How to deal with feeling behind by a decade?
September 7, 2023 5:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm 34, female and feeling increasingly conscious of how "behind" I am in life. I imagine it's because 35 is hovering ahead and 40 seems far too close for comfort. I'm not too concerned about the marriage/kids thing as much as I am about career/living arrangement/financial situation.

I think this has been triggered by the fact that multiple people recently have thought I was 26 and expressed shock upon hearing I'm 34.

In particular, I recently got a new job two months ago and they kept mentioning how I'm one of the younger ones in the team. I kept quiet, I felt too embarrassed. But then my line manager asked me up front and was very surprised to hear my real age.

She then asked me if I'd started my accounting exams late (in a nice way). I just told her that I wasn't sure what to do in my twenties, which is kind of true. The real truth is that I've had significant mental health issues, dislike accounting and stayed in entry level type jobs that an 18 year old could do, for a decade.

Its only since turning 32ish that I've pushed myself to accept a career in accounting and do the exams and that was purely for financial reasons. You can see all the history of this in my past posts.

A new Head of Tax joined my company, he looks younger than me, maybe 28. We were talking and he mentioned in passing "oh I'm much older than you though". I disagreed but didn't tell him my age. He is highly intelligent, competent and quietly confident. He was nice, but I felt small, less than.

I told him I live in a houseshare, he didn't judge but again, I felt ashamed. Already all my housemates are in their late 20s and I do sometimes feel a twinge about that.

There are two issues at play a) my shame about where I find myself in life - in debt, entry level job, struggling, not able to "adult" and b) the fact that as I get older I can't hide it.

When you are in your twenties it's fine to be a drifter, have no purpose, work in shitty jobs etc. No one judges you and you don't judge yourself. Its only in the past year or so I've started to gain a sense of what me and my life must look from the outside and developed shame about it.

I'm trying to use all this to motivate me to pass my remaining exams. I'm also trying to focus at work, seek the right medication but I feel the clock ticking and it's making me panic.

Can anyone relate to this and do you have any advice to manage this?
posted by Sunflower88 to Human Relations (33 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
In less than ten years:

I went from having only exactly enough money to pay one more month of the world's cheapest rent to the weirdo roommate I found on Craigslist


buying my own whole home, completely by myself, and fully finding my retirement accounts every year.

Literally the only lifestyle change I had was I finally got a job that paid me a living wage. That was it. The only thing I needed was a steady job that paid me enough I could start planning instead of just surviving. It wasn't even a glamorous or high paying job. Just enough, finally.

So keep your head down, focus on your job while you're at your job, and don't worry about the rest of it. (Also stay out of shitty relationships.) Think of your job as a thing you do to make the money you need to live your life. Your job is not your life.
posted by phunniemee at 5:48 AM on September 7 [52 favorites]

Oh I'll also add, in my job I get the wonderful task of hiring and paying every person, so I know exactly how much everyone makes and exactly how old everyone is. So many people are younger than me, have "better" titles than me, make more money than me. So many. So I get it, I do.

But it literally doesn't matter because some time ago I decided to decide that I have enough and my life is not my job. Always advocate for yourself, of course, but comparison to others will drive you crazy. Releasing yourself from that is a mindset you really have to constantly cultivate.
posted by phunniemee at 5:53 AM on September 7 [31 favorites]

I felt this way for a long time. I still struggle, but I do the best I can with what I have. Put your own oxygen mask first kind of thing. Reminding myself I only see parts and don't know what they are fully dealing with. Kind of like how instagram shows only the best curated of someone's life. As phunniemee said, decide if it is enough. You had a different hand and you are doing your best. Even millionaires are jealous of billionaires kind of thing, there is someone who has or does more and then there is someone probably looking at you and maybe thinking the same.

It really depends on what you value and hold dear and how you see and value your self. If all your self-worth is wrapped up in monetary gain and career, it might continue to be a source of shame. But it doesn't have to be. Choose gratitude.
posted by VyanSelei at 6:00 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Yes. I don't have a career period and am likely to start training for one soon. I'm 34 and the idea that I won't be settled into my desired career until 40ish is terrifying. And makes me feel terrible.

But part of dealing more effectively with my own mental health problems (ADHD) has been accepting that I am never going to "fix" myself because that's not achievable or useful. I'm never going to wake up one day and be normal. So I should not judge myself by the "normal" standard.

