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.
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.