Lately, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been really into data analysis and understanding myself and the world in a more scientifically verifiable manner. I don’t write much anymore on my blog because, frankly, I don’t have time to properly document the sources for my claims. And I hesitate to make any kind of unqualified statement anymore that cannot be backed up with legitimate research.
I’m not apologizing for this. I would rather write nothing than write a bunch of unfounded garbage. I look back on some of the things I’ve written in the past and the dogmatic certainty with which I argued my points, and I’m ashamed. What an idiot–this pig-headed past version of me that I’m continually trying to bury. What an idiot.
Okay, now that I’ve successfully ground what remains of my fragile ego into dust, I have an announcement to make: today, I am allowing myself the rare privilege of being an idiot once again. Why? Because today is my birthday. Today, I turned 28 years old. And this is my gift to myself–a blog post without data, without sources, without science. Just my pure, unadulterated, unabashedly biased and arguably worthless opinion.
And I’m not apologizing for it either, because it’s my birthday. It’s my party and I can make unqualified assertions if I want to. So, just smile, say happy birthday, and read on like my opinion actually matters. Thank you very much.
Some Things I’ve Learned Along the Way…
I’ve written a lot of “life lessons” sort of posts. You know, the self-helpy, semi-condescending, anecdotal sort of write-ups about how this might be relevant to you because it was relevant to me. Yeah, this is one of those. Here are some things I’ve learned in the decade that I’ve been adult. You might find some meaning in them and you might not. But, I actually don’t care. Because it’s my birthday, and this is my gift. It’s not about you; it’s about me. How’s that for inspirational fluff?
- I’m not special. If there’s anything that becoming an adult has taught me, it’s that I don’t matter. I don’t mean this in a self-loathing, manic depressive sort of way; I mean it in an enlightened, understanding how insignificant I am in such a big universe sort of way. I used to believe that I was destined for greatness. I used to believe that the world was my oyster. I grew up honestly thinking deep within myself that everything I encountered existed for the sole purpose of facilitating my ambitions. I could not have been more wrong. The universe doesn’t care about my petty hopes and dreams. I’m just another wandering soul. I’m just another cog in the machine. I’m just a blip. While this may sound disheartening, I have found it strangely inspiring. I know that, if I want something in life, it isn’t going to simply materialize before me on a silver platter. I’m going to have to work for it. Even then, I may not get it. But that’s the only shot I’ve got–because there are no stars aligning. Nothing works until I do. My life is only as special as I make it.
- People believe differently than I do. Being an adult has taught me empathy. I’ve acquired an increasingly deeper respect for others’ beliefs. I’ve come to realize that, if I had grown up in another’s culture, I would probably hold the same opinions as that person. I come up with reasons for my beliefs, and I find evidence to justify the opinions I hold. But, if I honestly ask myself how I came to believe the things I believe, I’ll have to admit that–like anyone else–it’s probably because of the things I’ve experienced. Other people have had different experiences than me, so it’s only natural that they would have other beliefs. I think a large part of maturity comes down to the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes–to realize that there’s always more than one side to a story. My beliefs aren’t universal truth; they’re just my beliefs.
- No job is unimportant. Okay, let’s get practical for a second. If you’re a young soul on the cusp of adulthood, I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t waste your time at work punching in and punching out. I don’t care if you’re spreading mulch, flipping burgers, or scanning barcodes (all of these are things I’ve done)–find something to learn from the job you’re doing. Look for opportunities to advance even if those opportunities have nothing to do with your end goal. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to face economic reality and your dreams may not come true. You may have to settle for something that’s just okay. Take advantage of the chance to learn and grow in the industry you currently work–no matter how far down you are on the totem pole. Even if it’s minimum wage. Even if it’s “just for now.” Take your work seriously. The future may thank you for it.
- College doesn’t translate to employment. So, I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Economics at the height of the “Great Recession.” Not surprisingly, it wasn’t easy for a mediocre student from an average state university with no relevant work experience to find a job. Yes, I held a degree in economics and I couldn’t find work. Go ahead, laugh it up. I continued working as a supervisor in a coffee shop until I finally landed a job as a car salesman a year later. And, what did I do to improve my opportunities? Of course, I went back to school. A year after earning my MBA, I’m finally earning what I thought I would be earning in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, and I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without at least a Bachelor’s degree. But if I could go back and do things differently, I would have had a better plan. I wouldn’t have gone to college just because “it’s what you do after high school.” And I would have had much more realistic expectations upon graduating.