That's not to say I can run around ignoring my responsibilities. More like, I am making personal growth at my own rate, and my milestones don't line up with others' milestones for reasons beyond my control. Heck, not everyone's milestones are even the same.

I'm often not good at keeping all this in mind! During a career development/intro thing, it was very very hard to see how many people were just out of high school or in their early 20s. I nearly cried. But there were a couple other people more my age or older and it was a nice reminder that I'm not alone. You're not alone!

One thing you might do is to focus on what you want and why you want it. What do you care about, what are your values? Who are you? Perhaps thinking about where you want to be in 10 years and working out a roadmap to get there could help you create milestones that are meaningful and, ideally, realistically achievable.

There's no point in wearing the hair shirt of comparison.
posted by Baethan at 6:02 AM on September 7 [7 favorites]

Shame is a terrible motivator, I wouldn’t recommend using it.

All of these milestones are completely cultural, which makes it easy for me to disregard them. So what if our culture says that people my age are supposed to have or be good at x, y, and z by now? If I lived in a different culture, I would seem weird for not living with my parents, as I’m unmarried. Cultural stuff is so arbitrary. Your life doesn’t happen to match the standard set out by one group of people in one particular time. You don’t need to subscribe to your culture’s values just because you grew up with them.

Plus, in debt, entry level job, housemates, struggling - that’s not your fault, the economy is fucked. There’s no reason to blame yourself for that.

Whenever I feel bad about myself or start comparing myself to other people, I just go “NOPE. Not doing that. Think about something else.”
posted by wheatlets at 6:18 AM on September 7 [10 favorites]

I think the best way to counter these anxieties and fears is to make friends/find communities and activities with people across a wide range of ages. I turned 30 a few years ago and had none of the existential anxiety I hear people talk about because I know so many amazing people well over 30 who have lived all kinds of different lives, some who followed the conventional path, some who really, really didn't and would never want to, and most somewhere in between.

It's hard for me to ever feel "behind" when I look around me and I don't see a race to a finish line. The world I see looks less like a racetrack and more like (cheesy simile alert)... a garden full of paths meandering in all different directions.
posted by capricorn at 6:30 AM on September 7 [8 favorites]

Can anyone relate to this and do you have any advice to manage this?

I felt this way when I was younger, then around 40 something changed. I started to realize that life is not a competition. The people who love you (or are a good fit for your life) do so for who you are and not what you do or accomplish. Those things are not the same and the more you can separate them, the more likely you’ll find peace and happiness in your life.

I will also say that as someone who is a few years older than you and in the upper half of the org structure where I am - I really don’t think about how old anyone is at all anymore. I care how hard and well people work and how pleasant they are to work with. If you’re doing those things well, chances are your coworkers respect you.
posted by openhearted at 6:39 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]

I think the best way to counter these anxieties and fears is to make friends/find communities and activities with people across a wide range of ages.

Seconding this, only I'd also go for make friends and find communities across a wide range of lifestyles as well.

Whenever I was feeling this way, I'd realize that it was because I'd been on Facebook and seeing posts from my high school friends who'd gone on to the traditional married-with-2.8-kids-and-living-in-the-suburbs kind of thing.....but if I stepped away and looked around at my friends who lived where I did, that's when I remembered that "oh yeah, C is my age and so is N and they aren't married, they're not even settled down - this is C's eighth job this year, and same for I and G, and they only just got married now and he's traveling for work while she's trying to make jewelry....and there's R, he's even older than me and he's making a big career change and going back to freelancing....and there's E, she's just about to start her first year of librarian grad school after having been a personal trainer all her life and she's single....and there's also my aunt S, she NEVER got married and has changed jobs like 20 times..."

