As you were going out and doing “things” every single Friday night, there were those older friends claiming to greatly enjoy quite the opposite – “doing nothing.” They must have been kidding themselves, right? Sure, they had found a way to rationalize totally forgettable Friday evenings, but deep down they wished to be living how you were living, which was indeed how they once lived.
With youthful confidence, you vow to avoid the same mistake. Then years pass. Then your body starts aching in frustrating ways. Then, just as Legos lost appeal with time, the “things” you defined as “things” no longer deserve the same positive status. And so you chuckle and realize those older friends may not have been rationalizing anything at all. In this moment, full capitulation is possible: Ha. I was so stupid when I was 22. This humbling may even extend to your current self: Wow. I should probably drop some of my 35-year-old certainty because if I grow at all, in 10 years I’ll look back and again view my younger self as stupid.
As productive as those takeaways are, it’s not all that’s to be learned, for the notion that younger versions of yourself were totally devoid of wisdom is, I daresay, foolish. Yes, running on the sweet licorice taste of Jägermeister until 5am is no longer appealing. But it wasn’t the taste that kept you out anyway; it was the random possibility. Maybe you’d meet somebody. Maybe memories would be created. Maybe you’d learn something in the uninhibited conversation that only occurs in the wee hours. Strip away the alcohol, and all these possibilities sound as good now as they ever did.1
Growth is not linear. There is learning and unlearning, and then relearning some of what you unlearned.2 You’ll have it figured out one day only to face an existential crisis the next. This should all make us not only respectful of the future, but also the past. And in the case at hand, that younger out-of-control partier understood something deep and true: random possibility injects color into one’s life. Now, this may seem banal, but adult behavior generally tells me it’s far from obvious. It’s schedule this and routine that and the days blend into weeks and weeks into months and, well, fuck. 3
Not that scheduling is bad or that there isn’t tremendous joy to be found in the day-in-day-out. Furthermore, it makes sense that as one gains self-knowledge, possibility is less necessary since you’ve already run tests proving what you like. Still, those color injections should never disappear entirely, if only because they (a) extend time and (b) show that there is always more to know about yourself and the world. Appreciate (a) by thinking back about a month of commuting to work. If the month unfolded cleanly, you may not be able to remember a single commute, and thus the month feels short. If the month was filled with wild divergences from “normal” – you witnessed a car crash; you started taking slightly different routes in hopes of shaving some time here or there; or you listened to one completely new album per week – the month feels long.4 (b) is much ado about life satisfaction, which is also much ado about relearning what your childhood self knew: discovery is a reliable pathway to awe, wonder, and fulfillment.5
xxxxxxxxx being a living, breathing color injection is the reason I was at your wedding. It’s striking how easily he could have played an entirely different role. I’ve met many friends of friends, developed short-term bonds with strangers at bachelor parties and received countless promises to stay in touch, and yet rarely does an extended color injection occur. xxxxxxxxx was different. He was always willing to make the vital efforts necessary to elevate beyond passing acquaintances. These efforts were random possibilities. With a single message of I’m going to be in town, a Friday is transformed from something likely forgettable into Well, what can we do? Of course, there is no guarantee the night will suddenly be extraordinary, but the probability of (a) & (b) happening dramatically increases. Which, yes, is a pretty good recipe for the extraordinary.
While I know xxxxxxxxx in a much different capacity, it seems reasonable to assume that she occupies a similar role for many of her friends.
Even for the most introverted among us, life feels more meaningful with others. When you watch a TV show by yourself, it’s “doing nothing” in a way that watching the same show with one other person is not. Be comfortable alone, by all means; learn to entertain and amuse yourself. But don’t become so good in isolation that seeing others induces annoyance or dread. Because there is still, forever and always, a world of possibility that’s most easily accessed with other people.
You both remind me of this truth, and for that I’m thankful.
Thanks also for including me in your wedding.
- Except the wee hours part.
- Perfect, innocuous example: the 12-year-old yearning for permission to go to the movies will successfully employ countless negotiation tactics his future self will read about in books like “Getting to Yes” when that future self decides he needs to be better at negotiation aka needs to reclaim the skills he once possessed.
- These elements are also strongly creeping into childhood as well.
- Yup, this is all in your head, but what’s in your head matters terribly when it comes to feeling satisfied about one’s life.
- It’s tempting to dismiss child-like discovery as only being possible in early youth when everything is so new. This dismissal misses the fact that many of the most interesting discoveries are only available to educated adults. Seeing the sun may be cool and all, but it’s not nearly as riveting as, say, quantum mechanics.