turning 30 and living in the good old days (now)

There’s a song from a show me and Kristen like called “I Want You to Change.” The chorus goes–

Tryin’ doesn’t mean you’re changing

Doesn’t mean the whole thing’s getting fixed, just means you want it to

Tryin’ doesn’t mean it’s better

Doesn’t mean you’re magically the person that I want from you

Tryin’ doesn’t make you perfect

Really, it’s the minimum you do for those you love

Tryin’, I can see you tryin’

And no one ever told you sometimes trying isn’t good enough

I’ve thought about these lyrics for months now. We tend to think that if something is off, or bad, or out of place, “try” to fix it. So we read books or try to develop new habits or seek out counsel– we’re all “trying.” And I fall into the misconception that trying is good enough, it means we’re doing something instead of nothing. But this song exposes the limits of that idea: trying doesn’t mean we’re necessarily changing or that “the whole thing’s getting fixed.” So trying is a start, but it’s not the end. We could be trying forever.

Today I turn 30. When I was a kid, 30 might as well have been 60. In my eyes adults all belonged to the category of “not kids.” When I was in high school, 30 still seemed far off…I had my whole 20s ahead of me. When I was in my 20s, my 30s lurked behind the corner, but they were still out of sight and out of mind. And yet, I never really had a “plan” for my 20s. I was never going to tour Europe or win a Super Bowl or even write some groundbreaking book. Our 20s are sold to us as some kind of last hurrah, a chance to “have fun” before we’re forced to start taking life seriously. But I never really saw it this way. I signed my first contract when I was 21, coaching some athletes who didn’t know they were only three years younger than me. I married at 22, became a head coach at 25, a dad at 26 (I think; math is hard), and a full-time college student yet again at 27. Those were the things I was waiting for, and too many times I fell into the trap of looking at the forest and missing the trees (did I use that right?). This isn’t to say my 20s were full of regret and missed opportunities. I got everything I wanted, whether by luck or hard work or some combination of the two. But life sucks us into this trap of “What’s next?” You get married, when are you having kids? You get the job you wanted, but is there a better job laying in wait? You have your first child, when should we have a second? For me, I started graduate school, and the thought became, when can I finish school and get a job? When/(if) I get a job, could I use that as a stepping stone for a better one? 

This pattern is really a con that makes us think one more job, one more kid, one more house can make us feel complete or content. And all along, we (I) have everything we need, and usually everything we want. So now that I turn 30, I’m reflecting on the last decade of my life. If someone had told me at 19 that within the next ten years I would be married, with two kids, a few jobs under my belt, and nearly(ish) done with a PhD, it would have sounded like a dream. Of course, this isn’t everyone’s dream, and it’s not the only version of the good life, but it would have exceeded any notion of where I thought my life was going. And yet I still sometimes fall into the trap of “What’s next?” I don’t really know the point I’m making, other than to say that I’m starting to learn to enjoy the journey; that the journey is the destination, as cliche as that is. 

The day Revelry was born changed my life. I remember thinking even in the hospital that “this is gonna go quickly.” She’s almost four now, and I’m doing the math: how many days, how many years left in the house do I have with her? Holding her in the hospital, I vowed to not miss a second with her. I’ve only broken that vow about 18 thousand times since then, as every parent does, but for the most part I can remind myself that moments with her, and Kristen, and Vera, and life in general, are so fleeting. The Bible says we’re a mist and vapor: here, and then gone. There are the moments you never want to end: when she would fall asleep on me as a baby…her first smile…her first laugh, steps, and words. When she woke up this morning she went to put a 3 on her calendar since she knew it was my birthday. She made me a card and played an Office trivia game with me. She knows the names Michael, Dwight, Jim and Pam. Of course, there are the times whose end you wouldn’t mind speeding up: the fits and tantrums and spills and chaotic dinners with strangers staring at you. But those are part of the journey, too. In the finale of The Office, Andy says “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.” Some of my good old days are gone, but I’m in others right now, and I don’t want to miss them. Another job or house or fantasy football championship isn’t going to make me complete; I’ve already won a championship so nothing else to do there anyway. 

There’s a movie called About Time where the main character can time travel. He sometimes goes back in time to make a better decision, or one that will bring a different outcome. But he learns that after he has kids, he can’t change the past because that would change the present. So he stops using this superpower and eventually just lives every day in such a way that he wouldn’t want to do it differently. The movie ends with him and his wife waking up in the morning, joking about who will get the kids up and who will make coffee. Our days may not seem exceptional, but we’re usually in the good old days right now. I don’t want to turn 40 and think about all the times in my 30s that I thought, “What’s next?” Eventually, what’s next is just the end of the line. So I want to relish and revel each day and each moment…making coffee, getting the girls out of bed, cleaning up spills and replying to emails. It may not seem glamorous, but it’s the seemingly mundane that is the stuff of life. Of course, we’ll have those days that stand out, and those days we never want to relive, but it’s everything in between that makes up most of “real life.” 

Where was I going with all of this? I don’t really remember. I’m definitely no sage just for turning 30, but hopefully we learn from our mistakes along the way and can try to do better. “Trying doesn’t mean you’re changing/Doesn’t mean the whole thing’s getting fixed, just means you want it to.” We should try, but we should realize that trying isn’t everything. I think even more than trying, success is about a mental state of mind that helps us live each day with contentment. We don’t get to take anything with us when we die, so all of the anxiety about jobs and status and popularity are really immaterial concerns in the grand scheme of eternity. The great Gordo reminded listeners the other day that eventually, everyone’s grave goes untended. This can be a bleak thought, but it is also a call to do what you can, with who you can, while you can. We’re not all Michael Jordan or Lajon Brames. And I’m sure even those two have days where they would switch with you in an instant. So maybe I’m old now by the standards of my teenage self, but there’s (hopefully) plenty more days to come. Life can beat you down, but we also have the option to sort of make our own realities. We can’t always control What’s next, but we can live in the good old days now. We can try. 

I was so much older then

I’m younger than that now.