- I’m not my job. Around the time I got my Bachelor’s degree, I started becoming obsessed with my professional image. I began to identify personally with whatever job I was doing. I felt I had to set aside all other interests and focus exclusively on the industry in which I worked. When people asked me, “What do you do for a living?” I took the question to mean, “Who are you as a person?” As a result of this mentality, I feel like I missed out on a lot of interesting things while losing myself in industries I no longer work. I’ve come to realize that my job is only a piece of me–that I am a multi-faceted human being. I don’t have to be a novelist to enjoy literary fiction or a Professor to read academic journals or a barista to be obsessed with culinary coffee. I can have a lot of interests because there are a lot of things that make me me. My job is just one of them. I am not my job.
- I am what I do. I am not what I do for a living, but I’ve come to believe that I am what I do with my life. Intentions are worthless. Words are worthless. Action is all that has staying power. I have always been great at making plans. I’ve always been great at talking about what I’m going to do. But I haven’t always been so great about following through. But I’ve come to understand that, when I’m gone, my best intentions will die with me. My actions and the impact they have on the world will be all that’s left of me. I can talk about it all I want. But, if I never do it, it never happened. I
am what I do.
- People don’t want my advice (unless they ask for it). I used to think that people wanted my input. I would be the first to speak up at a meeting, and I would proudly offer my two cents like everyone in the room was hanging on to every word. Wow, I’m so smart, I would smugly think to myself–as if my insight was completely original and paradigm-shifting. It didn’t occur to me until much later that, during all of these times that I thought I was being helpful by sharing my precious wisdom with the group, I was really just being annoying. Unsolicited advice sounds condescending, judgmental, and self-aggrandizing. In my early adult life, I thrived on impressing people (at least that’s what I thought I was doing) with my articulate ability to form a coherent thought. Lately, I’ve tried sharpening a different skill–listening. And since I’ve shut up and just let other people talk, I’ve realized that I don’t really need to offer them any advice. Most of the time, people don’t want you to solve their problems; they just want someone to listen.
- The present is more valuable than the future. When I was in high school, I had a teacher who made us take the Meyers-Briggs personality test. That’s when I found out I was a dreamer. My head was in the clouds–I was always thinking about the future, about what’s next. I was never in the here-and-now. Going into my adult life, I took this as a given and never sought to change it. Bad idea. I have missed so much in my life by focusing on what I’m expecting to come next. The future doesn’t exist. It isn’t real. It’s an abstract idea of what may or may not be. The present is real–it’s tangible. It’s all we really have. Lately, I’ve been trying to be more in the moment, more in the here-and-now–more mindful. In doing so, I’m enjoying my life more because I’m not comparing it to my future expectations. I’m also finishing more of what I start because I’m not moving onto the next thing in my head before I finish what I’m working on right now. I don’t know what the future holds, but the present is right here in front of me. As much as is possible, I want to live in it.
- My mind is only as healthy as my body. I used to think that my soul, or my heart, or my mind, or whatever entity thinks and feels was somehow separate from my body. I don’t believe that anymore. The more I learn about human anatomy and neuroscience, the more I come to believe how inseparable the mind and body actually are. How I treat my body will influence my mind and vice versa. I’ve read studies about how physical exercise is the single most powerful variable that can delay mental decline. Also, there seems to be a strong relationship between a healthy lifestyle and longevity. This understanding has caused me to make drastic improvements in my health. I no longer consider it a waste of time to work out. I don’t eat potato chips. I love vegetables. It makes me feel better. It makes me think better. It makes me live better.
- I’m still just a kid. This last lesson is the one I hope I never stop learning. If you’re reading this and you’re in your 40s or older, you’re probably thinking, “Of course you’re still just a kid.” Whatever. Age is all relative. I’m happy at 28; I’ll be happy at 82. Each year is another year to learn and grow. I won’t wish myself older and I don’t want to wish myself younger either. I hope that, when I’m 90 years old, I still believe that “I’m just a kid.” I never want to lose the childlike wonder. I never want to lose the humility. I never want to lose the curiosity. I never want to stop growing. I always want to be better than I was before. If I ever think that I’ve reached enlightenment, I believe that I will have lost any enlightenment I have. We’re all kids. We’re all in the dark searching for the light. Age won’t change that. I’m still just a kid–and I’ll never completely grow up. And those who tell you they have probably still have much more to learn than they think.
All of this is what I believe right now. My life experiences as just another human being wandering across this tiny spec of dust in the cosmos have led me to these conclusions. They are my truths. Take them with a grain of salt. Actually, it’s mostly salt. Take it as a grain of truth. I’m not even sure if that makes sense, but I think you know what I mean.
Ten years from now, I may believe differently. I will have studied new material, experienced new things, and learned new lessons. But, this is what I’ve got for now. So, happy birthday to me, thanks for reading, and you’re welcome.