For me, birthdays bring nostalgia. Every time my birthday rolls around I become more introspective than normal. More conscious of what I’m doing. I think about where I am vs. where I want to be. And to be fully honest, without even meaning to, I use it as a check-in for where society expects me to be.
In this day and age it’s impossible to not be aware of what the “benchmark” ages are for certain things such as college graduation, starting a career, marriage, kids, and having your life figured out. There’s no point in ignoring them because they exist. Yes different cultures have a different set of expectations but they still exist. Pretending otherwise is a waste of time. Regardless of if we show it or not we all feel pressure to accomplish things by a certain age.
The day before my birthday I entertain somewhat depressing thoughts like “this is the last time you’ll ever be 24.” This isn’t because I’m sad about growing up. But because I realize how precious a gift time is. Regardless of how great the future may be it’s not guaranteed. And even if by some chance I become a billionaire I will never be able to turn back time.
If you haven’t realized by now time is the most precious resource we have. You can make more money. You can find another job or another relationship. But one thing you’ll never have back is today. This moment. How you spend your time matters because it’s the most limited thing you have. When my birthday rolls around it resonates with me that a certain chapter of my life is closed and I can never open it again.
For reasons that I can’t pinpoint turning 25 has me thinking about time slipping away. About benchmarks. About goals. About feeling lost. About how regardless of what path you’re on there are times when you feel like it isn’t the right one.
Perhaps it’s the “quarter life crisis” thing. Though to be realistic if age expectancy is 76 for an American male my quarter life crisis should have occurred at 19- that’s a sobering thought. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s pretend like everyone else does that I will live to be a 100 and today 1/4 of my life is over.
Today I’m expected to be in a celebratory mood (I will be soon have no fears and feel free to celebrate too even if I’m not with you). But right now I find myself pensive one.
Is it more important to focus on the past or the future? Should I measure myself by where my friends are? Where the majority of society thinks I should be? Where I want to be? Should I ignore it and not measure myself at all? Or should I live as if there are no measuring sticks and make decisions based on what I feel is best at that moment?
Can I find happiness or relief if I choose to use any one of those as measuring sticks? Or by the very nature of comparison will I always be left wanting? Do comparison and competition help us to improve or do they make us self conscious and judgmental? I once read “please all and you please none” that shouldn’t be a secret it’s pure logic. By increasing the amount of people you compare yourself with or try to impress you decrease the significance of the measurement. You also decrease the likely hood of feeling good about who you’ve become and where you are. Hemingway once wrote “the only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.” But how realistic is that in today’s society?
The point is today, when I look back on my entire life -all 25 years – how should I feel? Who should have a say in how I view my life?
I have friends who are 23, married, and wanting children. I have friends who are 62 and single. Some are career oriented and others have no idea what they really want to do. Some solely live for the future and others only for this exact minute because they know nothing is guaranteed. I know people on 6 different continents (having lived on three myself) all of whom have completely different backgrounds, beliefs, and dreams.
When you’ve met as many people as I have it becomes increasingly difficult to try to measure your life. Is the American right? Is the Australian? What about the South African? Or the Canadian? Should I measure off the friends I’ve had for years or the ones I’ve just met? Is financial comfort the biggest factor? Finding love? Seeing the world? Following a plan?
There was a point in my life when I’d rarely left Nebraska. Everyone in my life felt, thought, reacted the same way. I was conditioned to a specific way of thinking and to wanting a certain future. Security over risk. Safety over adventure . Simplicity over the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nebraska and how it helped to shape me but I just wasn’t ready at 22 to commit to that type of life. One day I decided I wanted something different and that day changed the trajectory of my entire life.
***Most people would be curious if it was changed for the better. My response is that it’s my life. But if you feel the need to pass judgment understand that the nature of judgment is subjectivity and each person will view the success or failure of something differently. Also, it’s hard to say at this point since I’m right in the middle of it (hopefully only through the first quarter of it). I’m sure one day I’ll be able to look back and tell you. But for now I can honestly say I’ve lived in the present as much as I could leaving me with few regrets and at the very least that has given me peace of mind.***
Let’s ask the underlining question then.
