Every day we’re getting older. Part of growing is realizing that time is passing us quicker than we think, yet understanding that it is entirely relative to where we are. When I was eight or nine years old, hearing my dad say “Gee, that must have been fifteen years ago,” sounded foreign to me. I couldn’t yet perceive that concept of time. Fifteen whole years seemed abstract to me. Like when a teacher references the year 2000 B.C. or “ancient times.”
Everything, as I understood it, happened a long time ago. History didn’t seem all too important to me when I was in school. It was just a regurgitation of facts that seemed irrelevant to me. George Washington had wool teeth, Napolean lost the Battle of Waterloo, and the Romans watched fights in arenas. Great, now can we move on to more important things like math or physics?
Surely I would remember everything in my life. Only now do I realize that as you get older, the time behind you gets longer and the memories blur as you move past them. I now find myself saying things like, “Wow, that was twenty years ago.” Yet, I don’t think I’m old. The eight year old me would beg to differ…
I now realize the importance of learning History. It is vital. We must understand where we came from as a species, as a civiliazation, and as individuals. The fact that something horrific or unlikely happened in the past does not exclude it from the realm of possibly re-occuring in a different form, better or worse. As Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Humans of today are no different than humans of 3,000 or 20,000 years ago. We have the same exact characteristic traits and logistical reasoning wired in our brains and bodies. Stress from work or paying the bills is running its course the same way it would have when a hunter confronted a large predator. The allegories of The Bible or Odysseus are constructed of the moral and political problems we face in society in 2021.
I confronted several realizations as I reached a self-defined age of maturity. I don’t know how to define that other than to say that I feel I have filled a large hole of misunderstanding in my previous thought patterns. Rather than an immediate “Aha!” moment, these came gradually.
I say “self-defined” age of maturity because everyone’s maturation process is different. Some reach it early, others much later in life – and we should not judge that. Looking back, I certainly wasn’t mature at 18 or 20 years old. Back then, all of my beliefs or thoughts were experiments, assumptions, fads, or comfort-food for thought. A major development in my maturity was finding a lifelong partner. Once that fell into place, I felt I had reached a certain milestone. And I don’t mean that to say we all must adhere to societal norms of getting married, buying a house, having two and a half kids and a dog, etc. It was more a sense of self-gratification and contentment that there was no longer a pursuit of the “one.” It’s not about finding the “one,” – it’s about finding someone who compliments you, fills your voids, makes you vulnerable, makes you happy and can lift you up when you’re down. Meeting Lauren was the first time every single thought or action I made was not directed at myself. It immediately split my ego in half and began a process of self-realization. My first big life realization came when I was 25 years old.
Realization #1: Our parents are just people.
I don’t mean to say our parents just ordinary people, of course. They did raise me, for Christ’s sake. However, I came to understand that some day Lauren and I would have kids of our own, and we would not know the first thing to do. We matured a bit from our younger days sure, but we will always do silly things and not understand parts of the world. That was when I came to understand that my parents went through this exact experience at our age. They fell in love and got married, just as Lauren and I are doing. Next came children. There’s no course to take, no certification or ceremony upon birthing a newborn. You just make a baby and do your best to make sure it doesn’t die or become a crazy person.
The younger me thought my parents were magic people. My dad seemed to know everything about everything, and I couldn’t understand how one human could hold that much knowledge in their brain, let alone accumulate it over such a short life. My mom was always there, for everything. She knew when I needed something, and was there when I needed her. Often times I was probably a brat who took them for granted, but they never complained. Part of maturing is understanding that you may be a brat at times, and you can’t afford to take your parents or your family for granted, because they are the most important people in your life.
I urge everyone to read Tim Urban’s The Tail End to truly understand how little time we have to spend with those we love. It’s one of the most important articles you will every read, and I promise you will not forget it’s message.
Realization #2: We’re all wearing different glasses
Growing up in a certain environment shapes who you are as a person. What I know of the world is how I have lived and where I’ve been. There are so many variations in the ways one could live, and it is completely subject to chance. But this subconciously shapes your entire perception of everything in life. Every person’s life and experiences vary so greatly, it’s as if we are all wearing different pairs of prescription lenses through life.
Your closest friends and much of your family likely have very similar prescriptions, and you likely share a similar worldview, both figuratively and literally. You grew up in the same geographic area, experienced the same big events, had comparible parental figures and guidance throughout your childhood, and may even have complimentary features and ancestral backgrounds.
