What Do I Do When I’m Not Impressive for My Age Anymore?

I turned 21 exactly one month from writing this, and for the past month, I’ve been grappling with this question of what happens when your accomplishments are no longer impressive because you are too old to be praised for small dealings. In other words, what happens when you’re not “impressive for your age” anymore? 

As a result of being bumped up a grade in elementary school (calm down, I only skipped kindergarten), I have spent my entire life being the younger friend. When all my friends turned 15 and had quinceañeras, I was turning 14. Now, they’re all turning 22, and here I am, a newly minted 21-year-old.

In other words, I’ve spent my entire life playing catch up—in style, of course. It was cool that I graduated from high school at 17, and it was even cooler that I started graduate school at 20. Even now, people in my department are impressed when I explain how I got where I am. The undergraduates in the class I TA for are shocked when they discover they’re older than I am. 

But I can’t help but wonder what happens when I’m not impressive for my age anymore. What happens when I’m graduating at 22 and getting my first job out in “the real world” with every other fresh college grad?

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Having your age as a qualifier of how impressive you are is odd, but at the same time, it’s oddly flattering. It sort of feels like, “Wow, look at how much accomplishment I have crammed into my mere 21 years of life.” For me, it’s almost become a matter of identity, if you couldn’t already tell by this article. In order to feel impressive, everyone has to know my age and everything I have accomplished along with it. 

Age has become another way of measuring success. The more I accomplish and cram into my life when I’m young, the more I can see myself as a successful human being. As I sit here, at the ripe old age of 21 years and 1 month old, I can still revel in those comments noting that I’m young and impressive. I can still bathe in that praise.

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The dark thought still looms in the back of my mind, though. When I turn 22, and eventually 25 and then 30, will I still be impressive? Will there come a time when age doesn’t matter anymore? Does it even make sense to determine the value of an accomplishment based on age?

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I don’t have all the answers. But, as for that last question, when age is used as the qualifier for accomplishments, it’s not really a celebration of that accomplishment anymore. It becomes a game of comparison and quickness rather than the work put in to get there. We all want to be impressive, we all want to feel accomplished, and we are, but it isn’t because of age. The drive to achieve those accomplishments, the perseverance even when things don’t go as planned, that’s impressive. And that has nothing to do with how old you are.

Moving forward, the most important thing to remember is that I could be 21 or 71 or 101 years old and still be successful due to my work ethic. And, when I’m not “impressive for my age” anymore or the youngest one in the room, maybe new measures of success will come. 

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