I am having issues. I wouldn’t call it a mid-life crisis, because God-willing I am nowhere near the middle of my life. I calculated that provided I live around 83 years, my life is 5/16 over. So, I guess I’ll call whatever funk I’m in a “5/16 life crisis.” Basically what it all boils down to is that mid-20s just suck.
I don’t feel as youthful as I used to be. I still have plenty of energy and ambition, but I don’t have the carefree naiveté that comes with inexperience. I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned about the world, which means I can never see the world again through the eyes of a child or even a teenager, free of cynicism and judgment. So what does maturing and growing older mean? Does it mean coming to terms with letting go of your adolescence? Is what we think of as “growing older gracefully” really the ability to do this better than others? Is it graduating from one who receives advice and guidance to one who gives? I don’t feel qualified for that either. I feel like people in that echelon still look down on me as someone who hasn’t earned that right. But yet I find myself walking around campus, seeing freshmen and thinking, “You don’t know anything yet!” Are there still people who think that about me?
I guess I never thought being in your 20s signaled any type of transition. Does it? Okay, here’s another thing. I don’t know if it’s my age that’s getting me down or my occupation. The more time passes (as I result I grow older AND more experienced) the more I see people just not thinking for themselves. I see people believing what’s on TV, what they’re told by authority figures, what’s on the internet rather than forming their own opinions and looking critically at situations. Maybe this is because as a scientist, my number one job requirement is to question. Explore every avenue, keeping an open yet logical mind. Be skeptical, separate what is truth from simply what you want to be true. Because this methodology has been ingrained in me, I can’t help but be judgmental of those who don’t employ this type of thinking. But that doesn’t always allow me to be shed in the best light. In other words, I am terrified that I am becoming the classic intolerant scientist with a massive ego and a superiority complex, vastly removed from the “real world.” And by “real world” I mean the views of everyday people, not real current issues.
What’s worse than being the classic intolerant scientist? Being the classic intolerant female scientist. When I did my internship at a national lab two summers ago, I greatly admired my boss, but swore I’d never be like her. All of her male employees called her a bitch behind her back. She was firm, unrelenting and aggressive. I watched her fight with another lead scientist for the ownership of a $10,000 furnace and she got it. I didn’t want to be like her because I didn’t want my employees to talk about me like that. Two years later and I could care less what people say about me. If they want to call me those names for being what they themselves force me to be through their own double standards, they can bite me. Yes, those double standards are unfair, but the alternative of rolling over and being walked over is unacceptable. Every now and then I still send her an email reminding her that she’s my role model. I know it embarrasses her but it has to make her happy too. So is it an age thing, a work thing or a gender thing I’m going through right now?
When I used to think of myself, it was as a timid, gentle, quiet, patient girl. I know I am not just those things anymore, but am I any of them? And why do I care about words that describe me? If anybody has any answers to these questions, feel free to share!