Intense anxiety can develop as one approaches a particular age, causing stagnation, depression around birthdays or attempts to relive a previous period, possibly stunting maturity. Uncertainty or fear of failure to reach an age-based goal can easily cause stagnation; sometimes it seems easier to procrastinate or not pursue something than tackle it and fail. I call it “I’ll think about it tomorrow” Scarlett O’Hara syndrome ("Gone with the Wind"). I fell prey to it myself. While I was in a graduate counseling program, I rapidly fell out of love with the idea of being a therapist. Instead of using my time in school wisely and doing everything I could to explore options with my impending degree, I put it in the back of mind. I avoided it. I waited until the month I was graduating to ask questions. I was so afraid and uncertain about what I was going to do next that I froze.
As for birthday depression and reverting to the “good old days,” I had a friend who suddenly went missing-in-action just before her birthday. When she resurfaced weeks later, she revealed that thinking about her birthday saddened her because she didn’t think she was “where she needed to be for her age.” I’ve seen many a friend revert to acting as if they were once again college freshman or high school students, trying to go back to a time where their lives were uncomplicated by age-contingent goals and expectations. Those that didn’t revert carry an emotionally heavy bag of regret; unsatisfied with how things have turned out, wanting to undo decisions and feeling cornered by the choices they’ve made.
Age-basing can suck the fun out of life as you spend so much time with pressure, stress, fear, guilt, regret and insecurity. When setting goals, analyze your motives, what pursuing this objective will require and if your ideal timeframe is reasonable. Do you really think achieving this goal will improve your life? At what cost will you seek after your target? Are you making decisions independently or are you making choices to appease someone else? Are you trying to fit into a mold? Are you doing what you think is healthiest for you? Are you emotionally, physically or financially ready? Also, make sure you choose objectives that you can actually influence. For example, it doesn’t make sense to expect to be married by 25. You can’t make love happen and it’s best to not try to make someone marry you (anyone can find a partner or sex-buddy, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a quality mate). Sure, you can try to date and increase your chances of finding a mate, but that’s it. That’s all you can do. If you fail at achieving something, yes, it will suck. You might feel terrible and useless, but that’s not true. Just re-route and reevaluate. Good luck.