You know? There are people who do hit those cultural milestones at the appointed time, but there are PLENTY of people who hit them on their own schedule. There are also people who don't hit them because they couldn't be bothered and found something else to do instead. Having a lot of examples of the "other ways to do things" around me to look at kept me from comparing myself overly much to the people who did do things conventionally.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]

Oh, on the external part of it: when housing or job or life situation comes up in conversation, it helps to be briskly upbeat and redirect. Like if someone asks about your house, smiling and saying something like "oh, I rent. I've heard absolute horror stories about owning a house and I'm not ready for that yet! Do you own a house? How's that been for you?"
Or if someone asks if you're dating, make an oof noise and go, "the dating scene these days! [Ask how they're doing or similar, or go "amiright" and turn back to whatever you were doing]"

It's somewhere between pr spin, fake it till you make it, and masking. Adjust based on how much of yourself you want to show, who you're talking to, and the work culture.
posted by Baethan at 6:44 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]

I am a single man in my mid-30s, and I feel much of this question could have been written by me. Let's just acknowledge that as a cis-man, I don't have to carry the same level of social expectation that women do around ageing, attractiveness, having kids, etc. But I deal with difficult feelings on all those themes.

I have had to start from scratch several times in new careers, every time being older, every time surrounded by even younger and seemingly more capable people.

I can sort of explain the turmoil, and I sort of can't. I kind of did everything right at first. Good grades at school, good degrees from very good universities, jobs that looked good on paper. But I kept on leaving those jobs feeling unfulfilled and resentful before I ever got to middle management, let alone the leadership roles people my age are now starting to enter. In retrospect I had an escalating drinking and drug problem, undiagnosed ADHD, and a habit of getting into painful co-dependent relationships with people who had their own issues. I was "restless, irritable, and discontent", as they say in my 12 step recovery meetings, and I still am.

You have already had some good advice. A few additional thoughts from me:

1) I try not to resent my past self for his decisions. He was at times a shitty guy who fucked up a lot, but he was also doing the best he could. He also sought the help and did the work that has gotten me to where I am now. I am at a place in my life where I am more stable and more happy, and more at peace with the humble future I am facing, and I would not have gotten there without the experiences I have had. I hope you can cut your past self the same slack.

2) regardless of age, it is a good thing to still be curious and humble, to view the world as a novitiate.

3) if you are cursed with the feeling like you have to justify your life or apologise just for existing, no amount of success will ever cure you of it.

4) those younger people are not perfect and they are not immune from what you went through. A lot of them will experience their own crises and life changing events that will knock them onto a different course. Just because it hasn't happened to them yet, doesn't mean it won't. Even the ones who don't deal with trauma or disease, and who have a smooth path to the top of the hill, might get there just to realise it isn't where they wanted to be all along. I expect many will be complaining of similar fears and feelings in ten years.
posted by Probabilitics at 6:47 AM on September 7 [5 favorites]

Re. age and people judging you younger than you are, this happend to me all through my twenties, thirties and fourties, people would think i was 10 years younger. Even now, in my late fifties, people judge me as early fifties.
It used to annoy me for a long time, i always assumed my behaviour must be immature, and my jobs not a proper career etc.
What helped me in my midthirties was to stop correcting people about my age. At work, obviously if your supervisor asks you directly that wont work (but i am sure they could have found out anyway from you HR File). But i would stop to correct people unless directly asked, both in social contexts at work and elsewhere.
I can also relate to the Part about Missing ten years on your age cohort/Peers. I was a member of a religious sect from 17 to 30. As the ideology was apocalyptic, i ended my education before final exams and never did higher education.
When i entered the Work Market age 30 this was difficult but i was able to leverage skills to find the first job and from there it was literally never an issue that i dropped out of school age 17. This Just to encourage you that this is possible.
posted by 15L06 at 6:48 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]

You're not alone! I'm female, in my mid-thirties, and I'm just starting as a CPA candidate. I know that I will be testing at the same time as people over 10 years my junior who probably have a much easier time memorizing the extensive details of tax regulation and financial accounting, than I have because my brain is filled up with other adult things like paying bills, working, balancing the drop off schedule for my kid, etc.

It is hard and what you are doing is amazing. Accounting is a very complex field and you can be really proud of yourself that you're doing this really brave thing of taking the exams along with everything else you are juggling in life. This really isn't something you need to be ashamed of, it's an accomplishment!

There are a few things here that I think are notable. The people who seem to be judging you are doing so because they literally think you are in your 20s. You must look vibrant and seem really fun to be around. If you want there are a couple ways to give off an "I'm older and very professional" vibe. First, you can adopt that 30s traditional business professional look for your wardrobe. It's terrible that the world seems to operate that way on first impressions but you can play that game as well as any other person. The other thing you can do which is very thirties is remind yourself and others about the reasons you like what you have. Examples: "I do house sharing. I have nice housemates and it's good for the environment." or "Oh, I don't think you're that much older than me, I'm 34. So glad I'm out of my 20s!"

