On My Creator’s Journey and the Whole “30 Under 30” Thing

Every year, we have this conversation. Every year, the same things get said. Can we finally just say something about how this side of 30 is often better?

blue and purple two-toned photo of a young woman giving a TED Talk, with blue letters saying “30 Under 30”
Photo licensed in Canva Pro, image assembled by author

Forbes puts out this annual “30 Under 30” list of some arbitrarily-chosen people with well-known enterprises and accomplishments, or incredibly coveted jobs. And every year like clockwork, the self-flagellation and cries of “Disclose their parents’ net worth!” on Twitter comes out to play.

Inquiring about the participants’ parental wealth is absolutely a valid point. But while America’s journey from the land of opportunity to one gigantic feudal lordship factors into not being able to attain some traditional marker of success so young, there’s so many other factors that just make this kind of list grating.

Namely, that it’s an enormous blessing and privilege to even just have your shit together when you’re under 30. Let alone have the clarity, resources, and skills necessary to see your vision through.

Some of us just get a late start.

There’s a specific Millennial bent for some of this, because we spent our lives being told to wait.

But there’s plenty of marginalized groups who simply get a late start in life because they lacked resources and the privilege to navigate these spaces. In general, women are more likely to get a late start in entrepreneurship and creative ventures because of this expectation that we must do everything absolutely perfect, and must have a stable back-up career in mind even if we don’t have caregiving responsibilities by default.

Speaking just for myself, here’s what slowed me down!

-Decades of trauma from surviving child abuse and antagonistic school environments

-Subsequently being diagnosed with C-PTSD after a few hospitalizations that pulled me out of school

-The self-destructive behaviors and addictions I engaged in as a result of trauma

-Lack of mentorship, being told a 9–5 job was my only option

-Subsequently spending my twenties on a graduate degree and training for a career I did not actually want, which in turn did not provide the great pay and stability I was promised (my degrees are in accounting, before the comments inevitably populate with “Duh, you shouldn’t have majored in anarchofeminist basket weaving!”)

There’s so many more things that may have affected your own journey. Mental and physical health issues, battling addiction, death in your family, and troublesome relationships are all things my peers have said slowed them down.

If your family cast you out after you came out as queer? That’s also going to cause trauma and delays. Sexual violence at school or work, the trauma itself and institutional failure to provide redress has also derailed thousands, if not millions, of careers and life plans. These aren’t things that many people just easily pick up and move on from like nothing happened, without even counting overcoming years of trauma from earlier in life. Trauma completely rewires your brain.

I’m not saying that the 30 Under 30 never experienced any of these things, or any other hardships. But I am saying that if you haven’t been able to achieve some pinnacle of professional development before the age of 30, there’s a good chance at least one of these factors came up.

You don’t have the headspace to zero in on an ambitious goal when you have to focus on your own survival and wellbeing. Especially if you don’t have anyone else in your life to help you with that.

It takes time to gain proficiency at a craft, especially if you’ve been delayed by things like caregiving, mental and physical illness, and needing to work to pay your bills.

I didn’t get really strong at my craft until I had time, headspace, and disposable income to take writing and game design classes. Ditto for just writing on my own whether I intended to show it to anyone or not.

My ultimate hot take is that when people — usually men — would tell me to just make a little crappy game in an engine before committing to a project, I’ always wound up aiming higher. With the way my life and business are, I don’t see why I should when I have to focus on things that will eventually have a payoff.

Marginalized people also don’t get to have mediocrity, we’re held to higher standards so our experiments even get picked apart more.

But most of all? I had to get more life experience and subsequently gain the ability to parse the human condition.

I didn’t really get here until my early thirties after my own walks of life changed so much and I had gone through years of therapy.

If you can write this amazing book or video game about some incredibly human concept that people relate to, or you made something really fun and snarky that went viral, more power to you if you did that under 30.

But for most of us…we needed more time.

Especially if we were derailed by life quite a bit. And it’s ironically that derailment that gives us the ability to coalesce humanity and translate the beauty, ugliness, flaws, and triumphs into art.

It takes life experience and emotional maturity to configure your own interpersonal relationships into this, and parse how they fit into both your life and the pace of the world in general.

It’s fantastic if a young person can achieve success without any of these severe adversities to hold them back, if choking wealth inequality isn’t doing that. But it’s time that we recognize that it’s really the other side of 30 where more of us are likely to shine.

Game dev, writer, small biz & tax consultant to indie devs. Above all, socialist childfree shitposting crazy toad lady from The Fucking Bronx www.sonictoad.com

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