"Late" to the game - Cultural/Therapy/Educational Qu. - Snowstorm?
July 17, 2013 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Hey folks. I'm having some hang ups lately about arriving "late" to some areas of culture and life. I'm also still in a "phase" where I am reaching out, establishing new social circles, and attempting to validate a sense of self(I just* turned 24). Largely, I am wondering if any Mefites happen to recall stories of success, especially on a grand scale, of folks who pursued passions academic or not, a wee bit later in life and still fought/worked/finessed a means of becoming successful/happy/prolific in their fields or passions - especially after a means of difficult time or trauma. Super inspiration, please? Motive to keep going, work harder, even if you feel like you've been pretty beaten up/down and out for a little while? Stories of life-changing occurrences or pick-ups in character/pace, in a positive/radical/tremendous way?

I recently exited a nine year relationship in a very painful way, and now I am trying to re-discover myself. I also did a complete life-flip.. where I quit a pretty unreasonable job, quit undesirable friend groups, enrolled in community college, left my state for about two weeks, and returned. I'm in college now, and looking for a new means of financial support. Some friends of mine are even watching my dog as I suss out a new platform for my life, and I just have so many questions and feel as though I'm trying to put so many things together.

While certainly not too dense, I still feel I lack so much cultural refinement in comparison to some of my peers. I am especially interested in literary/art/music/intellectual circles, and after a lapse of being more in tune with life as it's moving, I feel I am struggling to play "catch up". I often feel a bit slower or behind, and it's so frustrating, especially when knowing I am capable of so much more. I don't actually believe anyone can be "late" to these sorts of things, but it can be difficult to remind myself of that, and sometimes I really wonder.

Here are some snowier qualities of this mostly banal scenario -

Instead of going directly to high school, I used my graduation money to leave my apocalyptic city(guess which one!) and backpack the states on and off for about three and a half years with significant other from high school.
Landed in a liberal, euro-centric city with broad options and tight knit communities. Have generally done well- however, put off college until now - officially, finitely split with partner in late March of this year. A year, perhaps two(!?) before I split with this person, it feels, has been utterly wasted- intellectually, spiritually, etc.. It feels terrible.

More recently..
-Pursued months of therapy with a relationship that ultimately ended in physical violence and horrifying miscommunication, perhaps more. It is currently off limits for reflection for some time, I think. After a particularly devastating night during this time, I began roughly two months of 100mg of sertraline/anti-depressants. Because of a serious bout of carelessness, I immediately began a dosage of 50 then 100mg instead of gradually moving upward(as prescribed by physician), and then suddenly stopped when at capacity for not feeling or perceiving life(incredibly numb/dulled). Since, I have still felt intensely affected by this, including a noticeable lack of sex drive and what feels like a significantly less perceptive sense of attention span/general sensitivity. I've since began much more physical exercise, as well as began supplementing with Piracetam, and reading more, as a means of attempting to jog my stifled senses of memory and awareness.

Situations are certainly better than they have been in some time, but because I feel as though I wasted the past year or so, it all feels so crippling. I am trying to jump start my life- but I still have so many absurd frustrations or feelings of doubt. Especially when I am just beginning college, and friends or peers are receiving reviews in magazines or newspapers for their accomplishments and hardwork.

Please forgive me if this is a bit jumbled.
Too, I don't have any means to begin therapy at the moment.. which may explain why I'm reaching out here.

Resources? Words of encouragement? Personal experiences?
Thank you so much for reading!
posted by thewolfandewe to Human Relations (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am especially interested in literary/art/music/intellectual circles, and after a lapse of being more in tune with life as it's moving, I feel I am struggling to play "catch up". I often feel a bit slower or behind, and it's so frustrating, especially when knowing I am capable of so much more. I don't actually believe anyone can be "late" to these sorts of things, but it can be difficult to remind myself of that, and sometimes I really wonder.