But mostly, give yourself some grace! You are making a career for yourself after feeling adrift. You pulled yourself out of that drifting! Yeah, some people have had an easier work and financial life, but who cares if you're in the exact same level as them? At the end of the day, you are making positive changes in your life after some pretty tough set backs and if they don't see that, that's their problem.
posted by donut_princess at 6:56 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

The twenties are for drifting? Psh. I was engaged at 23, married at 25, had a career and a house. And then at 34 I was divorced, had quit the management job I hated, and lived in a tiny 1BR apartment. That turned out differently than we all thought and planned, didn't it?

Ages and stages and (non-medical) milestones mean NOTHING because the majority of them are arbitrary, cultural, and most importantly, can be undone. Go for those certification tests, there will be people younger than you AND older than you taking them as well. Eh. So what?

And if, um, anyone is whispering in your ear that the clock is ticking on your life you should ignore them because they are not on your side.
posted by kimberussell at 7:04 AM on September 7 [10 favorites]

So many people take a long time to launch these days, between student loan payments and healthcare costs and skyrocketing rent, and a job market that cannot ever seem to decide whether it's good or shitty.

In my circle of friends you would not be "old," you would be right on time. Almost all of us finally got a "serious" job in our mid-30s, or even later. Maybe a third of us? Maybe half? own a place now that we're in our mid 40s. They all still have roommates, they just call them "boyfriend" "girlfriend" or "spouse". That's still a houseshare! Just a small one, that society prefers for some bullshit reason.

You have picked a career that you don't love but that you can do; this is, unfortunately, the lot for most of us. But you are doing it, because you have reasons, instead of just avoiding and denying. That's quite mature! A lot of people never get there, and a lot of people don't even realize that's an option. As you get several years of good pay and experience under your belt you will be able to build a life that feels more "Adult," if that's what you want. It just takes a little time--not a ton, but enough to make one feel impatient definitely.

If you don't want people to think you're 34 it's usually pretty easy for a 34 year old to pass for younger. Clearly you already are, with many folks! Maybe use some of your new job money to buy a couple of trendy work outfits that fit in a bit better with your Gen-Z coworkers. (I'm about to do this myself!)

Also be mindful that a lot of the time when people are shocked at your age it's not because they're thinking "oh god, she's so OLD to be in this JOB" they're thinking "Sweet jesus what is her skincare, she looks amazing."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:04 AM on September 7 [11 favorites]

I got my first entry-level "real" or "career" job when I was 36 -- full-time, with benefits, salaried rather than hourly, etc. I spent my twenties and early thirties doing things, but none of those things involved earning much money or coming anywhere near a career-type job. (Like, when I went to grad school and got a standard TA stipend, that was by a large margin the most I'd ever made at that point.)

So I can completely understand the feelings that you are starting late, and looking around you and seeing people your age who started working straight out of school and now are 15 years into a Career. But those kinds of comparisons just make you feel bad (or at least they did to me), and aren't complete. First, there are thousands and thousands, probably millions, of other people your age who went way further off the rails and have no prospect of ever achieving what you have now. Like, maybe they spent their entire twenties in the pen and are now starting from way less than zero.

And second, even just comparing to those people you work with who stayed on the "standard" track, they often have regrets too about not doing things you did when you were young, or never achieved the personal growth you have. So there's more to the comparison than just who has what job description and how much in their 401k.

Back to myself -- despite starting late, I'm doing surprisingly ok now. My goofy, non-linear path finally seems to be congealing into something approaching a career. I'm at the age now where there are plenty of younger people in equal or higher positions (and they are almost without exception awesome, I am loving working with so many younger people) and without knowing someone's background, you can't really tell who did the traditional "start right after school" and who made the weird choices for a decade or so. People my age and older are frequently on a second or third career, and those people have great stories and perspective from having worked in other environments.

I'm saying that if you can make it through this difficult stage (and I vividly remember how difficult it was), a more varied experience can become an asset over time. A decade from now, things might look really different.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:11 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Fellow late bloomer here. I got my first above-survival-level paycheck at 32.

