the fear of becoming irrelevant

In ALL, BOOK PUBLISHING, INTROSPECTION, QUOTE-WORTHY by Stephanie Klein8 Comments

In writing this blog for over twelve years—Twelve years! That’s the equivalent of taking everything you experienced in all of college (4 years) and adding it to your new career, apartment, city, and dating life, layered with an engagement and wedding and honeymoon and, my God, divorce and failed online-dating attempts, weaved into a second marriage and first house (4 years), then piling on a layer of infertility and miscarriage and pregnancy, lop on a new set of in-laws, peppered with some work-life balance bullshine, leaving a job, moving cross-country, potty-training setbacks, division of labor fights, new friend insecurities, fears about your children and their friends, attending weddings and funerals, all those dog-eared recipes and times you’ve attempted to declutter and re-organize, juggling libidos and egos (at least 4 years)—I’ve recently found myself feeling irrelevant.

The fact that the fear of becoming irrelevant is a common one doesn’t assuage the feelings. When you do your research (read: hunt for some crowd-sourced-esteem) all the articles about the fear are centered on aging and embracing the trans-generational divide and your role in it: the communicator of experiential knowledge. Become a mentor!

From Psychology Today:
“Even if you try to stay current and seek new adventures, it’s usually necessary to eventually make peace with your growing irrelevance. After all, it is true that at a certain point, energy, memory, and physical health decline. And alas, it’s a one-way conveyor belt. So in the end, while we may opt to, as Dylan Thomas urged, ‘rage, rage against the dying light,’ we’re probably wise to aim for at least a measure of acceptance.”

Now, that is Depressing. Surely, the advice is aimed at someone in her nineties. Because when you’re young and fear becoming irrelevant, I hope someone shakes the shit out of you. You need a pep-talk from a mentor, not to necessarily become one (though, really, it ain’t gonna hurt).

Here’s what mentor me has to say to fear-driven me:

Simmer the fcuk down. Seriously, breathe, connect to nature and anything outside of your big fat SELF. You’re not only as good as your last ______. Success, performance, relationship, deal, sale, game, book. It feels true, it really does. But it isn’t. You’re only as good as your last rebound from failure. You’re only as good as your last stab at it. That’s not even right. It’s like saying to a comedian, you’re only as good as your last joke. Some are gonna suck, but no one is going to accuse you of not being funny. You’re gonna have some misses, and you’re right. If you don’t truly dedicate yourself and try, you won’t miss. And you won’t soar. You won’t strike out or grand-slam it if you don’t stand at the goddamn plate. And if you’re so worried about becoming irrelevant, repeat after me: Wisdom is never irrelevant. The truth is never unfashionable. Authenticity is never disengaging.

fear-of-becoming-irrelevant

I think there’s something deeper at play that makes our anxieties heavier, something that stretches beyond the reach of leaving a legacy, all the way down into the throat and heart of Ego. Because when I hear “fear of becoming irrelevant,” I don’t think of aging grandparents, but of actors, and by extension, of writers and artists, and their fears of no longer being “of contemporary interest.” So five minutes ago. Or to a lesser extent, I think of a brand, no longer connecting with or addressing the needs of its consumers. Passé. The fear of becoming irrelevant is fueled by ego, hoping to preserve the sense of personal identity it once wore. And in fighting to do so, the only thing you’ll be hip to is how to be decidedly un-hip.

The fear of becoming irrelevant is a self-imposed anxiety, an irrational one as soon as you think of your children and the way they need you, even when they’ve had children of their own and see your ideas and methods as old-fashioned and outdated, you’re still relevant to them. But you don’t feel relevant.

I’ve seen people nodding involuntarily when they hear it, as if it’s a universal truth that we know deeply but rarely acknowledge. “It’s not that we fear failure. It’s really that we fear success.” I have heard it many times, that we fear our own greatness and that until we acknowledge it, we’ll never truly achieve it. I’ve heard it, but I’ve never, not even for a moment, believed it. We fear it?! Nay, nay. Now, talk to me about the fear of failure, and I’ll climb aboard and blow a train whistle.

“Scavengers are those carnivorous animals that eat carrion (already dead animals) rather than hunting fresh meat for themselves.”

