You’re Not Old, But You’re Not Young: The Reality Of Turning 35

There was no distinguishing mark, no scarlet ‘35’ inscribed upon my breast. The pimple that surfaced the night before hadn’t gone anywhere — along with the dishes in the sink. Everything stood as it always was. And yet I felt a shift within me, a sense of being completely overwhelmed and underwhelmed if the two can coexist.

35 is not old. It is, however, a more notable age than its neighbors, 34 and 36. It crosses the threshold of common age brackets (typically 18 to 34, 25 to 34, and 30 to 34) and leaves you on the “closer-to-40” side. If it was a day of the week, I suspect it would be a Sunday – a time for muted reflection on what has been and what is to yet come. On the bright side, though, it isn’t Monday, and it isn’t turning 40.

What, then, makes the age of 35 feel so significant? What makes me feel this number deep in my bones in a way that I have never experienced age before? While I can assert with (wavering) confidence that I’m not old, I can no longer boast that I am young. Herein lies the problem: I’m right in the middle of the road. And, honestly, I don’t know where it’s leading or if it’s even the right road.

According to a study, 35 is perceived to be the age at which youth ends which, on the face of it, I am OK with. 

I do not crave my youth. I may crave its thinner frame and smoother complexion. But I’m more at ease with myself now than I ever was in my younger years. I have a stronger sense of identity and purpose and do not long for those self-conscious, unsure days that defined much of my 20s. The difficulty isn’t so much about “who I am” but “where I am.” That is where I find myself and how this fits into my preconceived notion of where I should be. German psychoanalyst Karen Horney coined a phrase for this: “the tyranny of the should.”

The “should” haunts me today. I suppose this is typical on birthdays — at least the birthdays beyond the age of 25. Research dictates that most people experience unhappiness on their birthdays – contrary to the “Happy Birthday” greetings we receive. On our birthdays, we get snapshots of where we are in the arc of time, and many people use them as benchmarks for all of the things they haven’t yet accomplished. 

Today, I find myself feeling some of that discontentment.

Certain pressures come with the realization that you’re no longer young (again, not old — just not young). 

You feel that time continues to move on while you appear to stand still. You can no longer be frivolous — everything must have a point or lead towards some end goal. This pressure will vary from one 35-year-old to the next. Some will feel the pressure to start a family or make a home, and some — including myself —will experience a level of stagnancy in their professional lives. This feeling seems to be less about being 35 itself and more about what notions of success are for this time in our lives. Convention would have it that, by this stage, we would have well-established careers and a growing family, but as times have evolved, so too have these goalposts. Problematically, though, our perceptions of where we “should” be haven’t changed.

Perception is key here: our own limited perception of what success looks like, our perception of our peers and their success, and our perception of time itself.

Over the years, our “shoulds” will invariably change because that’s human nature. We’re constantly evolving, so we struggle to find contentment at the moment, particularly on those “happy” birthdays. And, after all, shoulds aren’t all bad.  They force us into action and inspire us to reach those milestones that wouldn’t be possible in a state of passivity. Like the answer to all life’s challenges, it’s about balance.

But today, on my 35th birthday, as I needlessly worry about where I think I should be, I’ll consider where I am. I’ll use it as the proverbial Sunday” to reflect on my achievements. I might not be where I thought I’d be, but my goals have changed with every new candle on my cake. The path ahead is unknown, but I’m fortunate enough to still be able to trod along these cobblestones of life  — bumps of shoulds and all. 

“Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.” – Mary Schmich

Featured image via Jonathan Borba on Pexels


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