Why am I jealous of this 19-year-old?

Youth activism has always been central to social movements. It seems more now than ever (thanks to social media) that young people are not only out on the streets, but becoming the voices of movements, leading marches, protests, and strategic campaigns.

And I’m fucking jealous.

You don’t have to lecture me, twenty-somethings. I know that being the biggest personality does not a great activist make. But as someone who was raised in the rat-race of high SAT scores and lists of extracurriculars, and “where did you got to school”s, I still feel the urge to be the best at what I do, even if what I do is social justice.

So, when I see stories of 19-year-olds leading non-profit coalitions as they defer their acceptances to Stanford or Harvard, I, at the old, old age of 23, wonder “where did my life go wrong?”.

We put so much pressure on people to be as successful as possible, as young as possible. Don’t believe me? Why the hell does Forbes’s 30 under 30 even exist, other than to make us all feel like we have some arbitrary deadline for a committee at Forbes to decide that we’re accomplished?

I’m not mad at the 19-year-old. Congratulations, girl. What I am frustrated with is the pressure of being a wunderkind. Why on earth do we have to feel like we have to have our shit together before we even know who we are? Why do we have to have a thousand side hustles and monetize them all to feel like we’re making good use of our time?

But to be honest, I get the weirdest sense of satisfaction every time someone is surprised at my age. A warm feeling comes over me when people discover I graduated at 20 (which was wholly unnecessary and led to me missing out on fun experiences like studying abroad). And there’s a part of me that feels like after 30 is the great unknown, that I should have everything together by then. And that’s bullshit.

Over the past year, my mind has changed on what I want the next step of my life to look like more times than I can count. And I’ve been really insecure about that. I’ve thought that changing my plans has made me look unserious or like I don’t really know what I want. But guess what? I don’t know what I want. And I don’t have to have a deathly serious 10-year plan for myself. None of us do.

In college, I teetered between periods of overloading my schedule because I thought it’s what I should do and quitting everything except one or two things once the pressure got to be too much. I thought that it was normal to have a Google calendar that was filled to the brim, with perfectly designated times to eat and shower. I thought that’s what successful people did, how someone ended up on the 30 under 30 one day.

Fuck 30 under 30. At 30, our lives will have just begun. We have so much to learn between now and then, not to mention all the lessons we’ll learn after 30.

We don’t have to be jealous of the 19-year-old. I remember what I was like at 19. They’re going through shit.

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Chika is a freelance writer who writes about the politics of life. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter (she’s on both way too much).

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