Facing A New Decade
With a new decade looming you are being bombarded with listicles, resolutions, and all manners of reflection. We can’t help but pause when faced with a year ending in a zero. Ascribing significance to base 10 years seems a bit arbitrary, but I’ll play along for a moment.
At the start of this decade, I was living in Long Island City. I had my own trading business by then, banked more money than I could have imagined possible just a decade earlier (trust me this says more about my 21-year-old imagination than my 31-year-old paychecks), and very recently married. Facebook was still new to me. We were mailing DVDs with Netflix. If I go back and look at my Google photo album from 10 years ago, it’s sparse. I looked back at my Google calendar from 2010. Crickets.
A lot changes in a decade. I don’t even have a DVD player now. I have been in the Bay Area for 8 years. My Nextdoor profile rhetorically wonders “How long do you need to live in CA before you’re no longer a New Yorker?”. After recently celebrating my 10 year wedding anniversary and 17th year overall with Yinh, I have now spent an equal amount of time with my partner as my nuclear family pre-college. In 2010, our circle of friends had very few babies. Today my 3-year-old is one of the runts of our friends’ combined litter. Today my life is rich with kids, so many nieces and nephews by both blood and bond.
But the passage of time carries everyone forward. My parents, wife’s parents, aunts and uncles, and yes even one of each of Yinh and my grandmothers are 10 years older.
We are children of a generation who gave birth young. We will be much older grandparents than our parents are today. We spent some extra time in our 20s hustling maybe. Or just having selfish fun. Tradeoffs I suppose but no sense in regrets. It’s natural to consider what I might be writing 10 years from now. When I’m 51. My oldest son will be taking the SAT. I’m already older than my mom was when I took the SAT! I’ll be shuttling Max to and from his freshman year of high school in between my doctor-recommended prostate exams and colonoscopies.
Another Year, Another Whisker
Projecting your life forward is never sentimental. Mawkishness only works in reverse. When you are young, looking forward is about ambition and hope. More money. More freedom. A house of your own. But when you cross your actuarial midpoint, the exercise drifts towards melancholy. We’ve seen enough to realize that joy balances on the head of a pin. The unannounced wind will invariably come. If you haven’t heard it whip yet, you’ve heard the tales of its force.
If this sounds sad, it’s because you compared this outlook with the illusions of youth. When you were young, you were naively impervious. I suspect this is a design feature. A timed release of feigned wisdom which you had not yet earned. Of physical beauty which belied your insecurity. When a 24-year-old bro advertises his fitness as a mate, we know nature’s mimicry transcends snakes and butterflies. When you are older, you can spot the fake.
If your beliefs from ten years ago embarrass you, congratulations. You’ve grown. Growth is paradoxical. It comes with both assuredness and humility. It must be humbling. You just learned how wrong your past self could be. But it’s also a hint. You don’t need to pretend anymore. It’s ok to be wrong. More than ok actually. Do you ever wonder what beliefs you carry today that will make future-you cringe? Squirm if you must, but let yourself grow.
A Gift Lies Ahead
Herein lies the beauty of looking ahead — grace.
You may get to be someone’s shelter from the wind. An honor to which even a precocious youth can find no shortcut. It’s as if life’s greatest privilege is reserved for the aged. For those who see their chance to serve as a reward for the mistakes they’ve made. When getting older makes you realize everything is ephemeral, then you can finally enjoy it. When you think you have forever, the present never feels urgent. If you could live forever, nothing would matter. Scarcity, far from a constraint, is actually liberation.
So rather than lament what you will inevitably lose, do what you can today to enhance the memories which are yours forever.
I say all of this knowing that in 10 years I will look back and think about how stupid I was about some things I think today. But that’s just another thing to look forward to.