For the past year I've been grappling with dreams I've watched die out like an insignificant ember in a campfire of despair. I fantasized of being a worldly professor, but not before I made my debut as a feature filmmaker, which naturally I would achieve by my 30th birthday. My vision was directing a magnificent opus that would cause the world to strew gilded rose petals at my feet. By the age of 29, being a professor happened, but my opus didn't.
When I was a few months away from 30 and nowhere near making a big budget film, I panicked, frantically IMDBing every filmmaker I ever loved, realizing that each and every one of them made their first feature by 30. Teaching is a profession I feel as passionately about as filmmaking, but I developed anxiety that my lack of credentials would mean I had no knowledge to impart on my students. Perusing the Internet for innovative films is part of my job, but it is also a means by which I constantly discover the rising stardom of people younger and smarter, which only confirmed my fears and sank me deeper into self-doubt. I could only seek solace in an affirmation I have told myself for years when I met someone I found excruciatingly impressive: I am funnier and better in bed.
My life has never been thrilling: an uneventful upbringing in the suburbs, getting through college with passable grades and finally a normal career. I miss the most exciting parties, haven't traveled much and rarely tell the most compelling stories at the dinner party. All in all, I'm relatively unspectacular: not brilliant, stunningly gorgeous or highly innovative.
Today, success means reaching people on a mass stage, obscene sums of money, unattainable beauty, power and influence -- often all of the above, and all the better if you've done this before the age of 30. After 30 you are a sad, crusty sack whose accomplishments are diminished by the fact you weren't an ingénue. This egregious image of success is increasingly in our face, with the Top 30 under 30 coming out in every magazine under the sun. I long for the Grandma Moses days when we celebrate the Top 60 over 60.
If you ever listen to an interview with one of those lucky 30 under 30, they all say the same thing: the just-add-water formula was simply to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. A seemingly endless stream of rags to riches stories is offered as evidence that they did, and you can too. I bought into this mentality wholeheartedly, my daydreams filled with acceptance speeches and glittering triumph. My friends -- from lawyers to landscape architects -- held the same convictions, and we worked towards our pursuits with relentless passion.
But today, dust collecting on our college degrees, we are not shining stars in our field, but average, ordinary working schmucks. And as it turns out, life isn't so bad. I go to the theatre to see movies I'll never make and then walk hand in hand with a man I love down a tree-lined boulevard before getting some late night pie and coffee. Could a multi-million dollar studio deal really make late night pie taste better?
As the dreams I thought were important fade into the ether, I am starting to appreciate true joyfulness: an almost Buddhist satisfaction with simple things. Finally I am content with a life I once thought dull and boring. While I work hard to start a meager savings account, make a wholesome dinner each night, hit the gym and treat my friends right, I realize that just being good at a simple life is complicated enough.
Mine was the generation that was told life should revolve solely around our happiness and high expectations. Now we struggle to cope with lowering our prospects, and with the fact that in this economy, at times survival must be enough. That perhaps, because of our unrealistic ideals and desire to create an illusionary Great Gatsby life, we are in this catastrophic recession.
I believe we need a new cultural ethos that does not insist upon chasing impractical dreams. It is not that having high aspirations is a bad message, but most of us will never live up to the grandeur that slick magazines and celebrity obsessed true-life stories promote. The measure of success grows more inflated and bombastic with each generation, but that level of achievement is only available to a fraction of the population. Additionally, that type of success is not always the most desirable lifestyle, as evidenced by the spectacular burnouts many CEOs, athletes and celebrities suffer.
I have more than I could ask for in this life. To covet more seems greedy, obscene and ungrateful. I have accepted that my life may not be extraordinary, and I take solace in Joseph Campbell's words: "We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us."