don't panic

Maya Villiger. I love the simple joy of this photograph

I celebrated my birthday recently with the usual parade of good food and good times shared with friends and family. As my friends and I creep towards 30, there has been the predictable round of despair which can be summed up as: "What have I done with my life?"

The other day, an acquaintance in his 40s, probably sick of the "we're getting old and we haven't accomplished anything" refrain, said something that still had me smiling in agreement days later:

"When you're in your 20s you think you're the SHITZ (and here he did a rapper move) and that you know what to expect from life. Then when you're 29 you'll have a panic attack because you suddenly realise you know shit (he spat this word out) and you start freaking out about what's going to happen to you. This is normal. If you don't experience this I'd be worried because it means you learnt nothing from your 20s. Get a grip."

(This sounded much cooler when he said it.)

I'm not treading any new ground when I say that what I've learned as I get older is that I know very little, very little is certain, and we only know things for sure after they happen. The upside of this it means endless possibility and hope. The downside is that we live in a state of uncertainty and we never really know and that's a pretty stressful state to be living in.

Since I'll never really know, I feel that the attitude with which I approach things is more important than the "thing" itself - to experience life with a combination of logic, empathy, irony and courage to stay the course. And humility, because, again, we never really know, do we?

Picture from turned out 


Pret a Porter P said…
Oh yes I remember that our birthdays seem to be pretty close to each other. I think you've accomplished a lot in your life. I wish I had your guts. When I read your post about the conversations on the train I said gosh I could see this girl making documentaries. One positive thing I see about my old age is that I'm more comfortable in my own skin and I think that maturity is starting to show through in certain situations.
Ammu said…
A belated happy birthday to you! I am a couple of years older than you, and to be honest, turning thirty was fantastic for me. I feel much less afraid of the future, not as intimidated, and increasingly comfortable with life's limitations and uncertainties. I hope you have a brilliant year! xx
helin said…
I'm 35 and still feeling the same way sometimes. I doubt whether it will ever not feel this way. If one is so sure about everything in one's life, well where is the fun in that? I hope you have a great year.

Come and visit my blog when you have time, I'm just starting out..
NNing said…
i love everything about this post.

always been a lurker, but thought i'd "come out" to wish you a happy birthday.

to another year of wonderful blogging!

- Wen
Alice said…
Happy birthday! I am in my early twenties, and yes; I feel on top of the world, and in control of my life in a way that is a bit scary. It might just end up to be a big lie, where none of my dreams come true. That´s why the way I live my life, with which attitude, is the most important thing, as you explain so great. Thank you for the reminder!
lin said…
Pret a Porter P: Yes I remember that, hope you had a good birthday!

And thanks, you are far too kind, I don't think I've wasted my life or anything but won't claim to have accomplished much either :)

I hear you on being more comfortable in my own skin, and I think I express that by not really feeling the need to experiment with how I dress...

Ammu: Thanks! I feel happier being older myself...I remember when I turned 21, and later when I turned 23 and starting, I actually felt relieved to be getting older and more independent by the year! Hope I continue to feel this way.

helin: I agree it's no fun to know what's coming!

Alice: Thanks, glad my words made sense. I'm the opposite, I actually felt more tentative in my early 20s and I feel like I have more clarity now.

I think even if nothing turns out as expected or planned, I feel more confident about my abilty now to deal with what comes.
lin said…
Wen: Sorry, missed your comment. Thanks for emerging from lurking to wish me happy birthday!
Happy Birthday, Lin!

I was more gung-ho in my 20s and then slightly battle scarred in my early to mid 30s. Now that I'm approaching 40 faster than a speeding bullet train, I'd have to say, I've eaten plenty of crow and learned humility along the way.

I find life exciting in many ways. I'm slightly more fearless these days and while I'm a bit more outspoken, I've also learned to be mindful of not offending.
Anonymous said…
Happy Birthday!
I love birthdays! :)
Did your friend offer insight into any of the other (st)ages, or did he stop at 29?
I don't think you will always feel like you don't know anything. At 29 you maybe realize that what you knew in your teens/20s no longer feels large enough, but that doesn't make that fantastic stage of power and certainty so irrelevant. Like a pair of pants that seemed like the greatest cut/fit ever at one point, then seems horribly dated, our perspectives change and old ones don't always fit or appeal anymore. But sometimes...if you hold on to those pants, suddenly, 10, 20 years later, they look right again. :)
The Waves said…
Happy birthday! I think you are right that we know very little about life. It does come down to attitude, and life is not a race to hit as many goalposts as you can, it's just not. The older I get, the more I feel like I should just be humble, and hold onto the small things in life that make me and the people around me happy. And it's perfect that way. :)
Eileen said…
Oh blessed birthday Lin! Hope you had a great time with your loved ones and friends:)

I think you are way ahead of me when I was approaching my 30s. Then, I was in a job I didn't enjoy and squandering my money on useless things. After I crossed mid 30s, I settled, had children and started growing up. Now that I will be 38 this year, I still think that the best years are ahead. New opportunities await and truly, the best is yet to be.

