1. It’s hard to explain, but for me it’s that the sense of being part of some story where you are the protagonist kind of fizzles out unceremoniously and leaves you drifting for the rest of forever.
As a kid, you’re on a path, there’s a plan laid out for you, and whether you intentionally break from the plan or follow it to the letter, there’s this linear progression of growth, and an ultimate goal to strive for. You have allies, you have enemies, you have trials that you pass or fail, you have moments of catharsis, etc. You feel like part of a beautiful narrative, like the heroes in movies and books and tv shows and stories. You feel like there’s a right and a wrong way to go, and some ultimate fate waiting for you at the end that will sum up what all of it meant.
When you get to be an adult, that illusion crumbles away as you realize that you don’t have a narrative, there is no path or plan, things aren’t always linear, and you’re nobody’s hero. There are no allies, because friends can be both good and bad for you simultaneously. There are no enemies, because frankly no one cares enough to wage a personal war for long. You don’t have a destiny. You make choices that are more a product of random chance than you want to admit, and sometimes the consequences make sense, sometimes they don’t. You may flounder around in a bunch of different directions for many years, ultimately not making any progress, and having nothing of import to show for it. You’re not a good person or an evil person – you’re just an ant wandering around looking for crumbs. No, worse than an ant, because an ant has a purpose in life, to serve its queen and colony. You can choose to align yourself with a purpose, but it may never fulfill you or reward you. And nobody will be waiting with a shiny gold medal for you if you stick to it.
Life as an adult seems less and less like an exciting adventure story and more and more like a delerious, confusing fog of random developments and passing phases that raise more questions than they answer.
Edit: I somehow put my first edit in the middle of the text, which made it weird. But it said thank you very much for the gold and comments. I appreciate all the insights and solidarity, and the disagreement too.
I haven’t always felt this way about adulthood, and I probably won’t always feel exactly this way. It’s not as if everything’s hopeless, or that I’ll never try to find a direction for my life. It’s just that the realization of how small your impact actually is, and that you are not destined for anything great, and how subject you are to forces bigger than yourself – that’s a tough pill to swallow
I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gorged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”
#10 – For the most part, what others think doesn’t matter.
Ten years ago I was a 17 year old high school student who let the opinions of other people largely influence my choices. It was a dumb way to live, considering that ten years later, those people whose opinions I held in such high regard aren’t even a part of my life anymore!
The times when someone else’s opinion of you truly matters are few and far between. Think first impressions, like meeting your significant other’s family, meeting a new client, or meeting a potential employer for a job interview.
Don’t let other people rent space in your head. What they think of you isn’t important. What matters most is how you feel about yourself.
#9 – Explore new hobbies and opportunities often.
When I cared about what other people might think about me, I never tried new things. I was afraid that if I sucked at something, I’d be embarrassed. To spare myself the embarrassment of being bad at something new, I would never explore opportunities to learn a new skill, or start a new hobby.
Looking back on it, I see it as lots of time lost!
Nowadays I’m always anxious to put myself out there and learn something new. I sing at karaoke, I enter juggling contests, and I play Euchre even though I suck at all of them. I try new things as they come up, whether it’s a new restaurant, a new beer, or a new pastime. When you try new things, you discover more and more things that you enjoy.
Currently, I have plans to master the piano, the pool table, the surfboard, and the pen in my lifetime. They’re things that I know I love. Still, if you were to introduce me to a unicycle today, I’d hop right on to try and take it for a spin, fall off, and then hop on again!
As Harold and Maude put it best, “Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.”
Here. Yes here, sit right here, in this little box. Your chair has wheels on it so you can scoot from one side of your box to the other. Perfect. Sure, go ahead, decorate your little box, make it your own, settle in. Use this box to avoid the sun. Come in here every day just as the sun rises, and stay here, safe, secure, until the sun goes down. Then return to your own life. Go back to your home and tune in to your own life. YOUR OWN LIFE. The one that takes place thousands of miles away in stadiums, studios, and servers. The one that doesn’t even know you exist.
Multiply by forty years.
2.5 kids, a beautiful wife, a dog, a house, two cars, a timeshare, and a great big 72-inch screen in your living room. You earned it. You put in your time so that you could purchase those extra channels, pull the trigger on that music festival, buy that ring, pay for that trip, neuter that mutt, afford that stroller, tip those cleaners, replace those gutters, rotate those tires, fix that fence…. pay that bill… pay that bill… pay that bill…
Isn’t there something missing here? What happened to dreams? What happened to aspirations and goals and hopes? I’m not talking about world peace here either. I’m just asking why no one around me is pursuing the life they actually want for themselves. Why is everyone fake-laughing? That joke was not, is not, and will never be funny to anyone in this conference room so why did everyone just laugh?
Real business is judgment. Judgment is figuring out who the hell the person you are talking to actually is. So why is everyone dressing up in costumes in order to interact in a professional setting? I want to see how you present yourself. Don’t dress for your job, dress for the job you want? I’d rather dress like my job does not dictate how I dress… I am who I present myself to you as, through and through, now lets talk business.
Don’t get me wrong being an upstanding member of society and raising a decent family is incredibly honorable (and apparently hard enough as is) but what about YOU? What happened to the thing you knew you could do every day for the rest of your life without a paycheck and still be happy? What happened to the grand scheme to turn that thing into a paycheck?
It didn’t go anywhere, you did.
by Nick Notas
When I began coaching, I expected people to come to me with all sorts of problems.
But I never expected so many to tell me, “Nick, I feel totally stuck. I’ve tried everything but I just don’t have what it takes. My life is hopeless, so why should I bother trying?”
These people feel completely helpless in their lives. They feel like they have no control over achieving their goals or finding fulfillment.
The first time I heard this, it hit me hard. Because I remember how trapped and powerless I felt years ago.
In the span of months, my dad had a heart attack and was forced to close our family restaurant. I had to drop out of college to support my family. My friends all moved to colleges out of state and my social circle disappeared. Then my girlfriend of two years dumped me.
It seemed like there was nothing I could do to stop the shit storm. I believed I was destined for unhappiness.
So I blamed myself. I blamed others. I wallowed in self-pity. For a long time, I did nothing and nothing changed.
I was experiencing a mindset called learned helplessness. And it kept me miserable and from getting what I wanted out of life.