You don't owe a complete answer to any question asked of you! If someone asks "Hey how old are you?" you can say, "Ha! Like I'm giving that out!" or "A lady never says (wink)" or "Old enough to know not to ask that! Come on!". If you want to provide an explanation as to why you are non-traditional test-taking age, say something like, "I took the scenic route in my 20's, then I buckled down."

You don't know what's inside the other person or how they got where they are. Some people know exactly what from a young age, and that's great for them! Some people had heavy-handed guidance and are in a career they don't really want (lots of kids who like math end up in actuarial or accounting tracks due to family advice and career counselors, get themselves golden-handcuffed and dislike their jobs). Some people were hammered on by status conscious parents.

You do you. That's all you need to do.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 7:11 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Also be mindful that a lot of the time when people are shocked at your age it's not because they're thinking "oh god, she's so OLD to be in this JOB" they're thinking "Sweet jesus what is her skincare, she looks amazing."

Seconding this too. Everyone in both sides of my family has been blessed with robust and vibrant health into old age, and the women on my mother's side of the family all look like they're 10 years younger than they actually are - and I'm no exception. I have always been pegged as being younger than I actually am, but that's 100% up to the way I look; I'm 53 now, but was told I look 33, and when I was 33 I was told I looked 23. When you're 53 but you look like someone in their 30s, everyone is going to assume that's what you ARE unless you say otherwise. Same thing as when you're in your 30s but you look like someone in their 20s.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

I've started to gain a sense of what me and my life must look from the outside

Gently, I don't think you have, I think you're projecting - the only person I see in your post judging you is you. The ages of 28 and 45 are often hard to tell apart, just by looking. Sure, some people go grey early, some people wrinkle early, but it's really normal for people to assume a person in their 30s is in their 20s. People act really surprised by my age (38) all the time. People in their 20s/early 30s often assume I'm their age, presumably because I don't look that much older than their peer group - that's about them, not really about me. It certainly doesn't mean I'm are failing at being my age – the same goes for you.

Your manager was just making friendly small talk - people generally wonder how people got into the careers they've chosen, and sure, maybe your path is somewhat unusual for your career, but that's not bad.

In short, your age of 32 is a) actually still young in the grand scheme of things and b) absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.

Focus on the fact that you're now on a path towards stability, and that's great! Find activities that relieve stress and incorporate those into your day (might be exercise, meditation, cooking, art - everyone is different).
posted by coffeecat at 7:14 AM on September 7 [8 favorites]

About the house-sharing: where I work, the junior staff (meaning early in career, lower-paid positions, not necessarily young) live in a mix of houseshare/roommate situations, have their own apartments, or own places. Everyone understands that the main factor behind this is how much family or spousal support someone gets, not anything to do with their value as people. It might be different where you work, but I've never overhead anyone being judgmental or anything, beyond a bit of jealous gossip when someone buys a beautiful place in a nice neighborhood.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:24 AM on September 7

The year I turned 30, I made $13,500. Read that again: it's a real number. I didn't live with my folks, either.

It wasn't until I was 32 that I stopped waiting tables. I was 40 the year I stopped repairing dishwashers. I'm a telecom exec now, and my spouse and I own a lovely home, travel internationally, and have nice credit scores. We get to think about cool shit like retiring. It doesn't matter at all when you get started, it can still go well.

To this, I would add that corporate America is silly as hell and if people think you are younger than you are, lol, ok. That's just one bonkers perk of corporate America. Here's my favorite: you can drift upward, simply by doing a plausible job at your role. Just keep doing the thing and going to the place and once you're in the corporate world, you can increase your salary on the regular. If your company doesn't give you enough raises/opportunities for improvement, you can jump to other jobs and make more at those.

Yes, it slows down up eventually. Yes, there will come a point where you will get boxed in by age to one extent or another. Yes, there will come a point where it would have been great to have had an earlier start. Doesn't matter. The one solid gold advantage of being a late bloomer is that your standards and hopes are probably so low, it will be shockingly easy to exceed them.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:30 AM on September 7 [7 favorites]

Looking back from 60, I think all my greatest crises of confidence occurred on the fives. A 10 year old will have some kind of uninformed idea of being 20 and when you get to 15 there's a frustration about being nowhere near halfway towards that vision. The frustration is repeated at age 25 when you feel nowhere near your imagined yourself at 30 but it's amplified by social pressure and the sense that you bear more responsibility for your circumstances. Happens again at 35, perhaps bumped up another notch by biological pressure….and each passing decade brings you closer to decrepitude and death, with less time to address your personal goals and your capacity to build financial stability.

