January has been miserable. We've had only a few sunny days which were of course bitterly cold. The rest of the time it's been cloudy, or raining, or both. Yes, raining. It hasn't been quite cold enough to snow. It's just been wet, cold, and cloudy, week in and week out. How cheerful. I'm ready for spring. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I'm ready for spring.
Being inside all the time has let me do a lot of thinking, though. And I've made a lot of discoveries about myself and my situation, revelations which are rocking my world.
The first one came early yesterday. It had been creeping up on me steadily for months, perhaps years. I had the sense that something was wrong with my world. There was a glitch in the Matrix, but I didn't know what. Then, yesterday, it hit me. I had spent the previous evening screwing around on the Web instead of doing anything constructive. And I'd spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of previous evenings doing the exact same thing. Since the day I'd gotten my first computer game, I'd spent a heck of a lot of time wasting time: playing Angry Birds, Halo, Dark Forces II and Serious Sam, or watching YouTube videos, anime, and movies I'd seen 30 times.
Yesterday I realized, at long last, that all that time could have been spent elsewhere. Furthering my writing career, for instance.
I was on the verge of remonstrating with myself about the weeks of wasted time in my ledger when another revelation popped into my head. This one was brought on by an excellent article I'd read on The Art of Manliness. The article stated that the secret to getting the most out of life was devoting all of your mind and body to the task at hand. If you regret the mistakes of your past or worry about the future, you're only devoting half of yourself to your work. Don't do that. Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Focus and you will be fulfilled.
That hit home. My shoulders relaxed. A grateful, relieved sigh escaped my bosom. And right then, the greatest epiphany of all sprang from nowhere and pounced upon my ready mind.
For many years, I have been a colossal worrywart. I've been hounding myself to do better, to pick up my life somehow, to get it all together. I thought I was lazy and shiftless. I thought my life was passing me by. I knew I had to do something, but I didn't know what. If I could just get going with my life, everything would sort itself out. I thought I had to hurry up and do things to be successful and stop fretting.
But yesterday, I could finally see that I've placed a lot of undue pressure on myself. This is a big honkin' deal. The first step to fixing a problem is realizing you have one, or so they say. Up until now I didn't even realize any of this. Now I can see clearly. All this time I was stressing out about things which were beyond my control. Ever since I graduated college and got stuck in my parents' basement for six months, searching for a job that wasn't there, I've been living under a cloud of self-doubt, frustration, impatience, and despair. I felt ashamed that I couldn't find a job. I kicked myself for majoring in a competitive field like journalism instead of something like zoology, which could have netted me a job much sooner. A million times, I regretted returning from Korea and blowing all my money on a pilot's license and bartender's school. If I'd just held onto my savings, relocated to Alaska, and focused on starting a career, where might I be now?
I'd been extremely hard on myself. For no reason. What's worse, though, are the uncertainties and regrets which have tormented me all these years. The "what-ifs" wouldn't leave me alone. I felt like my life was passing me by. This feeling hit me the hardest this January: It's 2013. I'll be 27 in eight months. My career hasn't started. My résumé is pathetic. I haven't accomplished anything. My dreams are slipping farther and farther away. Do I still have time to live a full life?
Yesterday, I scribbled something on Facebook about my self-discoveries. In response, a friend of mine (who used to work for a Korean newspaper) linked me to an Internet forum. In that forum, a young man asked the world: "I'm 27. Is it too late to have a full life?"
I was stunned. It was suddenly apparent that this was exactly the question I had been unable to articulate, yet was stressing about.
The answer to the young man's question was even more mind-blowing:
Too late for what?
If you slept through your 26th birthday, it's too late for you to experience it. It's too late for you to watch "LOST" in its premiere broadcast. (Though, honestly, you didn't miss much.) It's too late for you to fight in the Vietnam War. It's too late for you to go through puberty or attend nursery school. It's too late for you to learn a second language as proficiently as a native speaker. It's probably too late for you to be breastfed.
It's not too late for you to fall in love.
