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My third-of-life crisis

Hey there amigo. I hope I can offer something resembling good advice for your 1/3 life crisis.

It appears to me these two statements are incompatible:

"...especially because my definition of failure included their definition of success: become some company manager, get an MBA, join the rat race"

"My 2004 self would have been quite impressed at how much I've achieved, but what I'm feeling right now is stagnation. Every time I hear of a new sensation writer under 30 I feel mortified that I haven't been able to come up with anything half decent."

  • In the first quote, you claim that you have no desire to "join the rat race", and that the pressure to do so has caused myriad psychological issues.
  • In the second, you claim that you "feel mortified" when you "hear of a new sensation writer under 30".

If the first statement is true, then why should the reality of the second make you feel anything? Do you want to be a sensation writer under 30 (or at 32)? Or do you not care about the rat race? Answering this question firmly and moving forward without regrets may aid your mental health!

To choose to be a writer cannot be to choose a life of fame. Fame does not necessarily come from good writing, nor are the institutions which decide who becomes famous set up to promote good writing -- they are set up to make money. They are failed institutions in that regard, precisely for their successes. As zslastman pointed out, you may try being process, rather than results, oriented for this precise reason!

I think this next quote from you, in particular, shows that you entered something unaware of what it is you want:

"My second therapist said my chosen path as a writer was one that gave its best fruits in old age, but I don't want more decades of dread and uncertainty."

What does "best fruits" mean to you? Why does it come in old age? Why can't it come right now? You want to be "a writer", but your conception of what that means does not reflect reality. After all, aren't you a "writer" right now? Or does being a "writer" mean being a sensation under 30? Or a sensation at 43 when you finally "make it"? Maybe you don't want to be a "writer" at all. Maybe you want to be a sensation. That's something else entirely. And given how arbitrary becoming a sensation is, and that the institutions which create sensations have little to do with individual (read: your) effort, if what you want is to be a sensation then you better also prepare for the price: decades of dread and uncertainty.

Something has to give. The nice thing about a "crisis" is that it implies a contradiction. Use the contradiction to illuminate the discrepancies within it between your conceptions and existing conditions. Hope this helps!