this. What they fail to mention was after graduating college intending to be a writer, she wrote for four years being published in local publications and advertising. Cue WW2 where she joined the war efforts, beginning as a typist she was quickly promoted to the position of research assistant to the Secret Intelligence department and was posted to Sri Lanka and later to China where she was rewarded medals for her service. Child also assisted the creation of a shark repellent to deter them from setting off explosives intended for German U-boats. A repellent that is still used today to deter sharks from things they shouldn’t be poking at. What an amazing life she lived prior to her celebrity, that’s a hell of lot more than having worked in media and advertising. I would hardly cite her as only finding success at 50.
These articles briefly skim the fact Vera Wang was a champion figure skater who nearly made the US Olympics team, then entered the fashion industry where she became the youngest editor ever at Vogue, prior to her becoming one of the biggest fashion designers in the world when she began to design. She still had pretty amazing feats up until then. On my search I expected to find some inspirational ‘don’t worry kiddo’ type stuff but what I found was a completely warped perception on what success is in our culture. I read a statistic this week that women are 60 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety than men. How I found this was Googling (for the 100th time) ‘Why do I have anxiety attacks?’ I have anxiety – sometimes.
Anxiety comes from the fight or flight instinct within us. It is our reaction to stressful situations and how we deal with them. Useful, in the past, for survival when humans would have to make the decision to either run away from what ever may be chasing them or to bash it over the head with a club. For most of us (hopefully), we no longer have that dilemma but instead of lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) we have jobs, bills and social pressures (Oh my!). My anxiety flares up every time I become settled in a job that I don’t feel is furthering my path to be successful, so every morning as I make my commute my whole body feels like running away, not just from the job, sometimes even the country. I’m the Usain Bolt of complacency. Scrolling through Facebook and seeing other people’s triumphs I reconsider all of my entire life choices and start plotting a new one that will give me the personal gratification I need – not entirely sure what it is I’m gasping for.
It comes out most frequently when I feel stuck, I get jobs kind of around what I want to do, or simply as a way to pay the bills to support what I want to do, which is to write and make things, but after a few weeks or months, when I think this is it forever, the panic hits like a left hook from Conor McGregor, ‘this job won’t make me successful’. I’m not alone in this, what is deemed as the quarter life crisis is a prevalent cause of mental health issues amongst young people. Type the expression into Google and what you’ll get back are ‘About 7,290,000 results (0.26 seconds)’ to peruse at your leisure. Sure, there is the backlash that we are all just spoiled millennials who were doted on too much as children but we’re also the first generation that are allowed to veto the white picket fence narrative in exchange for a successful career and there is a pressure to be somewhat on track with that in your mid-twenties, or at least have broader goals than buying a jar of peanut butter and not eating it all immediately, straight from the jar.
The source of my anxiety comes from comparing myself to other people. I’ve done it my entire life. I remember constantly, even as a child, feeling inferior to other girls, and it’s not really any wonder why I, and so many other women have done so. Having spent most of my teens glued to MTV, I watched singers and actresses be applauded primarily for being young, hot and famous – their talents and abilities coming after. Followed by a stream of advertisements selling you products so you can be just like them. Women’s magazine covers displayed successful, seemingly perfect, women who ‘had it all’ – ‘having it all’ being the above mentioned ‘young, hot and successful’. By being a consumer of this and weighing your own attributes against these ideals you are pitting yourself at odds against yourself from an early age. You need to be successful and you need to be successful young. Not to mention how these magazines glorify women as sexual objects whose sole purpose is on the earth is sexual gratification.
Instead of encouraging a personal journey or path of growth, full of ups and downs, failures and triumphs, hard work, being super dedicated to one path that may not lead you anywhere- but that’s okay, you did it, off you pop to the next thing. Magazines sell copies on the premise that they will install in you the knowledge of how to ‘have it all’ or ‘be it all’ and if you fail to learn you may as well be put out to pasture and settle on whatever mediocre life you fall into. Graduating from that juvenile ideal of being ‘young and hot’, you are proposed the ideal of ‘having it all’ becoming a murky disillusion of what one assumes is having the perfect job, apartment, friends, boyfriend, weight, face, body, clothes, orgasms,shoes, sex, the list goes on and on and on. So yeah, it’s understandable women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than men. That’s not to say men aren’t faced with their own social pressures and timelines to achieve certain things in order to be considered ‘a real man’ but the pressure is upped on women to achieve just about everything before that body clock starts ticking that bit louder in the early thirties, we are not under the same time constraints.
