Have you really gotten that much “older” in the last ten years? I sure feel that way. At 27 I’m utterly embarrassed by what I remember of my 17-year-old self. What’s more is that right now I have an intrinsic sense that I’ve reached my full mental maturity. Details may change but the person that I am is set in stone, that’s my feeling. But I know that I’ve had that feeling before. I’ve probably had that feeling my whole life, and at the same time I know that I’ve had many life-changing experiences, both sudden and gradual, along the way. In an interview that I heard recently someone said that at 32 they were young and reckless, implying that at their current age (I don’t remember who it was but I want to say they were in their early forties) they had finally grown up. This comment sparked a flurry of thought in me. First I was ecstatic, then frustrated, then skeptical. Ecstatic because it meant that maybe I wasn’t done “growing up,” that I could still re-work my vices and virtues to become a wholly better person (with at least 5 more years to be as young and reckless as I want). Frustrated because I didn’t want to wait until my forties to finally be a capital “a” Adult. Skeptical because a bigger question arises. Why do we treat our past and future selves as something “else,” obscured by a fog that surrounds our present?
I remember thinking about the “older/younger” relationship quite a bit back in my K-12 years. It was confusing that to a 7th grader, the 8th graders seem so much older, but when I became an 8th grader I didn’t feel any older. And college freshman, who seemed like they might as well have been my parent’s age when I was in high school, seem like kids to me now. So this “age relativity” that permeates our thinking is apparently full of contradictions, and this might be a mentality worth changing. This 7-minute talk by Dan Gilbert that was recently featured on the TED Radio Hour podcast shed a lot of light on the issue for me:
In my immense self improvement to-do list, “take a broader view of time” has been hovering near the top for awhile, and this talk gives some concreteness to the task. I think it’s incredibly valuable to try and push back that fog surrounding the present, so that I can relive memories more vividly and more fully grasp where my present is taking me. Some ideas on how to do that – keep a journal, take the time to remember the details of my favorite meal of the last week, make detailed plans of how I’m going to meet my next research deadlines. That last one depends on me finishing this and getting back to work, so at this point I’ll ask all zero of my readers to chime in.