My 30th Birthday

There is nothing intrinsically special about the number 30; it’s just one number greater than 29 and one number less than 31. And if we analyze it terms of days, Saturday was just a day after Friday and before Sunday. Yet, there is something unnerving about both digits changing that seems to warrant solemn contemplation. It’s interesting how much significance we put on our birthdays, as if that one day every year we sit down and get judged by our potential self that would have come to exist, if we had just worked a little harder.

Well, this year thinking about the person I could have become has led me to describe my 29th year as a humbling experience. The main reason for this is because I did not achieve my goal of publishing before 30, which was the only goal that I explicitly gave myself, and probably one of the only goals I’ve explicitly given myself in my entire life. This significant blow to my self-confidence has reaffirmed my belief that I'm a person with average abilities. I know that my current state of disappointment is making me exaggerate my failures and belittle my accomplishments, and I know that publishing isn’t the best criteria to determine whether or not I have something valuable to contribute to the field of philosophy, but I’m an emotional creature whose rationality plays only a secondary role.

I tell myself that with every step I take, I become a better philosopher, that with every rejection I get, I gain something valuable. It does help to tell myself this, but only to a certain extent. What would really help is landing that first publication, because then I would have proved to myself that I can do it.

The fact that I’m so bothered by not having published bothers me, because I know no one is going to read the stuff I publish anyway. Maybe a few people, but that’s all. Essentially, how much I publish is not going to make any difference in the world whatsoever. So if I really want to make an impact, then I should mainly care about my teaching abilities. But I don’t, and it’s because I’ve internalized the professionalization of the field. I know how important it is for a professional philosopher to publish.

I wasn’t always like this. When I started becoming passionate about philosophy, it was about attaining knowledge and learning how to live a good life. And I think that’s what philosophy should be about. But once I decided to become a professional philosopher, it was difficult not to internalize the professional criteria. It just seemed natural to think that your worth as a philosopher was determined by your ability to publish. And it still seems natural to think that way, given that the rules of the game are already set and that I want to play.