The really great thing about culture is that, with maybe a few notable exceptions, all the stuff you don't know about right now is just out there, waiting for you to discover it! There's no "late", there's just the sparkly potential of a new favorite band/novel/film.

I feel you on this, because as a creative person I'm getting settled in What I Really Want To Do pretty late. And so I constantly feel like I'm behind on my homework. I mean, think of all those years wasted being in a ska band and watching Japanese horror movies and getting an anthropology degree and hanging out in art galleries when what I really should have been doing was learning everything I possibly could about women in television comedy. Even now that I have more focus, I still feel like I'm "wasting" my time anytime I enjoy cultural stuff that doesn't directly relate to My Area Of Focus. But you know what? Fuck that. We are uniquely positioned to enjoy an unprecedented cultural bonanza. Everything you take in, whether it's your major or not, enriches you.

So, culturally speaking, just drink it all in from wherever you're at right now. Anyone who sneers at you because you haven't heard of whatever band or don't know who Eugene O'Neill is can fuck right off.

I think this is doubly true if you've been taking time off from other things in order to work on yourself and process life stuff. After a bad relationship, I took like two years off from watching movies. If it came out between 2002-2004 I probably haven't seen it. I don't think those years were "wasted" at all. I just did other stuff. Because I needed to. C'est la vie.
posted by Sara C. at 4:49 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Everyone has a different path in life. Every path has the ability to change into something else.

Some of those peers who are receiving acclaim now may find their 30s/40s difficult because they haven't necessarily had the opportunity to develop the life skills that you have.

And there is no real game (we get a lot of messages that there is, but they're from areas that need to justify their existence). There's just a whole bunch of stuff. Better to gravitate towards the stuff that's meaningful to you personally and then you'll enjoy it all a whole lot more.
posted by heyjude at 4:52 PM on July 17, 2013

So first thing is that there is no "behind." The norm timeline of life we have developed as a culture is 1) not nearly as common as the media/movies/etc make it seem, 2) not inherently good, in fact it might be the opposite and 3) just a narrative, a myth.

Your life is yours.
And you are SO VERY YOUNG. Seriously SO YOUNG. The only things off the table for you are professional sports and classical music.

You sound like you have had some really interesting experiences, back-packed around, learned about relationships. Hell, that might very well be a much better education than going to a four-year college. I personally think more people should probably wander around a bit before they go to college. Most people go to college because they think it's what they are "supposed" to do - but they have no idea what they are doing or what they want and they waste their money.

I still feel I lack so much cultural refinement in comparison to some of my peers

I can almost guarantee you that this seeming "cultural refinement" you find in your friends is more or less bullshit. When you're in your early 20s, there's a big pressure to seem "cultured" and "enlightened" so people tend to have a lot pretentious ideas about art/music/literature and they are very vocal about it. Fuck all of that. Find things you like and are interested in. Forget about this notion of "cultural refinement." It too is a myth.

You also sound like you think this so-called refinement is some terminal thing. Something you get and then have. But it doesn't work like that. Life is just this continual discovery thing. It has nothing to do with a 4-year degree. I am sure you have all sorts of experiences/loves/whatever that your friends don't. I discovered Led Zeppelin when I was almost 23. I still haven't read The Merchant of Venice but I will get around to it.

Especially when I am just beginning college, and friends or peers are receiving reviews in magazines or newspapers for their accomplishments and hardwork.

In the words of the wise Ben Folds, there will always be someone cooler than you. Stop comparing yourself to these people! Do your own thing. Find your own happiness. Don't compare your insides to other people's outsides. All those reviews in magazines and shit are fleeting little bits of nothing. They won't make anyone happy or satisfied or guarantee anything for the people that get them.

Frankly, you sound like you are really on the right track. You're getting help via therapy and meds. You're moving on from a difficult relationship. You're finding yourself. You're in school. Just focus on what YOU want to do and what you like. Forget everything else. Be happy for your friends when they accomplish things, but don't use that as a metric for your own self-worth/happiness or you will always be miserable.

