About 30 is when you realize your parents will die. It starts to hit them, too. In the past few years, I’m 31, I’ve started to have more frank conversations with my parents. I started to see them in totality, including their flaws. I started to see some of the results of the things they couldn’t fully admit to themselves as they aged, things that are hard to admit.
My father has been a fledgling entrepreneur for the past three decades. Always an optimist, but could never quite piece together the foundations for a solid business. He had a stroke recently. Also has diabetes. One of the last times I spoke to him in person I could tell that it finally hit him — “eventually” may never come.
My mom graduated high school a year early. She has two Masters degrees. For the majority of her career, she was a successful corporate employee making close to six-figures a year. But, she was a spender. Never saved her money and got into debt. She lost her corporate career in the housing market crash and never quite got it back. Her house got foreclosed. One conversation I had with her, I asked her how she felt. She said “old.”
“I didn’t think it was going to be like this. I thought that if I did everything right everything would work out. Now, I’m just old.”
These are not tragic lives, but these are often the lives we find ourselves living as we get older. Not depressed, but regretful. And living the consequences of not admitting things to ourselves that we should’ve admitted a long time ago. Heels dug in. Sinking. Stuck. Quietly desperate.
The process of starting a new chapter in your life can be because you might have to admit certain things you don’t want to admit. Doubly painful because admitting those things means you mismanaged your own life. Who wants to think about what? No one. But, it might be the only way out.
I think about my parents often. I think about what I struggle to admit, the changes I’ve made because of the things I’ve admitted, and what lies ahead for me based on my ability to be honest with myself.
Look at some of these examples and ask yourself if you’re telling yourself the truth.
“Love and work…work and love, that’s all there is… love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” – Sigmund Freud
Your work is a third of your life. What you choose to do matters as well as why you choose to do it. And it’s hard to admit that you’ve chosen the wrong thing to do or you’ve chosen it for the wrong reason.
It’s never the job itself, but the way the job impacts your life. Only you know the answer. And the best way to admit you chose the wrong career is to think far into the future.
The idea of staying in the same career trajectory terrified me so much that I managed to do the work to escape it. I paid attention to the people much older than me and tried to perceive the way they felt about their jobs. Often, I see people with these ‘shark eyes,’ just dead. Or, I see smiling eyes with a hint of sadness and passive aggression, wishing things were different but unwilling to do anything about it.
Yes, you need healthcare. You need to take care of your family. You can’t just up and quit. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just telling you what I’ve seen and how important it is to get this part of your life right.
“You can love them, forgive them, want good things for them … but still move on without them.” — Mandy Hale
I knew I was going to get divorced while standing on the altar. How ridiculous is that? Our daughter was two years old at the time. I got married for her. And for a variety of other misguided reasons. I thought I could stick it out long enough to see her through adolescence, or some BS like that. Insanity.
I caved to the pressure of getting married. Prior to getting engaged, I told my girlfriend about a half dozen times that I didn’t want to get married. She wanted it, her family wanted it, I felt like society wanted it, but I didn’t want it. But I also wasn’t man enough to walk away. Selfishly, I wanted to stay with her in limbo for the foreseeable future.
Cutting things off earlier would have saved both of us a ton of pain (we both came to the same conclusion that we were doomed from the start). But, as you know, relationships are a lot harder to get out of than they are to get into.
Again, I can’t give you relationship advice, but I can talk about the patterns, the red flags. Co-dependency, scared to be alone. The feeling like you’re staying in a relationship out of obligation. Uneasy comfort. Being able to make sense of your life even if you’re unhappy.
Almost always, deep down in your bones, you know. And the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be and the longer it will take you to get over it.
“When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” – Thomas Sowell
I’m writing this article on a MacBook. Most people own a computer of some sort even if it’s in the form of a smartphone. I live in an apartment with heat and central air, recent inventions. Have a car, a T.V., and name brand clothes, like most people in society. I also have access to the internet which can provide an answer to any question, a solution to damn near any problem, and a path to a better life.
Many people are in a similar situation than me, somewhere on that bell curve of working class to upper-middle. How do I know you’re not poor? Because you’re reading a blog post. Even if you are poor, the fact that you’re reading a blog post shows me that you have it in you to figure out a way to not be poor forever, even if it’s hard.
No, I don’t think coal miners in the Appalachian mountains can suddenly pivot to coding. No, I don’t believe it’s equally likely for someone growing up in the hood to be as successful as someone who graduated from an Ivy League school. I’m definitely not saying life is fair.
But I am saying, regardless of your station in life, your decision making and behavior has some level of influence over your current circumstances. To what degree? I don’t know. I’m shying away from making any sort of prescription because I want you to think about it.
We live in a society where blame and scapegoating are at an all-time high, even though our living standards as a whole are at an all-time high. You can blame whoever you want to blame — the one percent, the patriarchy, the glass ceiling, Trump, racism, the economy, your boss, the way your parents raised you, your anxiety. It’s a free country. And you’re probably right. But, you still have to be you now don’t you?
Regardless of how true it actually is, I’ve found it more useful to adopt the attitude that everything is on you.
“People are strange: They are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice.” – Charles Bukowski
Time wasted in the wrong job, with the wrong partner, having the wrong attitude. Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. I do the same thing you do — ruminate, stew, play those mental movies in your head about how your life could be right now had you made the right decision years back. Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock.
Few feelings feel worse than the feeling of squandered time and opportunity. Over the years I’ve received tons of emails from readers. Some of them absolutely break my heart. People telling me they feel like they’ve wasted their entire lives. I get a sense that for some of these people, I’m the only one they’ve shared these feelings with. Admitting it to themselves is hard enough, let alone sharing it with anyone.
There’s no correct way to live life or balance the different components of it. Some time is well spent doing nothing, enjoying the moment, being with family and friends. Other time is well spent pushing hard toward something that matters to you. But we all have a tendency to mismanage that time from time to time. We’re not actually present with our friends and family because we’re anxious and distracted all the time. And we don’t push for our higher goals for the same reason.
Is there some ultimate remedy to snapping out of it? Nope. Just the realization that you’re as young as you’ll ever be and the oldest you’ve ever been.
“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” – Chuck Palahniuk
Everyone is selling you a dream. Even people like me. I’m only giving you insights on how to live based on my perspective. Who the hell am I to tell you how to live, right?
You get hit in all different directions, different dreams people are trying to sell you. You don’t have to buy my dream or anyone else’s. Pick the one that suits you best, but be discerning.
Since I’m giving you my perspective, I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the most pernicious dream. The great thing about writing is that I can share my thoughts with you and you get to decide whether or not I’m right. This is an inside job you’re working on.
I call this “dream” the American nightmare. Let me paint a caricature of the person living the nightmare. Crap job. 10-hour blocks of the day either going to, working at, or coming home from that job. Incessant distractions, almost zero time in the present moment, Netflix, and chill with a side of a smartphone running on an infinite loop. Processed food, pills, uppers to get ready for the day, and downers to escape it. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Barbecues with Bill and Mary. Bill has the E-Class Benz, but you only have the C-Class. Bill and Mary’s home is slightly bigger than yours. You shouldn’t care, but you do. So you work a little harder. Everyone in the neighborhood works a little harder to impress everyone else in the neighborhood that they don’t even like. You all die.
You can adjust the story up or down based on income class, but you know what I’m saying. It’s up to you to decide the difference between the truth and the pretty little lies you’re told. Being honest with yourself is the most difficult thing you can do, ever, but it’s also the most liberating.