[This week Louise Chunn, the former editor of Psychologies and Good Housekeeping is hanging with us at xoJane UK, so I thought we should take the opportunity to benefit from her (extensive) wisdom and experience ]
The idea that you can be fabulously well known and astronomically remunerated before you’re 30 is pretty new. I was born before The Beatles were formed and grew up knowing that to be young was to be, as my Dad put it, “low man on the totem pole.”
To get to the top, you had to embark on a long, slow, financially restrained climb and usually it involved quite a few mishaps along the way. But that was part of the fun and no one was expecting anything very different. Not anymore.
Young women these days look at the dot.com billionaires and fashion entrepreneurs and teenage models/actors/singers and measure themselves up against their enormous success. From my middle-aged perspective, you’re all completely crazy. Not just because you won’t ever measure up to those exceptional examples, but also because you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure when you’ve barely started out.
Recently I met an American self-development writer called Robert Greene who is with me on this one. In his latest book, "Mastery," he claims that excellence can only be achieved by first apprenticing yourself to something that you are genuinely interested in. You have to listen, learn, practise, hone.
And then you have to do it again and again and again before you will be genuinely good at it.
Greene uses the biographies of immensely talented successful people -- from history and modern times -- to show that, for example, the genius of Einstein wasn’t inevitable but hard won. Albert was always fascinated in the way the world worked, but his theory of relativity wasn’t just sitting there waiting to pop out of his cerebral cortex.
I love hearing this kind of story -- and wish that more people would open up to its message. With any luck, it will make them take their feet off their own necks and give them a chance to feel a little better about their lives. Is it any wonder that rates of depression among young women are high (one in four women will be treated, compared to one in 10 men) if they’re constantly judging themselves against such extreme examples?
If you set the bar by which you measure your life too high, you’ll never feel that you’re achieving anything at all. So what if you’re 30 and you don’t have the “perfect set” of great job, mutually supportive relationship, cool flat? I could show you dozens of people who had that -- and then it all went wrong. Or, conversely, who didn’t have that, and then it all went incredibly well.
In my own life, I’ve been very up and pretty down. I’ve sometimes won against high odds -- had great jobs in glamorous places, won awards, been given innumerable handbags. But then I’ve also been made redundant more than once, got divorced, been a single parent and been in therapy.
Right now I’m fairly content, but not everyone would want to be me.
Life is not something over which we can have total control, but it’s not said often enough. You’d understand if I said you probably shouldn’t run your life as if your actions have no consequences; but most people will be nonplussed if I say that you shouldn’t conduct it as if it will run along the lines you have set.
You can hope for the best, and do what you can to make everything turn out -- but that won’t always make much difference. As John Lennon so wisely wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
Follow Louise on Twitter @louisechunn.