It's not too late for you to have kids.
It's not too late for you to embark on an exciting career or series of careers.
It's not too late for you to read the complete works of Shakespeare; learn how to program computers; learn to dance; travel around the world; go to therapy; become an accomplished cook; sky dive; develop an appreciation for jazz; write a novel; get an advanced degree; save for your old age; read "In Search of Lost Time"; become a Christian, then an atheist, then a Scientologist; break a few bones; learn how to fix a toilet; develop a six-pack ...
Honestly, I'm 47, and I'll say this to you, whippersnapper: you're a fucking kid, so get over yourself. I'm a fucking kid, too. I'm almost twice your age, and I'm just getting started! My dad is in his 80s, and he wrote two books last year.
You don't get to use age as an excuse. Get off your ass!
Also, learn about what economists call "sunk costs." If I give someone $100 on Monday, and he spends $50 on candy, he'll probably regret that purchase on Tuesday. In a way, he'll still think of himself as a guy with $100 -- half of which is wasted.
What he really is is a guy with $50, just as he would be if I'd handed him a fifty-dollar bill. A sunk cost from yesterday should not be part of today's equation. What he should be thinking is this: "What should I do with my $50?"
What you are isn't a person who has wasted 27 years. You are a person who has X number of years ahead of you. What are you going to do with them?
Zounds. I can't believe I didn't see this before. It's so simple. I haven't wasted 27 years. They just turned out differently than I thought they would. More importantly, I've got about 60 good years left.
I sat back in my chair after reading the older man's reply, utterly gobstoppered. I felt somewhat chagrined, too. This was precisely what my mother had tried to tell me. I had often confessed my worries, doubts, and insecurities to her. These always revolved around one thing: the irrational fear that I simply hadn't done enough in my first quarter-century of existence. And always, like the divine being she is, my mother would soothe my soul. She would tell me that I had plenty of time left, and that I hadn't wasted the time I had already spent. She told me not to worry so much. She told me to enjoy the journey. She told me to quit stressing and just see where the road took me. She knew, all along, that I would achieve my goals someday, and she told me as much.
I can't express to you what the older man's words—and their similarity to my mother's—did to me. They completely rearranged the furniture of my mind. They set out cool drinks and tasty snacks on all the tables. And they livened up the decor, too. Finally, they tore a huge hole in the roof and let the sun and stars shine in.
At a single stroke, I saw that my mother had been right all along. I saw that I had been fooling myself: I had always believed that I was a sanguine, easygoing guy. Now I saw myself for the insecure, self-obsessed, pettifogging worrywart that I was. And I saw how pointless it all had been. All those worries, all those regrets, all that stress about my life's direction past and present—it was all for naught. All the negativity I had unleashed upon my friends and family (and Miss H) was pointless. All this time I'd had nothing to prove, nothing to worry about, nothing to gain by burdening myself with that mental baggage.
Well, that's it. No more. Now I know better. It's time for a change around here, yes siree. I think I'll keep that hole in the roof. Then I'll never forget the sun and stars again. I'll let the warm, sunny breezes blow in and warm me; the winter winds will cool my fevered mind. From now on I'm going to actually do what I thought I was doing all along: work toward my goals with all my might, but not obsess over where I am, where I was, and where I could be. So what if I haven't achieved many of my goals yet? I'll get there eventually. From here on out, my main focus is enjoying the journey. Even if I have many years left, each moment is precious. I won't forsake the present for the promise of the future anymore. I'll take a slow boat to China instead of a rocket-ship.
So shall it be written, so shall it be done. Today heralds the triumphant return of the cheerful, stress-free Mr. Post, and the long-awaited rise of a hardworking, industrious, and dedicated man. I will neither regret my past, nor give myself cause to regret the future. No more dilettantism for me: I'm going to throw myself toward my goals, but remember to sniff the flowers on the way. I've chosen a road, and I'm going to saunter boldly along it, sinuous and misty though it may be. The sunny weather's on its way.
Wish us luck...