Why 37 is my scary age

When I was 9, I wanted to be a psychoanalyst and solve the world’s problems. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t able to make that much significant positive change on my fourth grade world, but I wasn’t too discouraged. I had plenty of time to figure things out. At 17, I wanted to be a biochemist and help finish mapping the human genome. At eighteen, I concluded chemistry and I would never be more than casual acquaintances. Still, I wasn’t concerned—I didn’t have to worry about really knowing what I wanted to do until I was, oh, I don’t know, 37?

Somehow, that errant thought morphed into a mantra over the years, and that is how 37 became my Scary Age. In my mind, 37 is the year that I feel I should really have everything “together.” I should be in a career that fulfills me and contributes to the greater good, a settled level of comfort with grown-up responsibilities like 401Ks and mortgages, and most importantly, feel confident in the direction my life is heading.

Between chemistry class and today, I’ve racked up my fair share of milestones and experiences. I have a college degree, a lovely husband, two lively daughters, and a navy blue house to call my own. Let me be clear: I love my family fiercely. But these unequivocal joys in my life come with hefty responsibilities like the raising of two confident, content and contributing little humans, a mortgage, and a career, all while still trying to keep hold of what makes me, well, me.

Plus, now, it’s official: 37 and I are in the same decade. We’re not immediate neighbors, but I can see her down the street. A ways down there. But she’s there. And she’s giving me diabolical stink eye.

Sizing up 37 on my timeline, I examine the missing puzzle pieces floating around inside me. These gaps are what get my heart rate up when it’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep. Is it that I don’t feel I’ve yet found my Career with a capital C? Is it that it’s soon time for my generation to be officially In Charge of Life (has it happened already and I missed the changeover!?)? Aren’t I too old to still be feeling lost and young and unprepared?

At these times, to quell the fear that bubbles up, I go through the basic reassurances. I still have time. I can work harder. I’ll keep trying things until it feels right. I’ve come a long way so far, and have already accomplished some wonderful things. I should enjoy the uncertainty, and acknowledge the privilege of having the opportunity to continue my search. Thirty-seven isn’t actually the end of the world, it’s just a number and a manufactured sense of urgency.

Most times this helps, and comes with the creation of a New Plan and a lot of lists. (Yes, there have been a fair few New Plans.) I’m determined that as long as I keep trying, I will eventually develop the skill, or maturity, or whatever it is I need to fill those missing puzzle pieces inside me. And I think that’s just what life is.

There is one silver bullet that I keep for emergencies. When the mild panic upgrades to Scary Age panic that I’m wasting my one life on earth by not doing enough with every day, I think of a well-traveled photographer I know who is close in age to my mother. When anyone asks her how old she feels, she says 37, “because you’re young enough to do whatever you want, but old enough to know better.”

So, when I get there, perhaps 37 will just the start of a New (wiser) Plan.

(Image via NBC)