The great Indiana Jones once said "It's not the years, it's the miles" (sounds better from Yoda though). My 35th birthday made me reflect on this. Then I started writing this article. Sure, there are plenty of “why life in my 30s is better than 20s” articles out there. That’s not my goal. I want to add my own perspective. Because life can be a pain, and it's best to avoid each other's mistakes by learning each other's experiences. So here we go...
I was accepted to graduate school last year – Masters of Business Administration at Hofstra University on Long Island. One month later, I rescinded my application and turned down the offer. Ten years ago I would have jumped at the opportunity and dove head first to further my education and my career, consequences be damned. Not anymore. Fuck that. The idea of continuing a formal education that would put me in the claustrophobic confines of 4 classroom to learn about "business" made me want to vomit. I decided, for the first time in my life, that I wanted to take a risk by steering from what I knew was a solid career advancement path. I kept my day job, but instead of “furthering my career” I put my spare time into things that really mattered to me.
- Tending to my health issues
- Giving my son a reliable amount of attention from dad
- Reading (on my 20th audio book this year)
- Writing. I wrote a book of cat poems (because why the fuck not) and started this blog.
- Generally figuring out what I want out of the next half-century of my life
Some of you may say “you’re out of your mind…you’re just a bored privileged suburbanite with no real struggles and too much time on your hands”. Not really. But even if the answer was “yes”, it wasn’t always that way.
I was afraid of the unknown as far back I can remember. My family was struggling poor immigrants and my parents wanted me to “be better” than them. This put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. I consequently joined the workforce (in the Navy) constantly nervous that I’d fuck it all up. I didn’t think of myself as valuable beyond what the organization could get from me. I was always afraid that no other place would want me with all my inexperience and lack of knowledge. People have a funny way of making you feel that way. This is why companies want younger people. Anyway, I didn’t ask many questions and wanted to prove myself at any cause, including my health. I strove to make myself "more valuable" in case "something happened" so I can fall back on “my experience”.
Well, it did…constantly.
- A bunch of people in my family died
- A colleague committed suicide
- A friend’s son died in a school shooting
- I was diagnosed with bipolar depression and ADD
- I had a circumcision at 34 (trivial…this is NOT)
- Joined and left the Navy, you can read about my wonderful experiences here(Beneath all the Honor), here (Veteran's Day) and here (Why Ships Collide)
- Got married
- Made a baby (in partnership with a kickass chick)
- Moved around a shit-ton
- Bought and sold 2 houses
- Changed jobs a bunch of times
- Then I turned 35
I was rarely, if ever prepared for any of these experiences. But I got through them, somehow. That gave me confidence. Now, I don’t care so much about my “worth”. I don’t think I’m prepared for everything. In fact I KNOW I’m prepared for precisely nothing. Therein lies my newfound self-assurance. I know, for instance, that if I lost my job, I’d do whatever it takes to replace my income. I won’t really know what that is until/if it happens – work 2 jobs, 12 hour days…whatever. I’m not bothered by having to do something completely different, even “less prestigious”. Thinking about this wasn’t good enough. To prove it to myself, I decided to drive for Uber.
I'm a corporate desk jockey and Operations Manager by day, and my coworkers and boss would probably think it’s odd. So, I didn't tell anyone. I’d leave work at 6PM and drive until midnight at the risk of running into someone I knew…4 days a week. By 6PM, the city was winding down, more or less. Some preferred to keep to themselves, but many welcomed a conversation. Those discussions were some of the most insightful and meaningful I’ve ever had.
I spoke with a woman after she visited her son on Rikers island. She told me why he’s there, and her experience dealing with it. I spoke with a gay black man about his understandings of racism and politics; as a straight white man growing up in the suburbs that insight was priceless. With a man from Venezuela, I discussed the increasing number of Americans with unfortunately idealistic views of socialism. He had recently immigrated here and brought his son over because of all the problems in that country. I had many other conversations like this, that I never would have had in my 20s. I did have to stop after a while though because the hours were getting to be too much. But I don’t regret it one bit.
I read a bit of wisdom in an article a few years ago. It basically said that if you don’t start working towards what you want to do in the next 24hrs, you never will. Even if it’s something small, like looking for tips online, or writing down goals. But if you don’t start SOMETHING NOW, you won’t do it. Because there won’t be more than 24 hrs tomorrow. That really inspired me.
All of these “alternative experiences” (the driving, the writing, the reading etc) probably took up just as much time as a master’s degree would have. I spent (and still do) almost every free minute I have on them. I write in the back of the Dojo periodically looking up at my son to give him a thumbs up…I wrote poetry after talking my son to sleep, articles while watching TV with my wife, etc. But I always try to work towards what I want every day. Because the number of days I have left isn’t getting larger.
This isn’t a motivational speech. I don’t know if what I’m doing will “pan out”. Neither is it a lecture on what you should do. I have no idea what your life experience is and for me to dictate what you should do is arrogant at best and irresponsible at worst. I’m putting my perspective out there, my miles if you will. But, just as I learned from my experience driving for Uber, learning about other’s experience is important because it humanizes people. And the more we humanize other people for ourselves, the less of a terrible place this world will be. Those are now the miles I now want to travel.