There's a tendency to think of life as a trajectory. It's not. Beware of making regrettable course corrections that involve other life forms.
posted by brachiopod at 7:33 AM on September 7 [4 favorites]

Just to 2nd coffeecat about projecting.

I'm single with no kids and for a long time kind of vaguely thought that the wives/mothers among my colleagues must think that I led a bit of a sad and lonely life.

Then one day I was chatting with one of them (who happened to have two extremely surly teenage sons at the time) about something that we'd experienced differently, and she said, totally spontaneously: "Ah, but it's different when you're a free spirit, isn't it?" Like, she thought of me as a free spirit.

She wasn't trying to be nice or kind. She genuinely thought of me as living the life of a free spirit, while she was tied down and encumbered. It was such a beautiful image and I was so touched by it.

You genuinely don't know how other people see you, you can only guess, and those guesses tend to be heavily coloured by how you see yourself.

Also, it's maybe no comfort now, but I've found a tremendous kind of levelling hits people in their 40s. People I know who, in their 30s, were uber proud of having 'made it' by having careers on the rise, getting married, owning homes, becoming parents, suddenly started to sag. They were exhausted, they were realistic about the demands of parenting and the relentlessness of it, they were trying to cut back their hours because they'd realised that the financial rewards of senior management were not worth the sacrifices in their quality of life, they could see that they only had so much time left to actually enjoy life, and continuing to climb the career ladder didn't really matter to them so much.

It felt like everybody just threw up their hands and said: "This ideal plan for life we were working to is not what I thought it was, let's all just take the bits we like and stop chasing because, frankly, we're tired and ready to stop competing."

So that might be no comfort to you now, but I think you're probably at about the worst time for this kind of 'competitive life-ing'. It'll get better.
posted by penguin pie at 7:34 AM on September 7 [8 favorites]

I feel behind in life when I’m around people who make me feel behind. My friends (the real ones, the good ones) don’t make me feel this way. I try to put my energy and time into the people around me who lift me up and are kind, and try to de emphasize my colleagues opinions of me
posted by raccoon409 at 7:40 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Even if you compare yourself to people in your industry who started earlier, keep in mind that at some point you will catch up. By definition, not everyone can become VP, or director, or whatever. I'm 40 and over the last 5 years or so I've kind of hit the limit of how far I can advance in my career without a lot more responsibility and stress, and I just don't want to do that right now.
posted by AndrewInDC at 7:48 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

Your milestones do not have to look like anyone else's milestones. At my age, if I went by everyone else's accepted milestones, I'd have kids and a career. I have neither of those things. And yet, my life is pretty sweet.
posted by Kitteh at 8:21 AM on September 7

In a hundred years, everyone you're talking about, including both you and everyone participating in this thread, will be dead. Will it matter then what age you bought a house?
posted by praemunire at 10:06 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]

I'm roughly your age and feel you, and deeply empathize with the insecurity of watching people younger than me at my company sort of gun for leadership-y SVP and c-suite type roles, which I just don't think I'll ever be cut out for. I try to remind myself that I'm playing a slower and steadier game and that it's a marathon and not a sprint. The truth is I've advanced through my career nicely this way despite the fact that so many people in my industry are just more enthusiastic about the work than I am.

So I just want to let you know that a) you are not alone, and also, b) if you just continue to keep your head down, do your work, don't be an asshole, and develop a good reputation as a person who helps people, a person who comes through for their coworkers, and a person who people generally like working with - things WILL fall into place.

For me, my career growth has 95% been about the friends I've made along the way, who eventually become the people that go on to work at other companies and eventually text you months or even years later to say "hey - there's an opening for a manager at my new place. Interested?" It's a slow game and it's hard to envision when you're only two years in. I did not ever think I'd have a "senior" role in my industry and here I am, bullshitting it harder than ever. And still not owning a home, still stressing about how the hell I'll ever afford one, how I'm gonna ever retire, etc.

