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How to Overcome Age Obsession

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When you were a kid, getting older was a good thing. It meant more privileges, more freedom, and the chance to know what really went down in PG-13 movies. Now? For a lot of people, a new number can also mean a twinge of stomach-churning anxiety, even if they’re relatively happy. If you feel a little eh about age, you’re not alone. Fact is, we live in a youth-obsessed culture that’s constantly churning out "25 under 25" type lists, millennial millionaires who turned up on Fortune 500’s list before they graduate college, and have recently been bombarded with advice like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, which tells us that we should be pushing as much as possible, as soon as possible. Here, how to get over that “Why haven’t I accomplished X yet?” struggle, and feel amazing about yourself—at any age.

Recognize That It’s Normal
“When you’re growing up, there are all these guideposts of where you should be at a certain age. You get a driver’s license at 16, graduate from high school at 18. But when you’re an adult, you and your peers are no longer following the same path,” explains New York-based therapist Melody Wilding. The best thing to do if you feel panicked that your friend (or fave celeb) has things you don’t? Remember that everyone deals with this "Am I normal for my age?" question at one point or another—even Lena Dunham herself has confessed that she feels weird she still doesn’t have her driver’s license.

Stop Using Age as a Be All End All Deadline
Sure, you’d like to reach X position at your company or be engaged to your guy by the time your birthday rolls around, but experts agree setting a hard deadline for events not wholly under your control can put a lot of pressure on you. Instead, take a deep breath, remind yourself that your birthday is just another day, and give some wiggle room on deadlines. “I recommend thinking in one or five year plans, but not necessarily fixating them around a specific birthday,” says Julie Cohen, a career and leadership coach in Philadelphia and author of The 7 Keys to Work Life Balance. “Imagine the life you want in five years, right down to the office you’ll be working in and the apartment you’ll have.” The more detailed, the better, but keeping the deadline somewhat ambiguous allows excitement, rather than panic, to drive you forward.

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Look Back for a Bit
Think about where you were at your high school graduation, suggests Wilding. Chances are, that teenager would be pretty psyched to know they’d be living your life in the future, right? Taking the macro view of what you’ve done can give you objectivity about all the stuff you have accomplished, explains Wilding. And remember: Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, Sophia Amoroso and all the other young, super accomplished women we do hear about all the time are just that: super accomplished. “They’re the .001 percent of the population,” reminds Cohen. And for all the glam Instagrams and sophisticated-sounding tweets, thinking about all the things they have to deal with—endless travel, 24/7 phone availability, hundreds of e-mails a day—puts it in perspective while they’re lives may seem awesome, they’re not exactly anxiety-free, either.

Look Beyond the List
If "30 under 30" style lists drive you nuts, take a second and figure out where the jealousy and annoyance is rooted, suggests Cohen. Is it because you feel you deserve that level of recognition? Is it because you wish you also had the same work/life balance as one of the people profiled? Or is it that you admire their work ethic and wish you had a career you could approach with the same amount of passion? Whatever it is, figuring out the "why" behind the jealousy can be a great catalyst for momentum, says Cohen. “Maybe it’s looking for a job in another field or heading back to graduate school, or maybe it’s prioritizing your creative projects in your free time. Whatever it is, this will bring you out of the negative spiral of self judgment and help you take actionable steps toward the things you want in your life,” she explains.

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