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Last Sunday as I eased into my Scaries, I set my viewing lineup for the night. I went with Up In The Air, and of course I had to follow it up with the latest Sunday staple, The Night Of. Now these choices are extremely dissimilar, but I surprisingly found one common trait that ended up triggering more anxiety than your average Sunday.
I’ll do my best to make this spoiler free if you’re an idiot who hasn’t seen either selection. In this week’s The Night Of our favorite eczema-riddled lawyer, John Stone, comes face to face with the fact that he’s reached a point in his life where he’s alone. Divorced, father to a son who doesn’t always answer his calls, eating some shit TV-dinner while watching shit TV. In that same tone, one of the more depressing scenes in Up In The Air depicts the firing of a man in his mid-60s and watching him go from anger to the sadness that comes with realizing that you’re suddenly unemployed in your golden years.
This got my brain turning; an awful thing to be dealing with on a Sunday of all nights. Growing up we never imagine anything less than the best case scenario. When we’re young, everyone thinks they’re going to be famous or successful. Hall of Fame athlete, State Senator, anything with a title that leaves a legacy. Even when the reality of life has set in, I don’t know a single person in the first half of their era who doesn’t envision some sort of ideal success.
But what I saw on-screen and chose to dwell on afterward was the faces of those two actors. What fear is greater for a young person (aside from the words “No Wifi”) than that of never reaching your potential? No one in their 20s thinks one day they’ll be alone or without a thriving career. No, you’ll have your dream family (unless you’re setting yourself up to be the solo power businessman) and a thriving career that invigorates you daily. It’s a punch in the gut to even ponder that your dream could end up not being your reality.
As you’re setting life’s goals you can’t help but think about things not going to plan, because frankly, not much in life does. Even in your youth when you still think you’re invincible and life is full of sprinkles and fairy dust you understand the concept that you only get one shot at giving it your best go. Tales of those who sat back in their twilight and realized they made too many mistakes or wasted their lives were met with reactions of, “Yeah, but that won’t be me.”
It’s only the crushing pressures of adulthood that bring on the inevitable fear of, “but what if that ends up being me.” If you’ve never second guessed your future, then instantly stop reading this so I don’t tank your mindset. No one has higher goals and bravado than a youthful person, but it’s almost crippling to imagine not obtaining them. The unpredictability of life make it beautiful, but also makes your future more uncertain than Jordan Rodgers motives.
People on the fast track who are killing it now could be in deep shit by the time they hit 50, while others who have their head currently shoved up their ass could be living the dream by 40. You just never know, but the fear of looking back on your life with the “I coulda been a contender” mantra hangs over your head like a fart in a poorly ventilated room.
While comprehending the thought of never reaching your potential, I realized it’s this same crushing fear that I would imagine can lead one to success. It’s a little easier to bear down and get your shit done at work, even if it’s not currently your dream job. Being productive in whatever you’re doing now is a way to have that three-car-garage home or that title you desire in the future.
The unease of unfulfilled potential can creep up on you like a pencil-stached trench-coat-wearing public masturbator at any time. Once you’re calling all the shots as an adult, any decision you make could alter your life forever. Your job, your spouse, a move, etc. It can feel like concrete on your shoulders to think that any bad decision could lead you down the path to one day being a bald mid-60s guy being fired by Anna Kendrick through a computer screen (worse ways to go out though, tbh). But think positive, as you’re surrounded by people who share the same worry, and that worry was shared by generation after generation that preceded you.
Honestly, continue to fear not fulfilling whatever your self-perceived potential is. Whether your goal is to run Google or just be the world’s greatest stay-at-home parent, strive for it and dread not achieving it. It’s the best way to put yourself on a path to, and I hate being this corny, living your best life. Who’s to say what fulfilling your potential is? Maybe it’s just being happy, achieving some legendary status in the world, or anything in-between. But don’t let that anxiety over leading an unsuccessful (in whichever way you determine success) life overcome your emotions and drag you down.
You’re gonna have ups and downs and you’ll definitely make mistakes. We all already have. But hell, mistakes brought us the microwave, penicillin, and the Matt Damon doll from Team America. Maybe a couple mistakes down the road will help you reach your potential..
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