Which is part in parcel how bigotry or implicit biases exist. It’s natural to see someone who is different and judge them. They have totally different prescription lenses. “How can you see the world so bizarrely differently than me and my cohort?” Maturing and developing a sense of non-ego stems from this realization, and it takes some people a lifetime to understand. I am by no means perfect. I enjoy educating myself on evolutionary biology because it helps to put into perspective of some of our most basic human charateristics are still present in everyday society. If we see someone who looks different than us, we automatically see that as a threat. That’s natural in some sense, as it is literally encoded in our genes. That’s not something we can “train” away through corporate videos. We need to understand that we no longer live in a jungle or predatory world, and to trust the better angels of our nature. We must understand that human beings are all the same at their base level. We all have the same cravings not just for basic life needs (food, shelter, etc.) but also for acknowledgement and acceptance from our parents and peers. Every single person whether black, brown, white, male, female, transgender, gay, lesbian, etc. is in need of one simple thing: acceptance.
That old man you see complaining to the clerk at the grocery store – he was once just a tiny baby who was molded into the world by parents and peers who may have inflicted upon him hatred, anger, or resentment – all of which he’s still carrying to this day. Are we in control of our emotions and personality? To a degree, yes. But we’re also in some ways shackled by the characteristics our parents, peers, and environment imparted on us.
Realization #3: Strive to be content, not happy
Life is fragile. Tragically, I think we need truly tough times to appreciate the great times. Happiness is a high just as depression is low. You will likely never be happy one hundred percent of the time. Instead, we should strive for contenment: being content with what we have, no with what we want.
I find myself getting anxious over trivial things. What’s the next thing I want? A house, a car, a raise, a new TV? We tend to extend our lives and happiness into leaps. “I will be happy once I get that house, or that promotion, or that next thing.” I struggle to remind myself to be content with what I have now. It sounds cliché but clichés are clichés for a reason – because they’re true. Pay attention to clichés when you hear them. “Laughter is the best medicine.” “The grass is always greener on the other side.” You may roll your eyes at these phrases that are used so often they’ve become virtually meaningless. But pay attention. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.
“Be happy with what you have.” It should be so easy. But it’s not. We’re always yearning or striving for that next challenge or goal. Former UK Prime Minister, William Gladstone understood this well, writing
“Be happy with what you have and are, be generous with both, and you won’t have to hunt for happiness.“
Realization #4: Everyone has a secret
The more I began to learn about addiction and how prevalent it is in adults all around us, the more I realized that everyone is hiding a secret in some form or another. It may be a something you are embarrassed about, it may be a story that reveals a contradictory characteristic of yourself that your friends wouldn’t believe, it may be a passion you want to pursue but know you’ll be judged critically by your family.
The truth is, every single person is hiding something. Whether it’s pain, sadness, or resentment. Treat everyone you meet with this fact and you can improve all relationships.
Realization #5: We need faith in our lives
When I was younger, I thought religion was stupid. What I now realize was that I just didn’t like the way catholic school jams it down your throat. And not for nothing… church mass is boring as hell (pun may or may not have been intended there, I’m not really sure).
As I’ve matured I have come to realize the importance of of faith. Everyone’s faith is different. For some, it’s a strong belief in karma, or reincarnation. For others, faith may be adhering to the moral values laid down in religious texts. For me, I’ve developed my own sort of faith in a higher power. I don’t like to say “being” because that makes it sound as if there is some master puppeteer above us pulling the strings. But I do believe there are certain energy fields inherit around us. Sound waves, gamma rays, etc. I think there are positive and negative waves of emotion. I think there are waves of extreme order and total chaos. How these work, I have no idea. And to describe it to someone else in my fullest extent, I would sound like a looney-toon. But then again, don’t most religions?
Faith is important and you may go years without understanding it’s importance. Unfortunately, it is sometimes an extraordinary event that becomes the catalyst for this realization. A death of a loved one may may reignite your faith, or make you question your beliefs. An event can be so impactful that it can make someone shed their lifelong atheism in a matter of days. Death, birth, and significant struggle in life will always bring you back to your core tenants. What is important to you?
I believe in a Roman/Greek system of soft philosophy; the sort of belief in which virtue is its own reward. Although this isn’t necessarily faith-based or religious, its tenets develop a social model for a stoic person: to strive to be a person who combines the qualities of wisdom, upright dealing, and courage; to be immune from life’s gyrations as you will be superior to the wounds of some of life’s dirty tricks.
“You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there.”
Funny enough, I heard that quote in the Netfix action movie, Extraction, with Chris Hemsworth (solid movie by the way, lots of violence), but regardless I loved the message. It’s a great reminder that it’s not our problems that defeat us, it’s our inability to come up with resourceful solutions to them.
Everyone should strive to be remain a kid at heart, and accept the things you do not know. Be open to everything and everyone. Be curious. Question everything. Never stop learning. Read as much as you can. Take your health seriously. Tell those you love that you love them more often.