Striding out of the gym, he wipes the sweat from a forehead defined by the warm pigment of youth and the furrow of ambition. Stepping into the shower he glances at the clock—tardiness is obsolete. Steam pours out of the bathroom door as he buttons his collar and passes the mirrored walls—but not before glancing behind his shoulder to check if the reflection staring back through the glass is still state of the art.
Businessman by 16. Six-figures by 26. CEO by 30. A young male whistling on his way to a high-paying job has become the sought-after ideal in the United States, sparking the creation of a work-culture of wunderkinds.
Greg Duffy, 27, is one of these ambitious 20-somethings—he’s one of Silicon Valley’s youngest multimillionaires. Duffy is the co-creator of Dropcam, a Wi-Fi camera company that builds webcams for video surveillance and was recently purchased by Google for $555 million.
Last year, Duffy left the company, tweeting: “I grew up at Dropcam, and I'm going to miss it dearly. But there are exciting things on the horizon.”
Indeed, the young and ambitious in America run towards a horizon that promises excitement and is always seemingly just out of reach. A survey released by Bentley University in 2014 revealed that 66 percent of millennials are aspiring entrepreneurs. With tech start-up companies and lucrative new apps on the rise, the path to success in the United States is laid out, and for many, the clock is ticking. The internet is littered with attention grabbing headlines like “How to Become a Millionaire in Under 5 Years,” “10 Ways to Become a Millionaire in Your 20s,” and “7 Mental Shifts that Allowed Me to Become a Millionaire at 22.”
The message is clear—we better get our thrills while we’re still young. Yet the question that remains is this: How does this pressure to succeed immediately and indefinitely change our overall outlook on life? With modern medical advancements and lifestyle changes in place, Americans today are living longer than ever before. Yet the years of our lives that we place the most value on seem be getting shorter by the minute.
Growing up, my older sister was faster, smarter, and a year my senior—a formidable combination until one day it wasn’t. As a child, aging had always been an exhilarating feat—birthdays propelled my existence into a future I hoped would be bright. Yet as my sister and I grew past childhood and into adolescence, it became clear that our personal success was more time sensitive than we had originally thought. The words “No matter how old I get, you’ll always be older than me,” became a weapon I could choose to use against her.
A study released in 2014 by the American Psychological Association reports American teens are beginning to report stressful experiences that follow a similar pattern to those of adults. Adolescents today who have the privilege to aspire to a college education grapple with the maintenance of high grades, balanced extracurriculars, and a perfect presence on social media—all as a measure of personal success. This pattern of pressure carries teens into the early years of their adult lives, an era that many foresee as the late years of productivity.
Enter Emerson College—a seemingly vibrant community of aspiring filmmakers, journalists, actors and creatives—and for a moment this pressure is alleviated. Beneath the surface, however, is the same mentality found in Silicon Valley and business industries all over the world—that there isn’t time to be young. Last week, the Beacon reported on a survey by the American College Health Association which revealed that students at Emerson reported higher levels of loneliness, anxiety, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts than their collegiate peers, whose anxieties were on the rise as well.
Success seems to be the key to unlocking human longevity today—as long as we’re succeeding instantaneously, our youth is well spent. This idea lives at the core of competitive universities and colleges around the country.
I don’t have a precise remedy to these fears, but hope that in time success in America will take on the likeness of our landscape. There will always be someone a step ahead in our climb upwards until we turn our lives outwards, away from mountainous pinnacles jagged with fortune and towards a distant horizon—one only reachable through a lifetime of little victories.