Tim O’Brien: Week 5

It’s Week 5 (in case you didn’t already know), and old man about town TIM O’BRIEN talks ageing and why growing up is overrated…

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I’m a ‘mature’ student.

Not in the sense I go to bed at 6pm every night after a green salad, a responsible amount of perfectly aged Scotch whisky, and a twizzle of an immaculately shaped moustache. No, I am officially a ‘mature’ student for one reason only – I emerged from my mother’s belly a little bit longer ago than you did.

Other undergraduates react to this differently. They seem surprised that mature students aren’t all in their fifties, shocked that we don’t just ‘keep to our own’, or that we’re capable of doing normal University things just like everyone else. To be fair, I took two gap years – and I can understand the logic that I’m therefore doubly annoying. But look beyond that and you’ll just find another normal student (who just happened to find himself… twice).

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Mature students can still be cool.

One thing people can’t seem to get their head around is that I’m going to graduate when I’m 23. Apparently I should be worried about starting ‘life’ a bit late – supposedly I should despair at the fact I’ll still be making tea whilst my mates from school are being worked like horses for 50K a year that they don’t have time to spend.

That whole argument is based on a fundamental mistake – that there’s a rush to make something of yourself. It does seem like the world is populated by a set of vomit-inducingly successful young people; sixteen year olds selling software to Yahoo for millions, child actors worth more than small countries, and writers completing novels in their final year of University.

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Ignore them

But don’t forget this stuff is geared towards making us feel worse about ourselves. As with most mass media, it rose-tints these peoples’ lives. The truth is that these ‘successful’ young people are a tiny minority. A minority paraded in front of us by the papers, making us feel terrible about the fact we will almost certainly spend our post-university years filling in spreadsheets, writing blogs to audiences of three, and living above a kebab shop on a generic London high street.

I think at the heart of it is our age system. Much like British weather is either too hot or too cold, we are either too old or too young. No one ever seems to be happy about the age they’re at. The other day I met a nineteen year old fresher who seemed to be stuck in the body of a ten year old. It had been his birthday recently and he felt the need to tell me, without a hint of irony, that he was ‘getting old’. This despite the fact his voice had hardly broken.

Why moan about it? Yes, there are expectations of what we should be doing at certain ages. You should start a career in your twenties, settle down in your thirties, have a mid-life crisis in your forties, die in your… well, any of them actually. But it’s a bit like Week 5 – everyone around you can’t stop banging on about the fact you should be stressed out, so you become stressed out. In the same way, you don’t have to rush into a career you hate the minute you leave this place just because that’s the done thing.

At the heart of it, age is just some abstract, arbitrary scale. What does ‘getting old’ even mean beyond our position on this scale? Yes, I’ve started making that inevitable move higher and higher up my face every time I shave (if I left it I’d probably start looking like this. My hangovers have started lasting two days. In some cultures I would have been married for 10 years. But ultimately it is just a number.

Death is slowly approaching us all, and there’s nothing we can do about it. In the meantime we have to just accept it and move on. Moaning about ageing is about as useful as complaining about the fact you have a nose. Everyone’s got one in the middle of their face. And even the bad ones aren’t going anywhere. So you need to just deal with it.

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You don’t see him complaining.

There are much worse things in the world anyway. Parking wardens, whispering in libraries, Chris Brown’s inexplicably long-lasting career, the deep, constant, and unrelenting tightness in the chest brought about through exam stress – channel your worry into these things. Not the fact that your life isn’t measuring to someone else’s expectations, or that Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth at 29 is equivalent to the GDP of four Monacos.

Don’t forget, you can always be older. And I don’t think there’s a rush to grow up. At least, as a ‘mature’ student, I hope there isn’t…