(Also: Jesus WHO is even buying a house right now with these interest rates??)
posted by windbox at 10:16 AM on September 7

N-plusing pretty much every other comment. I myself had moments where I could really see the "captain of industry" thing on the horizon for me, many many times when I felt like I was making the same mistakes over and over and getting passed by, or trying to apply lessons learned from a previous situation and finding the result was contra-indicated with my experience. My current take is that all of those were misguided approaches to the present. Now I really like to focus on places where I feel like I have agency, trying to be passionate about choosing that place of agency again and again.

All of those things you're telling yourself about your age and your life narrative definitely feel like they're being viewed through the lens of capitalism. Plenty of shame culture throughout history, but your specific concerns seem to be tied to success through achievement. It can feel like objectivity, but it's really just a flattening of the rich life you're leading.

I've taken enough accounting to know I would not enjoy the work, but I can respect it as a profession that is as core to our culture and and functioning economy. This is a gift, and the certs you are stressing over are things that can present you as trustworthy to very meaningful organizations making change in the world. Does that reframing help you feel more invested in passing them?

Promotions are checkboxes for looking back and judging whether you've grown, but they aren't the only available checkboxes, and they are completely useless for motivating present behavior - so much "status" depends on inaccessible (to you) variables. As an accountant you have a tremendous set of tools you can apply to your questions of specific financial goals you have. If you don't have financial goals, only a vague sense of unease that someone else is doing better - that's a signal that someone else's mythology is muddying your ability to enjoy your life.

Hope this helps! Good luck.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 10:34 AM on September 7

If anyone is "behind" it's me: I've just recently started a new position at my workplace that was basically tailor-made for my skillset. It feels like I've been working toward this for my entire career. I just turned 53. I changed majors a couple times in college, entered the workforce late (by society's standards), and I've kind of bounced around things. But here I am! And I'm loving it! And I truly, truly do not feel behind or that this is too late. I'm still alive; it's never too late in that respect!

I've also found, especially as I hit 40 and beyond, that I've just stopped caring whether or not I'm keeping up with the Joneses or what society expects of me. Giving zero fucks is an AMAZING thing and I tell all of my younger friends (especially the women) to start giving zero fucks as soon as they can. It's just the best.
posted by cooker girl at 10:37 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

In a similar boat, I tell myself that when I’m older, my training will be a decade more recent than it could have been. Hopefully, that will help keep me sharper and more up-to-date as I age. I also like to subtract the pandemic years from my age to make myself feel better since there was nothing I could do to progress during that time, realistically.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:56 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

I think about this a lot because I've lived in the same town for a long time, pass as much younger than I am, but also have other friends who are older than me and younger than I am who are struggling more than me. I also am at the start of my 30s and am currently moving into looking for job hunting after dealing with an incredibly hellish 20s (you can look at my previous AskMeFi history.)

At the end of the day, we are all on our own journeys and the best thing to do is to concentrate on doing your job well and finding people who are supportive and loving of you, and help make your everyday awesome. There really is nothing else to it. I'm pretty happy right now, but that's because I've really stopped caring and comparing myself to others, and I run on disabled queer time anyway. I have friends who died in their early-mid 20s from enormous life stress, so that's another perspective, and I miss them and wish I could spend more time with them. I wouldn't care where they were at, as long as they were okay.
posted by yueliang at 11:44 AM on September 7

If it comforts you, there's a lot of people about a decade older than you who are having to restart about a decade behind particularly *because* of that whole marriage/kids/divorce thing. I'm one of them! I have a roommate and shitty internships/jobs and I am 40. It feels weird, I get it.

How to manage this is mostly to remember that there's still plenty of living ahead and in another five to ten years no one will notice or remember how you were living now. This is just a rough patch; this too shall pass.
posted by corb at 12:28 PM on September 7

You've been posting variations on this question, about feeling intense backwards- looking regret, for several years. I wonder if any of the answers you've gotten have helped? But I feel like the real question is, what will it take for you to accept yourself as you are, so that you don't keep circling down the hole of regret? What needs to be different going forward, so that you can stop looking backwards and coming back to this question?
posted by Dashy at 4:49 PM on September 7 [8 favorites]

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