I recently watched Adam Westbrook’s video about the missing years on a recommendation from a friend. It changed my life. Sound dramatic? If you’ve been struggling as a twenty-something who feels you’re destined for something greater, or as a creative trying to jump to the successful period in your life, or as a graduate set adrift who feels lost, this will help you.
I’ve read a host of books about the dream life, the creative life, the twenty-something life, the productive life, the gritty life, the minimalist life, and any other book that might potentially give me the ultimate secret to finding my way. Almost every book I’ve read has given me some valuable nugget of wisdom. Slow down, everyone’s in the same boat, purpose is a by-product of pursuit, and many more. I could write a thousand blog posts about each grain of truth I’ve found.
But somehow I still feel like I’m wasting time. I’m twenty-five now. My twenties, the formative years, are half over. And I look at my dream of being an author and it still feels a decade off. I’VE WASTED TIME, I think in a panic. Only I haven’t. When I look back over my accomplishments in the last five years, they’re substantial (taught in Taiwan for a year, graduated university, moved to Korea fulfilling a dream, wrote and finished my first novel, started exercising, found amazing friends). Those are all good things that could not have happened any faster.
Now, on to the missing years. If you haven’t watched the video, here’s a brief summary. Culture, in the last few decades, has shifted to idolizing youth. Everything must happen when you’re young, including success and finding your life purpose. But that’s not how it is for the majority of people, and that’s not how it should be. Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and most other famous people had a period in their lives when they were just…working. Not famous, not making money, not necessarily even doing okay, just working. Da Vinci, hailed as the true renaissance man, had a period of time when he didn’t have a steady job and couldn’t really draw what he wanted. He worked a lot of bad jobs (sound familiar?) and kept sketching because he could. He just kept working on his craft even when it wasn’t paying the bills or wasn’t what he wanted to create.
Van Gogh, as we’re aware, lived a destitute life without fame. His work didn’t become well-regarded until much later.
Now ask yourself, if you knew that you would never be famous for what you love doing, whether that’s art, writing, or another creative pursuit, would you stop? If you were to become an Emily Dickinson, a recluse whose poems were only discovered after her death, would you still do it? Could you stop, really?
I asked myself that and realized I couldn’t. Even if I never make a dime off my writing, I’m still going to write.
So now, we come back to the missing years. I hate the idea of waiting. I hate the idea that I could publish ten books in the next ten years and maybe only the last one will get read widely. Maybe my writing career won’t take off until then, when I’m thirty-five or even forty-five. Would I stop writing now? The obvious answer is no. Of course not. If that were really the case, I’d bend down and start learning and practicing more.
But if we buy into the idea that we need to have instant success because we see others having it, we might throw everything away and relegate ourselves to a safe, secure, and ill-fitting career.
During the missing years, you have to keep working. Stop thinking about fame. It’s like the old adage of “love will kind you when you stop looking.” Fame will find you when you stop seeking it. Work hard, write or draw or whatever it is you do. Promote and market and hustle but let the result go. Don’t beat yourself up over low numbers. Build the habit of working hard. But never, ever stop.
Let those missing years guide you to your dream life, no matter how long it takes. I’m right there with you.
6 thoughts on “The Missing Years: Dealing with a quarter-life creativity crisis”
I needed this post. I’m going to be 22 this month and I’m starting my first job in July (technical, not creative). I have other hobbies like blogging, writing and reading. I do want to become an author some day, but I feel like I’m not skilled enough at the moment and I have so much to learn. Looking at all the successful author stories around me and more talented people my age, I sometimes feel like I should just quit and I’m never going to be as good. But I love writing too much to give up. Maybe I’ll never achieve conventional success, but I want to continue anyway, just like you. Now I feel like I should keep working at it every day despite these feelings, so thanks a lot for the inspiration! 🙂
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I’m so glad it helped you! Comparison is definitely a deadly trap, but as long as you keep in sight what you’re writing for and why, I know you’ll keep at it!
If you want an amazing resource, check out Rachel Giesel and her Writer’s DNA course. I’m doing it right now and it’s already helped tremendously with my writing focus.
Good luck with your new job!
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Thank you! 🙂 I shall definitely check it out.
When MTV or VH1 started to do those ‘where are they now’ on child stars, I started to realize the sadness and pressure that comes with fame and popularity at a young age. You peak and then you have the rest of your life to look forward to in relative anonymity. Many child stars went down a dark road of alcohol or drug abuse or even suicide I started to realize that it’s a rare bird that can take the early attention and then silde into a ‘normall life.
I also began to see the value of writing (in particularly non-fiction) later in life – not so much because due to validity, but to maturity!
Yeah, I think that’s a very strong and tragic example of how far society has taken worship of youth. And I agree about the writing too – I was recently reading a book on writing (name escapes me) that mentioned how many young writers struggle to write about their own childhoods, even though a lot of good material comes from there. The writer said it was probably that they were still escaping from it, trying to erase it and move on, and couldn’t write about it. I was there for a long time. It’s only really been in the past couple of years that I’ve felt confident to write about any of my experiences.
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I knew I had a lot to say, but it wasn’t until I was 30 did I start deliberately writing it down. This was due to realizing what I wanted to do with my life and I wanted to get something else off my chest. I’ve heard this is a good time to do this, actually. So, I’m glad I did write all that I did back then because now I feel too removed from childhood – it just seems too long ago and no revelant.
Now, this isn’t to say your 20s cant be a rich time to mine those memories. I say the earlier the better to get them down. Now, whether you share them is another thing.