Last week, Forbes and The Hollywood Reporter and the trade du jour of your field announced its 30 Under 30 Class: the finest, most impressive batch of millennials across disciplines like e-commerce, entertainment, sports, and venture capital. I was delighted to see some pals and strangers I admire *follow on Instagram* adorn this list, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little bit X to not find myself among these titans of industry.
I wrote X because I can’t quite find the right word. “Remiss” seemed nice because it’s dainty, but felt like a cop-out, an untruthful word. “Ashamed” sounds a little entitled to me, like I feel that I deserve to find myself on the list. Then I judge myself for said entitlement, because that’s not what I mean at all. “Sad” reveals to me that I want to be on the list, that I care about these lists in the first place. This leads me to “bitter” I suppose, for the fact that I have spent this much energy having this ridiculous conversation with myself.
I think the closest word I can surmise is the lovechild of “inadequate” and “sorry.” Sorry that I am not good enough to be on this list. That I am not enough. That I am not good.
There was a line in this NYT op-ed last month on being single that has stuck with for weeks: “Shame, after all, is pain with a twist: It shows us more about the communities we live in and the stories we tell than about ourselves.”
My whole life I have worked towards being the best, and relished the times wherein I have achieved it. I’ve struggled with self-worth in my post-college years, because there is less opportunity to know how you’re doing in the real world – one without test scores and report cards and cultish senior societies. I didn’t realize until I graduated how much my sense of self was conflated with referents: grades, institutions, boyfriends, and sexy, exclusive lists.
So my shame/sadness/bitterness/apology/inadequacy cocktail is really about this external, subjective ranking that in reality really doesn’t mean much. These lists are about the stories that others tell about the creme de a creme of the under-30s, the achievements a room full of editors equated to excellent. The opinions of others, instead of the only actual one that matters: my own.
Feeling sorry for myself for not being objectively externally categorically excellent is an empty and thankless exercise. I accept that I’m 25 and figuring it out. Not yet where I want to be. Learning, growing, doing away with objectively excellent and embracing the beauty of failure because I’m 25. Because I can. And I just decided that that can be subjectively excellent. My subjective excellent – for right here, right now.
Excellent today is going to the grocery store on Sunday and prepping healthy meals for my week. It’s doing away with perfection and clinging to learning through experiences, even if the result is messy or ugly or a total fucking disaster. It’s becoming smarter by just being alive longer. It’s understanding myself more – what I want versus what will make me better – and having enough discipline to choose the latter. It’s listening to my own intuition and being brave enough to follow it. It’s saying yes. It’s patience. It’s curiosity. It’s kindness. It’s trust and faith. It’s accepting where I am.
The opposite of shame is pride.
I am proud to be my own slanted weird beautiful version of excellent, even if there is no A+ or gold star or list to go along with it.