How I Got Radicalized

Being a Child Prodigy Didn’t Mean I Could Succeed in This Economy

My extracurriculars, summer camps, and internships were never going to get me a magazine cover — or a satisfying job

Anita Ramaswamy
GEN
Published in
5 min readMar 26, 2021

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A cracked trophy on a pedestal
Photo illustration: Taylor Le/Medium

Welcome to How I Got Radicalized, a series from GEN that tells the story of a cultural moment that made you drastically rethink how society works.

Any overachiever with a LinkedIn knows the most important awards for a certain generation is Forbes’ “30 Under 30” reveal. Every year I brace myself for the Oscars-style gratitude speeches from acquaintances and second-degree connections who feel “so humbled” that they made the list. It’s not that I begrudge their success, I swear. It’s simply a tough pill to swallow as a twentysomething with a harsh tendency to compare myself to others. Every year, our culture puts a new rising star or child prodigy up on a pedestal, a reminder of the aspirations I may never achieve.

Take TIME magazine’s first-ever “Kid of the Year” issue, unveiled last December. Gitanjali Rao, a 15-year-old scientist and inventor, graced the cover wearing a white lab coat and a number of medals draped around her neck. Angelina Jolie performed the interview, and Rao nonchalantly discussed with the movie star her early interest in researching carbon nanotube sensor technology and her work with gene-based therapy solutions. Few adults would ever dream of mastering such concepts, let alone at Rao’s age.

It’s difficult to resist feelings of inadequacy when reading her story. One of my friends, a brilliant startup founder, told me that many of her close friends from college had made the “30 Under 30” list already. She felt like a loser for not being featured yet. After hearing Rao’s story, my most accomplished friends joked about how their parents’ expectations for them would skyrocket after seeing her accolade.

For most of my 23 years of life, I was forging a path much like Rao’s. I started…

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Anita Ramaswamy
GEN
Writer for

Journalist, career coach, & recovering investment banker. Writing about work, business, politics and social change. anitaramaswamy.com