15 years after I graduated from college, my life seemed unrecognizable

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I’m usually decently alright at organizing blog posts because, well, I do it every fucking day of my life … but this one is a challenge. I’ll give it a shot, though. Let’s see how it goes.

OK, so … 15 years, for those of you with solid math skills — that’s May 17, 2003. You factor in my birthday and I’m 37, tell people I’m 35/36, periodically act 19–22, potentially have a health somewhere in the 40s, etc. You get the picture.

I didn’t want to make this a “What I’ve Learned” post, because frankly no one should really care what I’ve learned. My journey from here to there is extremely specific and contains a bunch of elements that other people’s would not contain, so I’m not sure there’s any broader lessons in my own journey. Plus, I’m only “conventionally successful” by a couple of standard life metrics, so it’s not like you’re reading Warren Buffett here.

“The world has changed” posts are also tedious. Of course it has. Michael Jackson died in that span! (That was facetious.) DT became President. (That wasn’t.) The American middle class eroded. 15 years is a grain of sand in human history, but a lot of stuff happens in there.

So I think I’m gonna split the middle here with some general observations about the evolution from “I still party with my friends most nights and live with them/near them” to “OK, a lot of people have three kids and a mortgage.” Entire books have been written about this and this is probably going to end up a 700-word blog post, so go easy on me.

High level on me for a quick second

Here are the “big life things” that I’ve got in my 15 (everyone different):

OK. That’s me. Onward.

The 28-to-35 gap

I think this is where most of it shifts.

I’d say the two big “life-changers” of your late 20s/early 30s for most would be (a) marriage and then (b) children. You could say “mortgage,” sure, but many educated white people end up with a mortgage, and not all end up married or with kids, so I’m going to ride or die with those two life events.

The average age of first marriage for a woman right now is 27; it’s 29 for men. If you go up to “college-educated women,” that’s 28. “College-educated white women” is almost 29.

Now, age of first birth for a college-educated woman (same article link) is 30. And, in fact, according to 2016 CDC data, more women are having their first child between 30 and 34 than essentially ever before. That’s probably tied to a shift in the whole “You have to have a baby by X-Date” narrative.

So obviously these are aggregate numbers averaged out. Everyone is different. I also haven’t even touched the racial/education component here (and I’m not going to).

For most college-educated people (all races), your life is going to — on average — change between 28 and 33, give or take. And probably change in every conceivable way.

Now follow this bouncing ball:

OK. See how the biggest break-apart occurs around 28 to 35? That’s first kid, first house, relocated for work territory. One of my good friends moved about six times in just that span, to 3 of the 4 corners of America. You think that doesn’t impact friendships and overall quality of life?

Connection to work

If you’ve read this blog once, you probably understand I think the way we structure work is stupid and could be improved.

Our current ways of working actually make no sense anthropologically, but we can gloss that over.

Thing is: working is a way of life / necessity in the first-world, and that’s where I reside. I ain’t got no trust fund.

I think as I’ve gotten older in the 22–37 sense, one thing I’ve always observed about a lot of guys is that they take work super seriously. It’s religion to them. Being a workaholic is a good thing.

I have some theories on why most guys are like that, but personally that’s never been me. I view work as a means to an end. I’d rather have more time with friends and to build new relationships. Work just allows that. And if so much of work is people shifting priorities on you every 14 seconds, who really wants to wed themselves to that bullshit?

That’s probably where my path has most differentiated from peeps I know — that and, ya know, divorce.

Learn from failure, build community

You gonna fuck up. A LOT.

Everyone does.

EVERYONE.

People sometimes ask me why I write about this stuff so much if I’m not a therapist or some self-help guru.

Because:

I’m just doing what I can. I’m not trying to “impart life lessons” because, again, who would really care? These are just casual observations from a decade and a half.

The dog walk dream

When I was getting separated/divorced, I had the same dream probably five or six times in 20–25 days.

Here’s the layout of the dream:

My dog is currently (not in the dream, in current real life) about 2–3. That breed lives to be about 10. So let’s say my dog is alive for another 8 years.

This dream probably happens about 6–7 years from now.

In the dream I’m walking this older version of my dog, and my ex rolls up with her new person/husband/whatever … and a baby.

Now at the time this was all happening, I’m 35–36, I don’t have kids, most of my friends do, every time I log onto Facebook that’s all I see, etc.

I also had just read this New Yorker article about how you’re biologically meaningless if you hit 40 and don’t have a kid.

So I got all this life shit going on and I keep having this dream. It was a fucked up time, you know?

I told a few people and didn’t get much back in the way of guidance aside from “WHOA, OK.”

(People are pretty limited at giving good advice in tougher times.)

Finally one of my friends says this to me:

“Well that moment could theoretically happen. It’s not a reach at all. So who are YOU going to be in that moment?”

That one line — “Who are YOU going to be in that moment?” — changed a ton of thinking for me.

Life is about moments

So live those. Try to maximize those. Many will miss/fail. But some are great.

Look, deep thought here: life is hard.

People die.

Relationships end.

Friends come and go.

Experiences change.

Money drops.

But life is also awesome in many respects.

You meet new people.

You learn about yourself.

Things change for the better.

You accomplish stuff you never thought you could.

The whole deal is a wave. A roller coaster.

And most of us don’t get to skip the second act, where everything happens.

So here’s what to do:

The bottom line: We spend so much time at work worried about stuff like how busy we are or whether Nate tagged us in some project management tool. A lot of it is bullshit. We then spend time outside of work worried about what Mark wants from our deal or whether Cindy looks at her phone too much. We posture about all this stuff and make it an issue where it isn’t. It’s dumb. Everyone is full of shit to some extent. Everyone is also just trying to live their life the best they believe they can. Do the same. Don’t worry about the rest of the sludge.

Here’s to another 15, right?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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