Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Pressing Excerpt

From the book, The Defining Decade, by Meg Jay. This is a reflection of a person in their mid-thirties who was admitted to an ER for sudden chest/head pain.

So I went for my MRI and it was a really fucking scary thing. Being cooped up in that magnet coffin with all that whirring and banging. There was an alarm sound that kept going off. The machine was the only thing in this big sterile room, and the operator sat in a booth on the other side of the wall. It was seven thirty in the morning and really cold. They gave me headphones with music to drown out some of the noise, and it was on a preset station. Ozzy Osbourne was playing, believe it or not. There was a time when that would have been funny to me. But it was just ironic or pathetic. Nothing could have felt more irrelevant to my life at that moment than Ozzy Osbourne. I was really scared of what they were going to find.

And the funny – no, sad – thing was my life didn’t flash before my eyes. Not at all. I’m thirty eight years old and there were, like, two things I had in my mind – the way my little son’s hand feels when I hold it and how I didn’t want to leave my wife behind to do it all on her own. What seemed plain to me was that I wasn’t scared of losing my past, I was scared of losing my future. I felt like almost nothing in my life mattered up until just a few years ago. I realized that all the good stuff is still to come. I was so sick and panicked that I might never see my son ride a bike, play soccer, graduate from school, get married, have his own kids. And my career was just getting good.

Nothing is wrong, thank God, but this has made me face some things. I saw my regular doctor a couple of days after the MRI, and I told her she needed to keep me going for a good twenty years at least. She said she sees that a lot now. When people had their kids at 22, it was pretty much a given you’d be around to finish what you started. Nobody worried about it. Now she says a lot of parents come in and say, “Hey, I need to be healthy at least until my kids are off in college. Please be sure I make it that long.” How screwed up is that?

What I can’t figure out, and what I feel like I am grieving a little, is why I spent so many years on nothing. So many years doing things and hanging out with people that dont even rate a memory. For what? I had a good time in my twenties, but did I need to do all that for eight years? Lying there in the MRI, it was like I traded five years of partying or hanging out in coffee shops for five more years I could have had with my son if I’d grown up sooner. Why didn’t someone drop the manners and tell me I was wasting my life?

Recent Thoughts

I’ve been reading the book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay. In one week, I’m about 75% finished with it.

I saw her TED talk and couldn’t understand why anyone would find it insightful. It was only until a highly trusted friend recommended the book did I decide to pick it up. I’m glad I did. The friend who recommended the book is the same friend who recommended The Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad (which is an amazing reflection by a European on the Middle East).

Each chapter is a case-study on a twenty-something who is having some issue, and all of the issues are very relevant to the general issues twenty-somethings face today. What is my career path? Why are my twenties not living up the their expectations? How do I pick my marriage partner? How do I balance career and happiness? Etc etc etc, it’s all very good stuff. Recommended if you’re in your twenties, if not only for the parallels you can draw between yourself and the twenty-somethings in the book.

I’ve always been planning averse. I dislike planning long-term because I dislike adhering to something that is subject to an infinite number of variables that will inevitably change and/or impact the plans I’ve made. How can you plan something when all the contextual variables are *constantly* changing? If you commit to one-course of action, other courses of action are no longer possibilities – courses of action that may have resulted in a better outcome than the plan you made.

What I’m coming to realize is 2 things.

1) Planning. The important thing is not necessarily having a plan and vehemently sticking with it regardless of the changing variables – the important thing is just HAVING a basic plan. A framework on which to dictate your decisions. As variables change, the plan can change as well. But the important thing is just HAVING that plan. Not committing to any course of action is worse than committing to any random course of action; At least in the latter you’ve created a framework for your decisions, in the former you are simply kicking the can further down the road which results in more costly decisions (i.e. airfare, the bane of my existence) and additional, unnecessary stress. Planning has never been my forte, but going forward I will make a committed conscious effort to lay out a basic plan for every short-term major decision point. I feel that will provide clarity for me in so many tangible and non-tangible ways.

2) I really like to escape the city sometimes.

I’ve recently read about the Big 5 personality traits framework. OCEAN = Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. The reason I’m in-the-moment-enamoured by this framework is because it’s an easy framework that seems pretty all encompassing by which to judge your personality and the personality of others. I think it’s pretty awesome – at least for the moment. Other frameworks like this that I’ve been enamoured by and subsequently subscribed to are: Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development (which is really incredible btw) and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Did I ever mention that my high school AP Psych teacher was an incredible human being? Who knew his teaching and influence would have dictated so much of my thought process through my teens/twenties.

When it comes to creating various frameworks about life (How to pick your next career move, how to pick your marriage partner, how to weigh the value of something over another) I find my progression to usually be the following: a) Create a simple naive framework by which to judge the situation b) Simple framework evolves in a highly-complex hard-to-manage framework that just seems overbearing c) I come across something that shakes my viewpoint on it, simplifying it down to an easier to manage framework. I think the Big 5 is a great set of buckets by which to evaluate yourself against others. Maybe a way to validate this for me would be to run the Big 5 against my close friends to see if our percentiles are closely matched. But then again, is a closely matched percentile in the Big 5 an indicator of the health/closeness of your relationship? I don’t know.

I find the people that I’m attracted (whether friendship or otherwise) possess the following characteristics: Smarter than I am (in whatever capacity – a sense of humor is intelligence btw!), Considerate, Some sort of well-reasoned stance on the metaphysical , Driven, Analytical, Genuine, Relatively easy-going, typically Optimistic, and Quirky in some random way. I think that’s the common thread between them, for the most part. I think I’m vanilla-averse (no that’s not a racial remark), meaning I’m averse to normalcy.

My heart is pretty heavy with my pending decision to leave DC. I think Little Bear was right, as you get older you become more risk-averse. I see the transition with every passing year. I like the roots I have in DC, and I like the city and the people I know here. I guess most of all I like the comfortable routine. The risk is low here, I have a support structure, familiarity, and a place I can call ‘home’.

The Defining Decade has an entire chapter dedicated to “The Urban Tribe” which is the group of people you most closely associate with and spend your time with. It talks about how most of the pivotal changes in life/career are a result of people outside of your Urban tribe – and i suppose I couldn’t agree more. All the very big events in my life thus far have been a result of the people I met on the fringes. Some of my best life-stories come from the people I happened to run into. Of course, many of my best life-stories also come from the people I’m closest to.

I think people are like plums. You have the hardened core, which is the seed of that individual, it’s a cluster of unchanging genetics which really compose the center of that person. The rest of the flesh and skin grows and develops as you get older dependent on your environment. I don’t think people ever really dramatically change their core personality, I think they just wake a part of them that was previously asleep. Or they put to sleep a hyperactive part. I used to get pissed off at everything as a kid. Nowadays, I think my fuse is quite long.

Sometimes I think throwing yourself into absolutely random situations is the key to growth. Just like it is counter-intuitive to prune a plant, the act of pruning it and subjecting it to that pain is the key to it subsequently growing larger and thriving.

Anyway, random thoughts.

Good point

“In other words, we’ve idolized “being busy,” and confused it with being “important.” You can be busy but unimportant, just as you can be important but not busy. I don’t know who is busiest, and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I think it’s safe to say that none of us are as busy as we think we are; and however busy we actually are, it’s more than we need to be.”

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