I’ve felt like a failure in the past for not being like other people that I’ve compared myself to and my misunderstanding of my feelings resulted in a lot of overthinking, stress, drinking too much, over-eating or under eating and general manicness to pacify the uncertainties. Thankfully this has stopped and it is apparently a common symptom of the post-adolesence, early twenties life. It has been replaced with a drive to be content, or secure, or something, I’m still not quite sure. And it’s wonderful that western society seems to be shifting away from this mindset of perfection, but the cogs are still there in our psyche. Success is somewhat assumed and when you don’t have it you are disappointed, and it doesn’t help that comparing ourselves to one another comes naturally. We are told to chase our dreams, jump and the net will catch us and other inspirational shit you can see written on mugs in gift shops. I am a dream chaser, but I recently realised I’ve been chasing a grandeur notion of success instead of working on my own personal success. No, these jobs wont make me successful in the thing I want to do, to be successful in the thing I want to do, I have to do the thing I want to and manage the other stuff too. Or, in the words of Ms. Britney Spears, “you better work bitch.”
I see someone I know doing well or achieving something and yes, I am happy for them but I compare my success to theirs. I then do not see my success as successful because it is not the idea of success I have. That’s a lot of stress on success.
So I see someone my age who has a book published and I think why don’t I have that? Well the answer is pretty simple; I haven’t wrote a book. I see someone my age getting a film made and think ‘Why aren’t I getting a film made?’, because I didn’t write a fucking film. But that’s okay, I have my own successes. As I see from the women mentioned at the beginning of this piece – success comes in a variant of ways and as long as you actually do the work you want to do and commit to it everything along the way is a success. And if you don’t know what you want to do but are doing something, anything at all, that’s success too. Hell, some days just getting out of bed is a success and it’s my success, not anyone else’s or not to be put on a scale of this grandeur idea of success.
Still, every morning I flirt with my quarter life crisis again. We grew up watching characters, fictional and real that for the first time could voice their dissatisfaction with their lives, were celebrated for revolting against the mundane and made us millennials terrified of having a boring life, so we are putting in a good fight now at the expense of future security. What accompanies this is a whole host of wandering trying to find which shoe fits. Even our childhood story books taught us if we wish hard enough we can be whatever we want but not to actually work for it – just sit there in a pile of rags and cry until a fairy godmother comes – whether your fairy godmother is your own mother, father, sister, friend, cleaning lady of whatever club bathroom you’ve decided to cry in, or yourself – someone makes you pick yourself up and change things. You are your own Cinderella, Godmother and Prince – you have to go door to door yourself to find whats right for you and not just stare at a pumpkin thinking positively.
Doing the thing gets the thing done, not thinking about it, and success comes in different forms. The women mentioned earlier are only seen as reaching success in the media’s eyes when they became famous and everything prior to that is somewhat dismissed. Suggesting fame equates to success, which we see by their previous accomplishments is entirely untrue. For me right now, my success is writing something every week for this blog. Having a deadline and actually doing it has led to me develop other creative projects and work on them daily, not just talk about it. I’m doing the work I like to do.
Thankfully, we have a lot more TV shows and movies now that show complex, multi-dimensional women that don’t have it all, and show that’s okay. There’s a tonne of content online and podcasts available to take refuge in and there are plenty of Instagram pages reassuringly dedicated to mid-twenties panic which helps a sister out in the ‘it’s all going to be okay’ department. It’s all apart of growing up. Doing the things I want to so subsides the ‘Should I have it all figured out by now?’ voice and replaces it with ‘I’m figuring it out’ which is an awesome feeling and on super panicked days when that doesn’t work, there’s always peanut butter from the jar.
Author: Shaunna Lee Lynch
About: I am an Irish writer, performer, avid day dreamer, generally enthusiastic, hip hop enthusiast,living in Hong Kong.