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Getting Older Panic (Brought to You by They Might Be Giants)

Monster

Are you haunted by the Thirtysomething Panic Monster?

“You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older
And now you’re even older
And now you’re even older
You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older
And now you’re older still
Time
Is marching on
And time
Is still marching on
This day will soon be at an end and now it’s even sooner
And now it’s even sooner
And now it’s even sooner
This day will soon be at an end and now it’s even sooner
And now it’s sooner still
TIME is marching on!
And time…is still marching on!”

—They Might Be Giants, “Older”

There’s something very cathartic about hearing your tough experiences well-articulated. And I think this song articulates the experience of 3am-sit-up-in-a-sweat-OMG-where-the-hell-am-I-going-with-my-life Thirtysomething Panic pretty well. As well as the 3pm-sitting-at-my-desk-OMG-what-am-I-doing-here panic.

Did your heart rate rise a little just reading those lyrics?

I get it. I know exactly how it feels to have a sudden jolt of awareness that TIIIIIIIIIME! is marching ONNNNNNNNN! …and yet, here you are, still here: still confused/still in this unfulfilling job/still single/still in this shitty apartment/still not sure if you want kids/still not creating anything you really care about, etc.

This “older” panic is like a nasty monster under the bed—or under your desk, depending on the time of day.

It sometimes quiets down for a while. It lurks undetectably as you go about your life. And then…

when you’re most vulnerable or least expecting it…

it jumps out and scares the hell out of you.

[Give it some credit, though: it ALWAYS remembers your birthday!]

Then it rattles off a list of everything that’s “wrong” with your life and “wrong” with you.

After it lists all the ways you’ve failed in the past, sometimes it likes to throw in a few discouraging words about the future, for good measure. You know…gem pieces of wisdom like “You’ll never figure it out” and “It’s probably too late” and “Who do you think you are to think you could have that life you most want?”

Given the nasty stuff it says, it’s no wonder the Thirtysomething Panic/Getting Older Monster leaves you tossing, turning, hiding, avoiding, self-distracting, crying, screaming, beating yourself up, desperately searching for grad school programs at 3am or vaguely searching job boards or dating profiles on your lunch hour, with no clarity or strategy except that something isn’t right and it’s time to “figure it out”—whatever THAT means—only what if I can’t?!?

It can be pretty terrifying.

But there’s good news about that nasty little beast.

When you were a kid, turning on the light would reveal that the “monster” was just a pile of clothes stacked up, or a toy lying at an angle that looked creepy in the dark. It wasn’t really a monster after all. Your limited perspective and your imagination made it one.

And like your childhood monster under the bed, once you shine a light on it, the Thirtysomething Panic Monster looks different.

In fact…upon closer look, we find that it’s not really a monster after all. It’s actually a bundle of fears and intuitions and unpursued dreams and pent-up creation energy (usually tangled up with many strands of judgment and a bunch of baggage).

And while it may be acting like a big jerk, it’s actually trying to tell you something important.

It wants to stop being stuffed under the bed, and instead come out into the light.

It may be doing a bad job of expressing it, but the crazy thing is, the monster wants to help you.

What if your Thirtysomething Panic Monster is really a guardian angel? What if it’s trying to look out for you, but maybe just not trained in positive communication skills? What if it’s a bumbling sidekick with good intentions, but terrible delivery? A caretaker who loves you, but doesn’t know any constructive ways to get your attention and express itself—so it just yells at you and hopes it can scare you into change?

The Monster might be saying stuff like “You’re still stuck HERE? What’s wrong with you???” “You’ll never figure it out,” “You should have your shit together by now,” or “Just so you know, your friends are all doing better than you and you’re kind of a loser…”—and you do NOT deserve to be spoken to that way!!!—but if you can sift through all that fear-and-judgment talk, you can glean the valuable information behind those lies.

Underneath the nasty voice is the more constructive voice of your intuition, telling you the following:

SOMETHING IS OFF HERE, AND I WANT YOU TO PAY ATTENTION. I WANT YOU TO MAKE CONSCIOUS CHOICES INSTEAD OF STAYING STUCK IN INERTIA AND FEAR. I WANT YOU TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR ONE PRECIOUS LIFE. AND SOME PART OF ME KNOWS YOU CAN DO IT, OR I WOULDN’T BE BOTHERING TO TELL YOU THIS!

When you learn to disregard the “you suck” lies and listen to the constructive intuition underneath, you can make Thirtysomething Panic into the best thing that ever happened to you.

How?

First, give your li’l monster a name. That will automatically make it seem less like the Truth or like Your Deep-Dark-Awful True Self and help you work with it more effectively. A name can also help you create some levity and feel less intimidated by your monster.

Then, the next time you hear the Thirtysomething Panic Monster under your bed, get out your flashlight. Shine it directly onto the monster. Invite it to come out from under the bed and sit down with you for a cup of tea (or hot milk!), and ask it a few questions:

  • What helpful and true message are you trying to tell me? (No, not the nasty “you suck, you’re a failure, you should be there by now” stuff, which is total crap—but the intuitive and supportive “You’re not happy, and you are worthy of the life you want, so let’s change some stuff; it’s time to _____; you maybe want to think about ____; this instinct isn’t going away and you need to listen; maybe it would be good to take an actual baby step forward” stuff.)
  • What do you want me to pay attention to, or notice, or see, or stop avoiding?
  • What do you want me to take action on?
  • What question do you want me to try to start answering for myself?
  • What better vision do you have for me?
  • Then, ask: What is one teeny, tiny step I could take to move forward with that?

Breathe. Remind yourself that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and there is nothing wrong with you. Give the monster a cookie and a pat on the head. Send it back to bed. And take action to put these ideas into motion.

One tiny step.

And then another.

And then another.

And if the monster starts talking nasty again, you can honestly say, “THANKS, GUNTHER!! I’VE GOT THIS! I’M WORKING ON IT!!”…and invite it to calm the eff down.

Know that if you begin taking steps to get clear and create your goals, someday you will look back on this moment and remember it—and your monster—with compassion and maybe even appreciation, knowing you were on your way all along.

And in the meantime, remember that you have a Carrie somewhere out there (specifically, here), believing in you and cheering you on.

*****

P.S. Need help shining a light on your Thirtysomething Panic Monster? I’ll hold the flashlight.

 

Photo by Last Hero

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