It’s very easy to consider yourself a failure before you’ve even had the chance to become a success. That’s because society and those around us have established timelines for success. This timeline has not budged much in expectations despite economic recession and new generational attitudes. You will still be judged by this timeline, and you will be rated by where you rank on it. Approaching 30, by most accounts I am a failure according to it.
What is this timeline I speak of? It is the societal expectations of the American middle class. It began with the Boomers, and has shifted little over generations. It goes a little like this: go to college, get a degree. Get job with degree, and by 25 have a career path outlined with stable benefits and income. By 30 you should have moved out, and optimally are looking to purchase a home. By 35 you should be making solid money and have married with plans for kids in the next year or two.
On this timeline, I am a failure. I feel the judgment every time I speak to timeline adherents, like my parents (both stable by 30). Or even my neighbors, including those five years younger than me — they’re all on track to stable lives; one a policeman, the other a teacher, the eldest a corrections officer, the youngest born in 1998 is taking the FDNY exam and will probably be making stable income by my age (29). Sure they’ve all chosen stable careers which will promise middle class lives at most. They didn’t take a lot of risk, but they’re OK with that. They want stability, and the timeline adherents support their decision.
Settle. Plan B. These are words I hear all the time. From my parents. From neighbors when they politely say they saw a job opening at their boring company in the city. I feel it when out with friends who’ve become very successful because they entered a high paying field (computer science). I sense the judgment every time I cannot afford the same restaurants as them – let alone neighborhoods to live in. Everyone is more successful than me. Heck even my own [former] mentor, my idol in the industry, was at least an assistant working for an A-list production company at my age. He’d already started a career track with coordinator credits on major features to his name. By 35 he was a CEO. By 35 I hope I can at least afford rent!
What do I have? A blog and some writing samples – a few read by major players? Some sporadic work experience in the industry dotted around temp gigs to support my dream career? Assistant experience at an indie company where I barely made any money? Independent projects which look like a dime a dozen since thousands of kids will be calling themselves ‘producer’ making their friends films? What I do have is an appetite for risk. What I do have is good work ethic. Most importantly I refuse to give up no matter how many times I fail.
I will move to LA with no excuses left in two weeks. I am terrified. I keep thinking of the timeline, the disappointment I am to others, the possibility of failure. I also realize that I must live for myself and adhere to my own timeline. My former mentor said to me several years ago, “it takes ten to fifteen years to get anywhere in this industry.” He’s not wrong. I am barely five years into it. I got a base of experience and I know LA will provide me with more opportunities, and most importantly opportunities with career advancement.
I have no clue what will happen, but I will take the risk anyways. I know my parents hoped I’d grow out of this dream by 25. I didn’t. I’ll continue to pluck away. It’s a numbers game, and most will give up but I refuse. The longer you stay in the struggle, the greater the chance for reward. So if you’re like me ignore the timeline adherents and their judgmental comments. You’re on your own timeline, and you will make your own success. The only thing worse than failure, is settling for it.