A youth not a little wasted is wasted. You're going to be fine. Early 20s suck balls. Big ole balls. But it sounds like you are on the right track. Don't get bogged down in what other people think.

You know, one quote a lot of 'culturally refined' people throw around is "hell is other people," from Satre's No Exit. People think it means what it says - that people suck. But what the quote really means in context is that we create a hell for ourselves by constantly using others as a mirror through which to understand ourselves, and we make ourselves miserable by doing this. We restrict our own freedom by measuring our lives against others. So the advice is to not do that. It's tough, but it's possible.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:57 PM on July 17, 2013 [15 favorites]

If you have friends who love, say, 19th century British literature, and you say, "I just feel like I really missed out on a lot of literature because I didn't pay very good attention in school and I had nobody who really encouraged me to enjoy it -- what do you recommend? Why do you like it?" NOW YOU HAVE FRIENDS WHO WANT TO SHOW YOU ALL THE LITERATURE AND ARE REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT. The ONLY people who will be jerks about it or look down on you for it are people whose self-esteem relies on putting other people down, and those people are lame. The vast majority of people with cultural or intellectual enthusiasms are going to be like, "You want to learn about ballet? I get to show you my favorite parts of ballet? CAN I BUY US TICKETS TO THE BALLET RIGHT NOW? CAN I LEND YOU ALL MY DVDs? DO YOU WANT TO COME TO MY BALLET COFFEE DISCUSSION GROUP? ARE YOU WILLING TO TAKE A SIX HOUR BALLET-RELATED ROAD TRIP?"

A good friend of mine just finished college at 40 after being a stay-at-home mom and then a secretary for 20 years. She went right on into the most prestigious graduate program in her field. My mom embarked on a career at 43, sought advanced degrees in it, took positions in particularly challenging areas, and became a well-respected mentor for younger people entering the field. Twenty-four is very young, and life is full of second and third and fourth acts.

I read a while ago that there are two common trajectories among artistic geniuses, people who burn brightly very young but then taper off and don't do much else, and people who take years and decades to start producing work of note and continue to improve as they age. There are a lot of things that only age and maturity can teach; when I think about truly great literature, the majority of masterpieces came from writers who had more life experience under their belts.

Actually, I'm reading a biography of George Washington right now, who was frustrated as a young man because he couldn't get a royal commission in the army; he was never in the right place at the right time, and he ended up being a very good officer in a very bad war (the French and Indian War), which seemed to seal his fate as an underappreciated, undersalaried, scorned colonial rube who would never be given the royal commission and social recognition that his battlefield bravery and talent seemed to deserve. He retired from military life in 1758 at the age of 26, discouraged and convinced he would never achieve recognition as a military commander. He didn't return to military life until 1775 -- and WE ALL KNOW HOW THAT TURNED OUT. He retired again in 1783, only to be recalled to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and elected the first president of the United States in 1789. Life has many and quite unexpected second acts.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:18 PM on July 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

My mom got married reasonably young, and tried to be a good minister/teacher's wife in a conservative church. She did a great job raising my brothers and I (especially in teaching us to be curious and decent people), but she was generally in a really limitingsituation. Around age 40, she went back to school, got a PhD, moved to another state (we were all mostly grown by then), and had a really good career as an academic, doing a ton of things that her early life wouldn't have allowed. She has been a tremendous inspiration for me -- when I feel like my back is up against a wall, I think "hey, mom got out of a deeper hole than this," and I get moving.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Charles Dutton's one-man autobiographical play From Jail to Yale is playing at nearby "Yale on the Rail" and so I went and did a little reading about his background and will share it with you:

Grew up in the streets of Baltimore, dropped out of school before the end of middle school; spent the next few years in juvenile detention until he was convicted of manslaughter at 17 and spent the next 9 years mostly in prison. Got bit by the acting bug while still in prison, got got his GED and a 2-year degree while still behind bars, got out of prison and finished up 4 year college, and finally earned his master's degree in drama from Yale in 1983, before heading straight to Broadway where he earned his first Tony nomination the very next year at the age of 33.

