12 Thoughts on Age, Growing Up and Birthdays

Happy birthday to me. As a Canadian, one of the joys of living in San Francisco during the few months around my 21st birthday has been getting to turn legal twice. Not that I really care. Relevant thoughts:

1. I don’t feel 21.

I don’t really feel any age. Before telling people my age, I usually get them to guess, and the typical answer is about 25. Since many of my peers/friends are 25 or older I don’t mind this, and projecting as older probably helps me gain some respect. I know some people who feel like they’re a certain age, whether older, younger, or equal to their actual age, but age just feels really arbitrary to me.

2. I used to think that age-closeness was important for relating to people.

I no longer think that. Probably since I’ve had some friends who are much older than me (in one case half a century) and I’ve started interacting a lot more with mixed-age groups. Also flirting.

The other half of this is that I’ve realized that I sometimes have difficulty relating to some people who are my age.

3. I sometimes still get surprised that I’m a responsible adult.

I periodically feel impressed with myself when I’m able to do things like navigate airports between countries, or have a job, or maintain a schedule that involves meeting people for coffee. I’m not sure why these things make me feel like this, since they aren’t actually that complicated compared to e.g. multivariable calculus. Or empathy.

4. I don’t learn as much as I think I’m going to learn.

I find myself often thinking “Wow, this will change my life!” or thinking that an idea has profoundly affected the way I think. This causes me to look back at musings of past-me and be astonished with how much I knew so long ago… since I assume that I’ve learned so many important things this past year, clearly I was an ignorant fool a year ago. Except apparently not.

5. I learn more than I feel I’m learning.

Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through motions and chasing ideas and emptying my email inbox, but then I’ll be talking to someone who hasn’t had the same experiences I’ve had and they’ll practically start taking notes. At this point, I realize that I’ve actually synthesized a lot of interesting stuff during this time.

6. It’s often not obvious which new things are really going to stick.

This point is essentially the net point of the previous two. This realization emerged from my spreadsheet of all the books I’ve read since summer ’11. I looked back at my notes on some of Seth Godin’s books and the notes suggested my life had been profoundly changed by reading them. Months later, I barely remember what Poke the Box is about. These books inspired me, but didn’t actually change my behaviour or even my thought patterns.

7. How I feel about myself is independent of what I’ve learned.

Sort of. It’s related, but they’re not the same. I seem to feel mostly the same about myself regardless of the facts in my head. Even when I learn new models or frameworks, or ways of approaching things, they rarely have a substantial effect on my self-conception. The main things that do are ones that actually relate to relating. Any time I feel like I’ve learned to connect with people better I expand my comfort zone in certain situations and this is a really good feeling.

8. Awkwardness isn’t necessary.

I’ve recently been realizing that awkwardness often arises from the feeling that something is supposed to be awkward. If you give up the assumption that an experience or interaction will be awkward, often it simply isn’t. Often it’s just fun, or pleasant, or profound instead.

9. Time is arbitrary.

There are a lot of factors that affect the sensation of the passage of time. The main one for me is tiredness. Time passes much faster late at night. I’d like to figure out ways to hack this so that I can experience more.

Something similar happens on a days-months scale too: the experience of yesterday feeling like last week but months ago feeling like yesterday. My current theory is that doing lots of interesting (and varied) things makes time feel like it’s passing quickly because there’s always something going on, but when you look back things are stretched out forever because there are so many details.

10. Age is arbitrary.

People all age at a rate of 60 seconds per minute, but the variance in amount and type of experiences is so broad that age makes a very poor proxy for what someone is like. I mean, guess it’s the best one we have, but like, some people could be safely drinking at age 16 (not too much, of course) whereas others can’t even in adulthood. But anyway…

11. Alcohol is overrated.

Now, when I’m drinking, I tend to think alcohol is underrated, but I trust sober!me’s opinion more. People make a really big deal about it but for me these months of being 20 in the USA have been more annoying for lack-of-ability-to-go-dancing than lack-of-ethanol-in-my-bloodstream. In fact, I’d consider going off alcohol entirely if that wouldn’t seriously restrict my drink options. I like to try new things, and most drinks appear to be booze.

12. Promises to yourself are complicated.

One night, when I was 15, I made a vow to myself that I would never do “drugs”. I clarified at the time that this didn’t include alcohol or caffeine, but implicitly included pretty much everything else except prescription drugs or the odd painkiller. My main reasoning was that I, at the time, felt infinitely happy. That is, I didn’t feel like I could possibly feel happier, and therefore there was no need to pursue artificial highs.

For years, this has given me an easy way to refuse an offered smoke of any kind, but I’ve lately come to realize that the original argument doesn’t apply to some places where I’m applying the rule. Nootropics are the main thing in this category. I have other reasons to be wary of them, but nonetheless, I’m realizing that my cached response (“no drugs!”) is not quite sufficient. That’s a much bigger topic… I just wanted to note how it’s both hard and easy to justify breaking a promise to yourself.

 

I had originally intended to write 21 thoughts, but this prompt only produced 12. Oh well, it’s the same digits. I won’t be able to cheat next year 😉

Oh, bonus thought:

This is the first time in a few years that I’ve set my birthday to public on Facebook. I might decide to have another one in a few months, just for fun.

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for achieving your important goals.

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