On entering my 25th year in existence what have I accomplished?
I thought about doing a checklist of what I thought was expected of me vs. what I’ve actually done. The more I got into the list the more I realized that it wasn’t about the amount of things I had or hadn’t crossed off a list -unless it was my own. Honestly, I didn’t do great on checking the society expectation boxes but have done a pretty swell job checking off my own.
I’ve never been one to take the easy way out. I’ve never been able to just put my head down and take orders. I’ve always questioned things. I’ve always needed a reason. If I didn’t feel that the reason was justified I wouldn’t do it. Yes there have been times that this has blown up in my face, but it’s also always given me a sense of control over my life. Full control and total freedom are two things you can’t explain to someone who’s always blended into the crowd. Simply put some worry about standing out others about blending in. I tend to fall into the latter category.
I’m 25 and completely single. I’ve never been in love, engaged, nor do I have a wedding on the horizon. I give little to no thought to having kids or settling down. I don’t own a house or apartment. I’m not in grad school pursing another degree. Have no retirement plan. Cashed out my 401 (k). At this date I’m living in a foreign country and still looking for a job. I know less than 20 people in the city I now live. Some would say I drink too often. 73% of all my belongings are at my parent’s house. Honestly, I have no idea what I want to do for the next 4 years of my life let alone the next 40. By most outward measuring sticks I’m a complete failure.
So why don’t I feel like one?
Why haven’t I just given up? I don’t appear to be winning at this whole “life” thing.
Because for me life isn’t about comparison or a set of external boxes to check off. It’s value is derived from the inside. As Joel Osteen said “when nobody else celebrates you, learn to celebrate yourself. When nobody else compliments you, then compliment yourself. It’s not up to other people to keep you encouraged. It’s up to you. Encouragement and value should come from the inside.”
It isn’t about who can be the first to fall in love. Or get married. Or divorced for that matter. It’s about finding the right person at the right time. It isn’t a race to corner office of a company I don’t care about. It’s about finding a career that adds value to my life regardless of the paycheck. It’s not about being trapped in a routine I can’t stand to pay for the “stuff” I don’t need but keep buying. It’s about learning the difference between needs/wants and balancing it. And it’s not about living in a way so that others are jealous of me or what I have. But in a way that others want to spend their limited free time around me. But most importantly, one where I can look in the mirror and respect what I see. Every day.
I don’t value sacrificing my time for exuberate amounts of cash. I’d rather spend it with friends, family, traveling, exploring, or learning something new. I see little benefit in buying a house in a city I don’t love and know I will eventually leave. For me, this life thing is about chasing dreams and goals. Having enough faith in myself that it will all work out. Not putting off something I want to do so that once I retire or “have enough money” I can finally do it. I mean, what happens if I get hit by a tram tomorrow?
***Tangent*** The way I look at it is if I live to be 100 I’ll have less money but 75 years of amazing memories to think back on. I’ll never forget working on a cruise ship, backpacking Europe, spending a year in Melbourne. Taking risks. Seeking adventure. Because I’m doing it now, I won’t be in a rush to get as much done in my twilight years when I’ll be more limited physically and mentally. It goes back to the quote “God gave us memories so we could have roses in December.” But in order to have roses you have to go make memories worth keeping. I see people putting dreams on hold out of fear or the promise of doing it later. I made myself a promise years ago to never let either of those dictate my actions. Will this theory completely backfire? We shall see, stay tuned.*** End of Tangent***
If my life isn’t about comparison what is it about?
Faith in humanity.
Taking in as much of the world as I can and leaving it a better place than I found it.
As far as my check list goes I’m doing much better.
Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.”-Anthony Brandt
I have two stupidly supportive parents who always help me when I need it. Even if it’s just a text full of 24 silly emoticons when I’m having a bad day. Or nearly calling the US embassy when I lost my phone for a few days and was basically unreachable. They may have more faith in me than I do in myself -and that’s saying something. I have a sister and brother-in-law who are just old enough to understand what missed opportunities of youth look like and are very vocal in support of my decisions (especially when we’ve all had a few drinks).
The biggest difference between family and friends is obligation. Your family is by definition supposed to love and support everything you do. Your friends don’t have to. But that makes it even more special when they do. I got an email from my best friend Jordan right before I left that nearly moved me to tears. I was taken to the airport by a friend who I hadn’t seen in 2 years after she drove 3 hours to LA just to see me before I flew out (thanks Emma). I’ve had 4 friends commit to flying half way around the world to see me while I’m in Melbourne. I’m part of a group chat that I’m constantly getting notifications from made up of 15 people from 9 different countries that met at Tomorrowland in Belgium. I have a “short list” of at least 10 people from all over the world that I could call for advice or just to talk about life. One of the keys to accomplishing great things is surrounding yourself with great people. I’ve done better than most.
I’ve spent the last three years trying as many new things as I could. New experiences are what help us to grow. I’ve spent time in 25 countries. I’ve gone to music festivals. Been scuba diving. Parasailing. Skinny dipping. Sang Karaoke. Skied. Backpacked Europe. Volunteered. Seen the both the Eiffel and Leaning Towers. Shot a bow and arrow. Gotten lost in a new city more times than I can count. Worked on a cruise ship. Eaten things that I had no idea what they were. Made and more importantly maintained relationships with the people I met along the way. I even started a blog. The more stuff I try the more well rounded I become.
The best part of having as many experiences as possible is the memories they leave behind. Whether it’s random moments backpacking Europe with Zoran and Philippe, the themed crew parties on the ship, my first Sunday Session in Melbourne resulting in me losing my phone, or the time I partied with former NBA player Vlade Divac’s sons in Belgrade, Serbia (skipping the whole line and getting bottle service) I’ll be able to look back any one of those and countless other memories and smile. I’ll never be short on stories. And in the end, that’s the best we can hope for. To have stories to tell and be part of ones left behind.
This is a little harder to quantify and more difficult to describe. There are multiple ways for one to self improve but for me self improvement comes from reading, writing, reflecting, working out, eating right, intelligent discussion, surrounding yourself with smarter people, listening to opposing viewpoints (actually listening), trying new things, building up any aspect of my current life that makes me happy and trying to make the world a better place.
Faith in Humanity:
The older people get the more jaded they become. They’ve been in the world too long and have seen people do a lot of bad things. They claim that “they’ve seen some shit.” Well so have I. Having met thousands of people in my life I honestly believe that at the very core most people are good. Self interested? Perhaps. But still intrinsically good. I’ve had a complete stranger help me when I was lost at 4 am in Paris trying to find Philippe’s apartment. I’ve visited the Pacific Islands where people had little and still invited me in for a meal purely out of kindness. I’ve seen a lady have a seizure while driving, crash her car, and see countless people stop and try to help by doing whatever they could. I never want to get to a point where I automatically assume the worst in someone; where I’ve lost faith in the capacity humans have to be kind. So far so good.
What I value will be different than what you do. Where I’m at 25 will be completely different than where you are. That’s okay. But what’s not okay is the constant pressure felt by many of us to have done certain things by a predetermined age because that’s what other people tells us we should do. We’ve turned into a society that cares more about comparison than self improvement or self worth. Where it’s okay to be miserable as long as you play by the timeline the world gives you. Where dreams and goals keep getting pushed into the future. The only way to escape is to really know yourself. Only then can you know if you’re doing something because you really want to or if you’re merely just going in the direction the world is pushing you.
My last piece of advice is this:
Don’t assign numbers to life events. It limits your life, Don’t give into that pressure. Don’t think that the only way to happiness or success is to check off boxes at the same time as everyone else. You are not them. Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Reflection time over. Now it’s time to celebrate.