As far as his path to success, he says: "I don't recommend it to anybody."
posted by drlith at 7:23 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ok, I have a friend whose life is inspirational. She was brought up in an orphanage because her mother didn't want to keep a mixed-race child. This is in the UK. 16 was the age at which young people left the orphanage, also any sort of education; my friend trained as a nurse after this, living in the nurses hostel.

After her training, she au-paired for a while and back-packed through Europe when she could afford it. She never saw nursing as a career - I think she resented the fact that the orphanage children were all pushed into service work and no thought was given to their intellectual development. However that training has been useful as if she needed quick money she could sign on for temp. nursing work, which is well-paid for unsociable hours. I should add my friend is conscientious and engages in whatever she does properly.

She had a baby when she was in her late twenties. When the child was school-age my friend went to uni as a mature student (late 30s) to get a degree in fine art. She has successfully made a living as an artist for the past 20 years, something that is very hard to do indeed: teaching workshops, selling paintings and cards, community arts projects, murals. To make enough money to keep yourself with this stuff you have to work so hard, be so energetic and networky it's not even true. In the mean time, the child is an academic high-flyer who travels all over the world and has a wonderful professional career path stretching before her.

I admire my friend a great deal. She has a lot of fun, takes big risks and doesn't suffer fools gladly. She's not afraid to make mistakes - which she certainly has done - and is ready to deal with the consequences - which she also certainly has done. Plus, she's had a great time.

Her achievements are all her own. She wrestles with life, and come out winning. It's all of her experiences and choices that make her who she is. So your bad experiences...they haven't been a waste. Thinking about my friend, and about what you've said in your post, one difference is my friend is angry about perceived injustices. She is not afraid to be angry and mean in self-defence. So maybe it will help you not feel so bad if you pro-actively refuse to mentally take the blame for having had a bad experience? In what way is it your fault if somebody else is a mean bastard?

But anyway, there's a real-life example of somebody starting late, and beating the odds.
posted by glasseyes at 4:02 AM on July 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know a woman who, getting married at age 20, left her husband at age 28, moved to the city, enrolled at a university, and began pursuing her dream of becoming an actor. Although I'm sure she had internal doubts, she never publicly seemed to lack conviction or confidence or to wonder whether she was "too old" to start over. She just... did it. And everyone around her respected her immensely for making that decision and following through.

My cousin was a screw up in high school. He got straight C's and spent the year after graduation playing MMORPGs in his childhood bedroom. Then he started programming games for fun, which forced him to learn physics – orthogonality, vector transformations, etc. He realized he liked physics. So he enrolled at the local community college and began taking classes. When he maxed out on physics courses, he began maxing out on math courses. Finally, he transferred to the local state college where he majored in physics and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. At age 19, this kid was playing four hours of Diablo a day. Now, at age 29, he's doing a PhD at Yale. (I've told this story on MeFi a few times, but I'm repeating it because it's relevant.)

Yes, you can absolutely turn things around and go in another direction well past the point where you're "supposed" to have figured your life out. It is very likely that you will find yourself having to start over at least once during your adult life, whether you want to or not. Layoffs happen, illness and mental health issues happen. Sometimes the dice just don't come up in your favor, and you end up shit out of luck, stranded on the highway. Or something you thought you wanted very much – a career or a graduate program or being part of some exclusive community – turns out to be awful, and you have to bail. Get used to questioning and redefining your trajectory in life every couple of years.

(Of course, your odds of succeeding depend very much on what resources are available to you. The people in my above anecdotes were white, middle to upper-middle class people with easy access to education.)
posted by deathpanels at 6:01 AM on July 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

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