For the past several years, it feels as if my life has been an unmitigated failure. (I imagine it could objectively be considered that as well.) I’ve dealt with chronic unemployment, deep depression, and high anxiety about what path my life should take. Seeing as how it’s so easy to look back on one’s younger self and give such certain advice, I wonder if, as a thought exercise, it would help me to consider what advice my much older self would give to my current self. I’m 27 now, so let’s go 23 years into the future (Good Lord, I’m only 23 years away from 50!) to when I will be a half-century old. Assuming I don’t die in some accident, which as of late has sounded like such sweet relief. Maybe the first bit of advice will be to not sound so dramatic…
Okay, here we go. Changing form now. Becoming grayer and balder. The life in my eyes a bit more mellow, a bit more listless. My movements a bit slower, and my pants a bit higher. My voice a bit more haggard and my penis not as puppy-like—energetically and myopically addicted to sniffing out potential sexual partners. More trips ‘round the fiery ball on the watery rock. Here we go now, 23 years into the future…
“23 years ago… 23 years ago… what should I have done, you ask? Hmmmm… [I’m so thoughtful in the future!] I would tell myself to not take everything so personally. Every insult flung in my direction stung for so long. I held onto insults as if they were diamonds. Precious and rare. Rejections, from jobs, from women, from contests, I held onto them so tightly that my whole body clenched and tensed and curled, often times into the fetal position in my bed or under a desk. But those insults and rejections were not rare, and they were not precious. They were common and useless like pennies. Gather up hundreds of them and you still wouldn’t have had much. Yes, young man. The insults and rejections were pennies and they should’ve been tossed into a glass jar on your bookshelf and left there, forgotten, as the diminutive cost of human interaction.
“Go, and explore the world on your own. It’s better with friends, but if they’re unwilling or simply unavailable, go on your own. Pick a new destination to visit each month. Come Hell or high water, gorge yourself on that destination; on its foreign landscapes and strange people and local customs. Any chance to travel, take it. The longer you’re away from home, the better. Journal it. Journal all of your experiences. For no other reason than to help me remember them now. If you want to see the starry skies strewn with God’s fistful of glowing white jewels blanketed above the Martian landscape of Joshua Tree, plan to do it and do it.
“And speaking of plans; make plans and keep them. Make lots of plans. Planning is planting. Each block in your calendar is a seed. Plan out your days in advance and watch them grow when you’re wandering through them in the present moment.
“Be furious about being busy. When I think about it, the times I never regret are the times spent on a product executed to completion. When people ask you what you’ve been doing with your time, have treasures to show them. Videos or paintings or stories or photographs. Show them physical manifestations of your love.
“Be a kid! Be a kid! Be a kid! Be a kid in your mind as often as you can. Be in awe of the world. Be playful and creative and when you’re done with a full day of hard work and exercise treat yourself with ice cream and new paints and Legos and cartoons. Don’t let sex control your life. When you were a kid, you never thought about sex. You thought about drawing and skateboarding and pizza and shooting cans in the backyard (for some reason), and you spent long sunny days with your friends wondering what the future held for you.
“The girl who you consider to be the most friend-like, marry her. Marry the girl who is first and foremost a buddy like any other buddy. Marry her sooner rather than later because that time you spent single, that freedom you so valued, it paled in comparison to the intimacy and companionship that came with a relationship. You always did better with support and a warm-heart to wake up next to anyway.
“Never stop exercising. The more, the better. The more it’s done outdoors, the better. The more it’s done in the sun, the better. The more it’s done with friends, the better.
“Volunteer. Help other people whenever you can. Find an organization, carve time into each week, and become a pillar there. Be somebody everybody is glad to see when you show up. Help people eat. Help people read. Help people remember that people can be good.
“You couldn’t tell back then, but I’m telling you now. What underlay all of your troubles was impatience. Your tutor told you in middle school that you had a tendency of skipping steps when it came to math equations. You thought about life on the scale of not days or months or years, but decades. You ate the world whole with your eyes. You took it all in and tried to jam it into yourself, not realizing that humans are small, definite sinks that consume best when fed bit by bit, slowly, and continuously. You had your head up, looking at the horizon, for fear of what was coming next when you should’ve had your head down, fully immersed in what was right beneath your nose. Always fully captivated and concerned with a current project.
“Don’t ever lose hope. I’m standing here, 23 years in the future, with friends, and your wife, and your children, and a body of work that’s still in progress. I’m here in the future, happy that I held on when the waters were so rough. I’m here. I’m really here. I promise, you don’t end up a loser, lost and lacking love. You fight your way back and your momentum builds and that little speck of light in the dark closet you’ve held yourself captive in now for so long; you carve away at that hole with your bare hands, day after day, and at some point, I don’t remember when, you slip out of the darkness, and are fully immersed in a world of warmth and light that has been waiting for you.”