If you find the
"Things Other People Accomplished at Your Age"
page depressing


Here's my reply to a young man who emailed to say: "I'm 25 years old and I have not accomplished anything. If you'll excuse me, I'll be crying while eating ice cream. Please tell me I matter."

Most of us haven't accomplished anything by age 25. It doesn't matter, but you do.

You're not other people and never can be. On the other hand, they're not you and never can be. Just be yourself and don't worry that they did one set of things and you did another. Doesn't matter. They lived in a different time, or a different place, or had a different set of genes, or grew up in a different environment. If you had grown up in their time and place, with the exact same environment and genes, you would have accomplished exactly what they did, because you would have been them. Doesn't matter.

Certain things have already been done. Now they can never be done for the first time. It's too late to discover the atom or found Apple Computer. The past is past - if you can't change it, it doesn't matter. But it's not too late to live your own life, and you're the only person in the history of the world that can do that.

You're just one person among billions, so it's statistically unlikely that you'll become famous, conquer the world, etc. Did you really want to do those things anyway? Some of those people were assholes.

What does matter? That's up to you. That's the work of a lifetime, and none of us are given specific instructions on who we're supposed to be or what we're supposed to accomplish. Most of us are too busy working, or trying to survive, to accomplish anything "big". Doesn't matter. Accomplish something small. Be kind to a friend. Be kind to a stranger. More importantly, be kind to yourself. Start by not beating yourself up for not being someone else.

Crying while eating ice cream is an underrated accomplishment. Crying is good - it help you get in touch with your feelings. I wouldn't trust anyone who couldn't cry. Ice cream is good. Crying while eating ice cream - double good. Maybe not as an everyday habit, but it's where you're at right at this moment, so that's good. Take a deep breath and accept who you are, right now. If you can't quite get there, that's okay - accept that you're the person who can't yet accept who you are. This can also be the practice of a lifetime.

Crying can be an opportunity for reflection and mid-course correction. If you're unhappy about who you are and who you've been, right now is the ideal time for thinking about who you would like to be and how to get there. If you're stuck in a difficult situation, I know the best person for figuring out how to get unstuck - you! The solution may not be obvious - I certainly don't know what it is, but it seems like it would be worthwhile to keep working at it.

The trick, if it is a trick, is to learn to accept yourself as you are, right now, while finding ways to improve yourself and your future. These are not mutually exclusive.

Acceptance is the most important thing, I think - saying yes to life, saying yes to yourself and who you've been. I recommend meditation, but other people have different paths. Meditation often involves breathing and accepting the present moment, the only moment you have right now. This takes practice, but it can help with depression and anxiety. There are some good meditation classes out there.

Improving your future involves a different kind of meditation - thinking and feeling about who you want to be and what you want to do. When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? What do you enjoy doing? "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life."

Some people like to plan; other people take each day as it comes, and choose the best thing on the menu in front of them. I don't know if one way is better than the other. I've never been much of a planner, but when I don't like where I've been and where I'm headed, it might be time to make a new plan. I'm still working on it.

I'm sorry that some people find my webpage depressing - I was going for interesting, amusing, or inspiring. Maybe I should take the page down, I don't know. "Comparing up" to more accomplished people can certainly be depressing, but it doesn't have to be. I'm trying to add more examples for "comparing down" to people with silly or trivial everyday accomplishments, as a counterweight to the list of famous people who accomplished great things. Anyway, accomplishments are overrated compared to simple human kindness, and it's never too late to work on that.

I've struggled with many of these same issues. I don't have the answers for anyone else, but I've taken notes on things I've found useful:

Links to short essays on ways of dealing with chronic negativity

"'Yes, and': Acceptance, Resistance, and Change in Improv, Aikido, and Psychotherapy" A long, semi-academic paper that goes on and on about my philosophy of life

Sorry for the long reply. I wish you all the best.

Earl

 

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