I was talking with my friend who is also 33 and he was telling me about his relatively new job. He ended the description and I said, “Sounds nice.” He replied, “Well, I don’t wanna do it forever…” I then cut him off and said, “You can’t do anything forever.”
I didn’t say it to be facetious. It was one of those moments when you say something that surprises you after you say it.
Anyway, I think that it’s a super valid point. Our lives are finite. Therefore everything we do is necessarily also finite. The closest we can get to doing anything ‘forever’ is to do it for our whole lifetime. But to me there was something super insightful about what my friend said. We don’t have to look at what we’re doing right now and measure it by the metric, “will I like doing this the rest of my life?”
Everything we do can be measured simply by “am I enjoying this right now?”
When I heard ‘Livin’ On the Edge’ by Aerosmith I thought it was a super deep song. I didn’t understand what it all meant, but I had the feeling that there was deeper meaning in it. The lyric I’ve oft heard repeated is ‘life’s a journey, not a destination.’ I didn’t really understand that at all back then, but now I think I get it.
Everything we do can be recorded on a timeline or a map. And whenever we die we can theoretically measure our life by what all we did with it. Where did we go? Who did we interact with? What did we learn? What did we do? And every life is different. So each lifespan when compared to others looks different in at least a few ways.
This is by no means the only way we can measure a life, but it’s an appealing way to measure it for me. Think of your life as a series of dominos. At the end of your life you have constructed a Rube Goldberg machine. Everyone’s machine is different. Why? Part of the reason is because we are buildilng the machine as we go. We are not looking at a step by step procedure guide and aligning our actions with its instructions. Rather we take our knowledge, experience and feelings and use some kind of mental formula to compute an answer – Where to put the next domino.
I used to believe that life was about finding the one thing (or multiple things) that I wanted to do forever. In other words, there would be a point where I found a girl I would want to be with the rest of my life. I would find a career and a home and a poker group that I would like to stick with forever. But why did I think this? I don’t know. But I know that after thinking about it I don’t care. I no longer see any value in this.
Everything is temporary. The friends I hang out with the most now never knew me when I was in college or younger. I live in a city that is different than the other two cities I’ve lived in. The projects and passions I have now are not necessarily the same as the ones I had five or ten years ago.
I used to think of life like someone with a metal detector. I knew I would have to search around for a while, but I believed that one day I would find the buried treasure and then I wouldn’t have to look anymore. But now I realize that there is no end all be all treasure chest for life. Life is just a series of actions, thoughts and feelings. Things will always change.
So, now I think of it more like everyone has a compass. And whatever you want out of life right now is like magnetism. It will point the arrow on your compass in a direction. Go that way for a while. Don’t go that way because you think you’ll arrive at some particular spot and settle there forever. Go that way because your life is a constant journey and that’s the direction you want to go. You have some idea what might lie ahead, but in reality it’s possible that you could find something totally different. Maybe even something that makes your compass needle point in a different direction.
I say follow the needle. Don’t keep going west if the needle has switched to south just for the sake of going west. All directions are full of pitfalls and potential surprises. So, they’re essentially all equal save for which direction appeals to you the most. Which direction is your needle pointing? Follow it. You don’t know where it will take you exactly, but you know that’s where you want to go. So, go there.
Don’t look back at your journey and regret not taking that turn to the East when that’s what you really wanted. Just take the directions you most honestly want to go. Don’t let someone talk you out of it if that’s what you want to do.
Will this guarantee you happiness or success? No. But in my opinion it increases your chance for both. But don’t take my word for it. Decide for yourself. Do you want to follow your compass?
PS. I feel like my metaphor sounds a lot like “What Color Is Your Parachute?” I don’t know if the philosophies are the same. I never read that book. But any resemblance is coincidence.