The Toxic List Effect

I recently had a Eureka moment. Out of the blue, completely unexpectedly and with stunning suddenness I realised why so many people are afraid of “old age”, which these days seems to be thirty-two. Obviously, every Eureka moment must be shared publicly or it never happened so I’m sharing.

I call it the toxic list effect. You know the lists I’m talking about. We’ve all seen them and rolled our eyes at them. 40 under 40. 30 under 30. It’s a miracle they haven’t come up with lists of fifteen-year-old billionaire entrepreneurs. I’m sure that would cause a surge in depression diagnoses.

I’ve no idea who first came up with those lists but they certainly didn’t do any favours to young, impressionable minds. You see a 30 under 30 list and you think “Ohmygod, these guys/girls made it big when they were my age and what am I doing with my life? Paying rent and working a dead-end job. What’s the point?” Cute, right?

There’s a great quote that would’ve fit perfectly here, by one of my favourite crime writers, but, as usual, I’ve forgotten it. It was something like “If you want to get rich fast, you must be able to risk everything, including dying young.” It was said in reference to the budding organised crime scene in Russia but it’s valid for non-criminal activities as well. Getting rich young takes lots of work. Unless you have rich parents, that is. Or insane luck.

The trouble with stories of insane luck is that they get pushed into our faces so often that we come to believe this kind of luck is far more common than it actually is. It’s not. Twenty-year-old bitcoin billionaires are a handful as opposed to twenty-year-olds in debt because of bitcoin. Just a random example.

But because of such lists and flashy headlines a lot of people seem to think that unless they’ve become rich and famous – because that’s the only measure of success, obviously – by the age of 30, they have failed as human beings. Cue crippling age anxiety.

It’s a pity that generation wasn’t lucky enough to witness the 90s at a conscious age. In the 90s, starting a career or a family at forty or over was all the hype. The message of that decade was “It’s never too late so don’t fret too much.” The 90s also had post-feminism, which was a lot more fun than what we have today and what I’m afraid to name because I’m bound to get it wrong. Ah, those were the times.

Old age nostalgia, you say. There’s that, for sure. But the toxic list effect is very real, also for sure. And it’s scary. It’s like the world has conspired to put people down before they’ve even had a chance to start crawling, intellectually speaking, let alone walking. That metaphor didn’t turn out well but I can’t be bothered to think of a better one. Sorry, it’s early morning and I haven’t woken up completely yet. I’ll try next time.

Anyway, I’m sure I had a point besides laying out the problematic nature of successful people lists but maybe I didn’t. I have no solution to the problem except advising everyone to reduce their “news” intake. If those lists are news, then I’m a little teapot, short and stout. And I’m not, as the best cartoon dog ever would say. Actually, he’d say “Or my name is Shirley. And it’s not” but still.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a non-writing related blog, except the PLBWs, and the reason for this is that writing’s going well except I just got stuck not knowing what to do with my characters next, which is why I had time to blog about my Eureka moment. I’m quite proud of it, even if Eureka has become the latest addition to my “Can’t spell properly the first time” list of words, next to things like government and pipeline.


Book-peddling corner (because books won’t sell/download themselves much as I’d like them to): if you’re in the mood for some dragons and vampires, or mysterious vanishing planes, try The Lamiastriga (which you can’t read for free on this blog) or Sky High (which you can read for free on this blog or on Kobo. I always appreciate feedback). For those in the mood for scary stories, here’s a complete list of my published shorter fiction.

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