Achievement Anxiety

Heather Horn ponders the sentiment among millennials who see Lena Dunham achieving the kind of early fame her Girls character can only dream about:

The feeling of having hoped you’d be further along by age x is pretty common, whether the yardstick is in financial success or artistic achievement and critical acclaim (and often young writers aren’t sure which they value more). … The writer goes through all the standard justifications, including looking for great late-blooming poets to use as benchmarks. But—oh, damn: Do you want to be one of those late bloomers? No, you want to know that you’re going to be a great poet now! No one wants those years wondering if you’ll forever be trapped in your own mediocrity.

It’s not unique to the millennials, however, as Horn illustrates by turning to an anonymous Atlantic column from the early 20th century:

[T]wenty-one threatened me to the very teeth. Drake’s Culprit Fay mocked me; Holmes’s Old Ironsides roared at me; Campbell’s Pleasures of Hope enticed me; Milton’s Nativity ode submerged and cowed me. ‘No, no,’ I cried, as I read again these resonant strophes, ‘I will be a minor poet and never strive with Milton.’ Later, by strange reversal, I consoled myself with proofs that the great poet must come slowly to his height, and I lived for cheerful months on the surpassing badness of Shelley’s work before Alastor, fruit of twenty-three.