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Opinion | Making the list: do you play it by year or ear?

Turning a year older can be mildly upsettingespecially if you've not made any of the season's high achiever lists

Turning a year older can be mildly upsetting—especially if you’ve not made any of the season’s high achiever lists. Photo: iStock
Turning a year older can be mildly upsetting—especially if you’ve not made any of the season’s high achiever lists. Photo: iStock

It’s that time of the year when all kinds of lists appear on your timelines. The best movies so far. The best songs so far. And apparently the best people so far. It makes some of my younger friends flinch, these 30-under-30 lists. My friend TK, always ebullient, sends me texts with a barrage of punctuation when I ask her whether the lists bug her. “Oh god yes! Why is age the biggest focus and concern? Are they TRYING to say that all other 24-year-olds are useless?"

DS, a researcher in Bengaluru, recently turned 30 and has mixed feelings about the lists. She laps them up if they include athletes or dancers—where there is some rationale for youth. “But stories of some IIT topper or entrepreneurs bore me."

RD is in the arts where youth and longevity both come with their own special burdens. She says truthfully but without resentment that when she sees a 30-under-30 list, she wonders why she is not on it. “It sort of puts me in my place. I don’t read them unless I know I have friends on them."

Of course, when you are inclined to feel like youth and time are slipping by, you don’t have to wait till the end-of-year lists appear. You can put together your list on the arbitrary date that is your 25th birthday. In the last couple of years, I have seen panic on younger friends’ faces when they realized that Ronan Farrow did his Pulitzer-winning work by 29. Or that the Snapchat CEO became a billionaire at 26. TK said she waited till her 27th birthday to have that panic attack. List-making is a passion of TK’s so this is particularly bound to affect her. She had a list that included having her own house and three books to her credit by the time she was 30. “On my 27th birthday I realized I was two years too old for the 25-under-25 lists!" she says.

PT, 29, moved to Mumbai a month ago and feels like he is killing it since he has scored a flat with a huge balcony and is riding the Western line like a boss. He says, “The lists do give me anxiety because that’s how I have been conditioned to operate. Sharmaji ka beta scene." But he has deliberately learnt to accept his current life to cope with the anxiety.

Even years ago, PT was stoic. Convinced that life was bound to interfere and disappoint, he never made a do-by-30 list. But he is slightly alarmed when he looks at interns straight out of college. He feels like they are more “hyper" than he remembers being but also way less optimistic than even he was. Are they being realistic about their future in work and relationships or are they dystopian, he wonders.

PT and others point to the particularly human problem of not being able to complain about acquaintances on high-achiever lists who you know, you just know, are undeserving. Really, there is no way of saying it aloud without sounding like you are consumed with envy. As the ever-practical TK says, “None of the lists tell you how to get on the list."

Delhi-based writer MP recently got a rather prestigious new gig, the kind that would cause many people envy. Unlike PT, she says she had a full list at 21. “I thought I was going to have a PhD by 25 but then realized academia was stunting my imagination." So she abandoned not just academia but also the list. These days she is playing it by ear, not year. Like her, my list-loving friend TK adjusted her Big List too. She says she feels bad for the literary genius that her 16-year-old self thought she was going to be but she is happy to have dropped the age-specific goals altogether. She still wants a house of her own but true to form she has modified it to owning a house which will accommodate “12 dogs for me and 12 dogs for boyfriend".

What lies on the other side of 30 is often unimaginable when 25. Unimaginable that with luck, you could see a full 30 years after 30. And (to me at least) it seems like the pressure is off and no one is watching while you brew what you feel like in the cauldron that is no longer labelled So Much Potential.

On the other side of 30 are hopefully at least some of the things you wanted. I see a friend who has written three novels after turning 50. I see a close family member who got her PhD after her 60th birthday. An acquaintance who has become a regional table-tennis champ after 50. Or at the other end, I am slowly beginning to realize, might be a long list of people you have lost to illness, deep waters or shallow fights, your own desi version of an Elena Ferrante novel before HBO got to it.

I told a high achiever friend whose artistic career produced brilliant things well before she was 30 that I was writing about these lists and she said, “Oh, you mean, the lists I. Was. Never. On. I can only hope to be on the 50 Cool People at 50 list." In the next moment our attention shifted to the big crisis she has right now. Her guest list for her upcoming 50th birthday party has reached ridiculous numbers and every person she recruits to prune the list only seems to add people.

Too many people at your 50th birthday party. This is now on my list.

Cheap Thrills is a fortnightly column about millennials, obsessions and secrets. Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger.

She tweets at @chasingiamb

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