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I think I was supposed to be asking these questions when I was, like, 17.

I know it seems like I talk about my age a lot, but as I get older, I become acutely aware of it. I remember turning 25, for instance, and thinking I’d be in my twenties forever. Of course I thought I would be. There was plenty of time for my thirties and beyond at a later date, with which I was unconcerned and probably wasn’t going to come, for that matter.

But now that I’m 31, panic has set in. Not that I’m in a rush to do anything. I’m unmarried, childless, have very little assets to my name (unless you can slap shiny price tags with plenty of digits on two naughty cats and an eight-year-old vehicle), and that’s just fine with me. I realize we’re not getting any younger, but settling down, buying a house, having a family — those things just aren’t priorities to me right now. (I know you don’t believe me about the kids thing, but trust me, my biological clock ain’t tickin’.) Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t be, but I’m not in a hurry to check off any of those boxes.

But like I said, there’s still that nagging whirr of panic. I’m 31. And I don’t have anything to show for it. I’m not talking about progeny or material things. Nah. It’s more existential than that. It’s meaning. Being useful. Having purpose. It’s just not there.

Perhaps I’m in the minority. Perhaps everyone else with 2.5 kids, a picket fence, and a mid-life crisis looming just ahead of the erectile dysfunction diagnosis on the horizon could care less about their places in this world.

Despite it not being presumptively popular, I’m certainly not the only one in her early thirties feeling this inability to fulfill a higher calling. I actually had this text message exchange just this evening:

“You know how older people look back at their lives and regret what they did/didn’t do with it? I feel like that now.”

“We’re not old enough for that yet! What do you still want to do?”

“That’s the thing. I don’t know but I don’t want to look back and regret anything.”

“You can still do those things.”

“I feel like there has to be something more to it than the everyday grind of the 9-5.”

But is there something more?

As Americans, we work. We work all the time. We work hard, we work hard, and we work hard some more. We squeeze in play wherever we can fit it, and make excuses when we don’t, justified by clucking tongues and pitying nods. Sometimes even play becomes work. We don’t mean it that way, but it does. And then sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between work and life.

Is that how it’s meant to be?

I’m not sure. I do know that I lead a generally privileged life. Not as a result of my upbringing, but because of sacrifices and hard work and smart moves and tears, lots of those. Does everyone have the same opportunity to make the same pivotal decisions that I could? Of course they don’t. Am I lucky? Absolutely am. Should I hoard that luck? I should think not.

Therein lies the problem. The purpose that’s so required to make charmed, spoiled grown-ups like me feel whole and maybe even a little bit special. It’s a First World dilemma to the highest degree, but there it is — the intense need to make your fortunate days on earth count for something. Or else, your horribly wonderful life seems so, well, gloriously vapid, doesn’t it?

Cue the violin. This one’s a real weeper.

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