My husband and I recently made a trip to Charlottesville with our 6-month-old daughter, Ava. It was one of the happiest days of my life, walking through the Grounds, showing my baby the college where I had gained a priceless education.
As I strolled, the shadows of my 20s still hanging around the edges of the iconic pillars and columns of Jefferson’s village, a wave of nostalgia came over me. I thought about who I was back then, who I am now and who I thought I would be. I found myself measuring my accomplishments while telling stories to Ava about who I was before she was born.
I stopped to show her the leaves on my favorite tree, the one by the University Chapel that bursts out in yellow splendor every year when autumn arrives, and I found myself in panic mode. “Had I accomplished what I thought I would by 32? Am I who I should be, who I wanted to be, who I thought I would be?”
I shocked myself with not only the level of my sudden explosion of insecurities and doubts but also with the fact that I was having this conversation with myself again.
Seven years ago, when I was 25, I had a mini breakdown over my lack of accomplishments. I had just completed my master’s program and—gasp—had not written the book I was supposed to write. I had no city to call a home, did not own a house and could not have been more lost or confused. Later I discovered this was so common with my generation, that it was dubbed the “quarterlife crisis.”
The Internet has made it so easy to announce and seemingly measure success that our expectations of how fast we should achieve our goals have become severely skewed.
At the time of my “breakdown” I was living in London working for the U.N. Having this full-fledged panic attack about being a loser in life, I had no idea how many of my peers were having the same doubts.
Our desire for speed has distorted our concept of how fast our life should be moving. If we expect to save the world by the time we are 26, what do we expect of ourselves at 50?
What is even scarier is that many of my peers are actually doing it. Recently I was chatting with my college buddy Bilal Qureshi (Col ’04), who went to UVA and Columbia’s school of journalism before becoming a producer at NPR, all by the time he hit 25. We were talking about a friend whose ambitions had caused her to collapse. Her body had literally given up, and she was undergoing tests to find out what was wrong.
It made me think, What is the rush? What are we rushing for? What are we rushing toward?
Qureshi and I made a list of people we know who, despite accomplishing amazing things in their professional lives while young, were actually mentally unhealthy, imbalanced and unhappy. We talked about what the point was of speaking out loud if you had nothing to say, of writing books when you had no story to tell.
What I realized when I was having a panic attack over my perceived lack of accomplishments was that I would never want my daughter to have that kind of anxiety. It made me think that life, as fast as it may appear to go, is actually quite long. If we accomplish everything in our youth, what do we have to look forward to in later life?
It is better to slow down and savor than to run and get lost along our way. After all, we will miss possessing the wisdom that can only come with age and experience, two qualities that can only make us more successful.
Anushay Hossain (Col ’02) is a policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. She writes the blog “Anushay’s Point” (www.AnushaysPoint.com), and her work is regularly featured in Forbes Woman, Huffington Post and Ms. Magazine. This column originally appeared in Forbes Woman.