In my 27 years of life, my views on various aspects of the world, life, etc. have changed and evolved over time. In some instances, rather drastically. In others, not all that much. I suppose this is what happens over the course of one’s life.
One thing I used to always think of as ‘the norm’ is the whole idea of ‘people go to college, study to be something, go be that thing, become successful, make money, have a family, live happily ever after.’
Lately (i.e. in the past few years), I’ve started to think more heavily about what makes for a successful / happy / high quality life. I think I know what that answer is for me, but I also realize that it varies person to person.
In general, I think people have a tendency to become complacent and comfortable as they get older and start making more money. In other words, the more stable peoples’ lives become, the more they accept their current situation as the norm, and the less likely they are to seek changes (for better or for worse).
To help illustrate this idea, I want to talk about a couple excerpts from blogs that I have read over the course of the past year.
The first comes from Phil Galfond, a well-known poker player, in a post about goals, values, and long-term vs short-term happiness (written on July 17, 2012):
“It’s important to think long term, but it’s also very important to think short term. A lot of people sacrifice their short term happiness in hopes that it pays off later. The problem is, as I’ve said, we can’t predict what will happen later in life, or what we’ll want in the future.
ESPECIALLY if you’re under 25, not only are there are so many things that could pop into your life and change it’s path, but you are still very much growing and maturing as a person (I’d probably say this is true past 30 too, but I’m not there yet). Your values will change, and you’ll learn so much more about yourself and about life.”
Obviously, it’s important to have long-term goals, and to take steps in the short term to achieve those goals. Even more importantly, I believe (so it seems does Galfond), one should not sacrifice present day happiness for perceived future happiness. I say perceived because, as Galfond accurately points out, none of us know what will make us happy in 20-30 years. We have ideas, sure. We think that by working tirelessly at our job now in hopes of making a gazillion dollars in the next couple of decades will help us reach the pinnacle of happiness.
Another post that really struck me was from Rembert Browne, current staff writer at Grantland. In his former blog, 500 Days Asunder, Browne wrote the following in his farewell post:
“The generation that I call myself a part of, for lack of a better phrase, can be described as ‘those that grew up with the internet, but not with iPhones’. We are a generation that is filled with individuals that want it all. We want it all, because of our mastery with the fad-turned-reality called ‘the Internet’, we understand how much there is to be had. And if you’ve seen what the promised land can look like, it’s hard to erase that image from your head.
We want it all, but we are either 1) confused about how to get there or 2) knowledgeable about how to get there, but fearful of the failure that could (and probably will) meet us along the way. Because of this, many of us settle, in the hopes [of] ‘having it all’ in the next 20-30 years.”
Browne is essentially saying that there are people in his (my) generation that have the talent and intellect to make a real difference in the world, but are too afraid of failure that they may likely never reach their potential, and instead end up settling with the hopes of being happy and successful further down the line.
I chose excerpts from these individuals because (1) I identify with each of them, to some extent, on a personal level and (2) we are similar in age (Galfond – 28, Me – 27, Browne -26). Although each comes within its own context, the question at hand is the same. Why do we (me / my generation / people in the world in general / etc.) willingly sacrifice present day happiness for some idea of what we think will make us happy in the future?
Honestly, how does anyone know what will make them happy in 20 years? Think back even 5-10 years ago. What about your current self did you know back then? If your answer is any version of ‘a lot’ or ‘everything’, then you’re either lying our you simply haven’t changed or grown a whole lot as a person over that time. Truth be told, our future selves are merely strangers to our current selves.
I’m absolutely terrified of being the person described in the excerpts above.
An old friend once told me that age 27 was the prime age of a man’s life. Now that I’m 27, it’s time to start making some moves. It’s time to change the things that don’t make me happy and replace them with things that do, even if this means taking chances or risking failure.
I’m not exactly sure what this will entail, but I’m excited to find out.
Luckily, I’m surrounded by a great group of friends and some great family. If one thing is for sure, it’s that I know I’ll be alright, regardless of the outcome(s).
So what’s the moral of this story? What’s the big takeaway? Shit, I really don’t know. I mean, I think I do. I think everyone should focus their time, money, and energy on things that make them happy, and spend less time / energy / money on things that don’t. But obviously that’s going to differ from person to person.
I think the important thing is that people realize what makes them happy and take steps to achieve this happiness. We only get one life. Why spend most of it playing it safe with the hopes of achieving such happiness sometime down the line, when it’s not even known or guaranteed what this happiness will consist of?
Especially when we’re not ensured of any life outside of the present.
I’m not saying that everyone should quit their job tomorrow, start working at Starbucks, and spend their afternoons hanging out in the park.
I’m not exactly NOT saying that either.
Let’s get after it.