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Face to face with aging
"But after seeing my aged self, and embraced who I will one day become, now I feel like I have someone I have to take care of—the future me can’t be held off forever."
The major crime of my creative career is short-sightedness.
Not in terms of goals necessarily, but it’s nearly impossible for me to think past the space of a year. It’s like driving in the dark—you can see twenty feet ahead of you, but that’s all. I can line up projects to fill up my coming months, but if you ask me “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” it’s shadowy.
This mentality has spilled over into the rest of my life too. When I turned 28 this year I realized I didn’t have a plan for this year or after. I had nothing in my savings account. I had worked a series of jobs that weren’t propelling me forward in my career. The lofty goal of buying a house felt even more inaccessible. I realized I never conceptualized myself as older than I am. I know I’m not alone in this. Millennials are increasingly finding it difficult to save for retirement and even though we joke climate change will destroy the Earth by 2050, the sense of impending doom is real. It feels ridiculous and sometimes impossible to imagine ourselves as seniors living out happy retirements—we’ll either still be working or dead. Those prospects alone make me never want to think about getting older.
FaceApp, though, has forced me to confront my future in an unanticipated way. The app, which has swept through social media, uses AI to digitally age your selfies. Privacy concerns aside, users have been happily sharing their pictures, gushing over how funny it is or how beautifully people have aged. It’s been an unexpected delight to see what my friends might look like in their 80s and 90s. I didn’t get on the bandwagon at first, but after poking through the app I was surprised by how relieved it made me feel.
Staring back at me was me but older. It’s such a simple concept, but this reflection served as a powerful anchor for myself—my identity. I looked like my mom and my grandmothers—and realized they one day looked like me, too. This was a view into my future, and even though it was totally computerized conjecture, it made clear what seemed cloudy before. At my age, my mom and grandmothers were married with multiple kids, either starting their careers or settling into life as stay-at-home-moms. They knew where they were headed. They saved for and bought houses. They moved with their families in pursuit of better options. Sometimes my freelance life feels like a betrayal to the certainty they worked so hard to build for me. I know they’d be happy to see me married and settled like they were, and the fact that I’m not makes them worry for me.
The gig economy is tricky. Even when I had full-time salaried jobs in the media industry, the ways in which companies hired and fired made sure I never felt comfortable. One week everything would be fine, but the next, forty of your closest coworkers were out in the cold. You never knew when it’d be time to downsize your department based on some pendulum swing somewhere.
Then there’s the freelance bubble where you might not get paid for months on end. Meanwhile your bills are stacking up in the corner, threatening to flood your apartment. It’s hard to plan for the future when you’re trying to just stay afloat. So I keep scheduling gig after gig, hoping I can eke enough savings for when I need it. Even my savings plan is short-term. My rainy days come more often than I expect. This year I’ll have to withdraw from my Roth IRA to pay my bills. That’s money I set aside for retirement. I feel like I’m cannibalizing my future just to get through the present. But sometimes it feels like that’s all I can do. I still have to survive today to make it to tomorrow.
I’ve considered changing industries, going back to school, moving cities, downsizing, selling everything I own, and there may be a day when I have to do one or more of those things. But even they come with their own costs. None of them offer perfect “get-rich-quick” strategies. Then there’s the emotional fallout of giving up what I’ve worked towards.
But after seeing my aged self, and embracing who I will one day become, now I feel like I have someone I have to take care of—the future me can’t be held off forever. There will be a day when I’ll be relying on the money I saved as a younger person. I’ll have people depending on me too. I have to figure out, sooner than later, how to make my dreams survive in the long run, even though they might still be unsure.
And so, I’m refocusing my efforts on learning new skills and striving towards a steady job with room to grow. I need a trajectory that lands years away from where I am now. I will be 30 years old in two years. Then I’ll be 40, then 50, then 60, before I even have time to look around. This is the time to be building for the future. It’s challenging, of course. But the alternative is even more so. I have to think of myself as a person that will have a future, and hopefully a long one. No more selling tomorrow to buy today.
Reeling in the years 🧓
How do you feel about getting older?