I wish you enough:)

Kate said…
Belated happy birthday! I think most of us are led to consider our achievements (and relative insignificance) on our birthdays, and I think the best thing to take from it all is to remain open to possibilities and not to fall into ruts. From your writing, I don't think you have anything to worry about.
hannah-rose said…
first of all!! happy birthday! and second of all - I know how you feel, and I'm only 21 so your 40 year old friend would probably want to slap me around the head for complaining haha. I think for my birthday is also combined with fear of graduating from uni and having to enter the workforce and being unsure about what to do with my life and where to take myself and... oh dear... :) I agree with what he said though. Being confused and despairing seems to be part of the process. A girl I work with who is big on astrology says it has to do with Saturn rising, or returning, or something and it happens about the same time as you turn 27/28/29...

And you're right. We never really know anything. So you might as well enjoy yourself in every moment. Tried and tested, yes, but oh so true.

happy birthday again!!!

Nomadic D. said…
Happy birthday! I have to say, 29 was a shit year, in my opinion, and I'm pretty sure it has to do with what your friend was saying. Don't despair though, cause 30 is way better!
miss sophie said…
happy birthday Lin! your friend's quote made me laugh - i've heard some friends say very similar things. i think one thing that i keep trying to remind myself every year is to never lose a youthful fearlessness. i still waver between ambivalent feelings about what '30' means given how it's so hyped as a symbolic milestone in our culture. i think none of that matters, though, so long as i'm still taking risks and going after what i care about...
lin said…
Chocolate, Cookies & Candies: Thanks! I totally identify with your experiences and I always wonder why so many people lament getting older....yes there are downsides but there are so many good things too.

editor: Thanks! Some years I totally forget my birthday and then some years they feel special.

We did press him for details on life at 40 but he said he would have a better answer in 20 years, haha.

You're right - I'll never forget the rush of truly experiencing freedom and adulthood for the first time and also that feeling when you encounter something new, and I do carry that with me.

The Waves: Thanks!

I think the problem some of my friends have with being happy with the small things is that they confuse it with "settling", whereas I don't see it that way.

Eileen: Thanks! And that is such a lovely piece you linked to. It expresses a lot of how I feel about what I want from life and for the people around me.

Kate: Thanks! I keep my worries well hidden, haha. I suppose birthdays are useful this way, as a point of reflection.

hannah-rose: Thanks! I admit I took the easy path when I graduated and went straight back to the place I interned at when they offered me a job - yes I was interested in the job but I didn't quite think hard about whether I should have tried other things. No easy answers there, I can only say that while people seem to suffer doubt from time to time about whether they "made the right choice", few people I know experience all-out no matter how momentous decisions seem at this point, on hindsight you often realise either path would have turned out pretty alright.

(I love that post of yours where your interviewee told you you had so much going for you lying ahead...I love that optimism!)

Nomadic D: Thanks! I turned 28 and felt pretty much the same but maybe I'll go bat shit next year...

miss sophie: Thanks! I know what you mean....we set so much store by numbers and ages, eg, married by XX, have children by XX. There's an army saying in Singapore - "own time, own target" - and I stand by that.
Lindsay K said…
Happy Belated Birthday Lin! So glad you had a wonderful time celebrating.

I really love the sense of humility, grace and inner confidence that comes with age. I've met so many AMAZING, talented women through my career and blogging who are in their thirties, which really inspires me and makes me less intimidated about getting older. I love my commenters who are in their thirties because they add such depth to the conversation.

I'm very competitive with myself when it comes to goals and accomplishments, but I'm trying to learn how to enjoy just being. I'm enjoying my twenties, but hope that my anxiety wans.

Love that picture of Ataui. She always looks so happy.
Aïssa said…
Happy birthday Lin! I wish you all the best!

I agree with Kate, birthdays are a time of questions. As for me, since my 25th birthday, I always feel a twinge of doubt/dissatisfaction near that date because as your friend stated I don't know shit (anylonger)! I used to have all these preconceived visions of what my life would be and nothing turned out exactly as planned! I think the hardest thing of getting older is to be aware of your ignorance and make peace with it while keeping fresh and interested in the world.
There's nothing more sad than falling into a rut and it's so easy to do so with our daily routines.
lin said…
Lindsay K, Aissa: Thanks!

Popular Posts