When you’ve blogged for over twelve years, you can’t help but feel like a scavenger, circling overhead, revisiting the dead writing of the past instead of hunting down fresh new ideas, not out of laziness, but out of taste. You’re still intrigued and titillated by the same things, find yourself having the same thoughts and reactions to material. The only way to avoid it is to confront it, to acknowledge and admit it, that you don’t know what in the hell to write about. You feel disconnected and keep looking for a pulse. Start there. Start with acknowledging what it is you feel, not within an entire movement, but within a moment. Start there and you’ll give the finger to the threatening expanse of what was and what can be. Get curious about those feelings, and there’s a treasury of topics to explore.

Most crippling to creativity is the fear of being unproductive. Or worse yet, of being irrelevant.
To salve the fear of being irrelevant, apply curiosity.

Comments

  1. I love that, after 12 years, you still really WRITE on your blog. Most other blogs have turned to sponsored posts and copious advertising, but you’ve remained true to your talent and provided a great joy to your readers through your writing. You have a strong and unique voice; in my opinion, that will always be relevant. Life will move on and you’ll keep moving with it, and you’ll have even more material to tackle as you do so! Please keep writing:).

  2. I told you that SUAD holds up- even though I read it in 2006, it was still as good as it was then. The themes of what you write about are always going to be relevant. I think for you, it’s not so much about staying relevant, it’s just procrastination and inability to narrow down or focus on what you are interested in putting out there right now. You basically have TOO MUCH material. It’s a blessing and a curse. You’ve lived too much. It’s hard to pack all that into one anything- one book, one movie, etc.

    I love that you still write the blog. However, I definitely would love to read “between the blog”- whatever ISN’T in the blog. I know, I know- it’s a tall order. Because there is so much. I guess I’m just saying, “your people” would read it all. We’re all actually waiting for it. Maybe we’re not reading every blog entry about stuff that doesn’t resonate with us. Maybe we’re not always commenting anymore, because some stuff isn’t as compelling. Hey- some of your original blog readers have grown up along with you and also have changed. When I first started reading, I was newly married, but just out of the single world, and had a lot of time on my hands to go back and read the blog from the beginning. To wait with baited breath for every new entry. There also was no iphone and I had a lot longer attention span.

    I really believe though- when you are finally ready, whenever that is, to put your fuller back stories out there, everyone is going to come back and read. And I always open the emails from your blog when you’ve written something. Always. When 90% of the other emails I delete without opening. That’s called being relevant- in this world of ADD and over-saturation of everything- news, celebrity, gossip, sales, etc.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much Tara. You have no idea how magical it is to have people who believe in you. Well, actually, I’m sure you DO! I just mean, well, a big fat thank you. It’s funny, before I published any books, I had this blog, and a nasty comment was written. Now, mind you, I didn’t have a book deal and wasn’t even working on a book proposal yet, but I alluded to one day writing a book. The nasty comment was, “You will write a book, but it won’t be any good.” And, oddly, that lit me up and flattered me! Even a hater believed I’d write a book! And so, with that, I did. When people believe in you, you believe in you, too. So thank you!!!! In my next book, your name for sure will make the acknowledgments!

  3. I am so glad you are still around. You represent something awesome to me because those 12 years i have read and followed your story and truths and hardships and joys along with mine…so…yeah. Relevant. :)

  4. A tall, gorgeous, successful female colleague told me that after turning 60, people stopped looking at her. Light dawns on Marblehead as I read your blog post. I think she was feeling irrelevant of sorts. Because I’m younger than her by 8 years and I still think she’s got it all going on. And so do her colleagues and her clients. But she doesn’t think so. I know her lack of self esteem has hit her hard recently and I can’t understand what happened to this beautiful person.

    Like you Stephanie, I don’t think she’s irrelevant. Perhaps those around you and her look upon you in a different way, but certainly never in a way to make you seem irrelevant. We all change, grow, our life’s station moves and we go with it. But I would like to hope until our last days, we can still have some elements of relevance

  5. Chiming in to echo everyone else’s sentiments…yes, keep writing! And the in-between stuff is fascinating, too…would gobble that up hungrily. I love your honesty and writing style and root for you in whatever I read.

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