A few weeks ago I was asked to speak to a group of high school students about their career choices. I went in to the event thinking that I was young, I was cool, that I could connect with these students on their level.
Then I was greeted with a hundred or so semi-catatonic, staring faces who clearly did not share my perspective on how cool I was. I tried to convince myself that they were experiencing phone deprivation, or just hadn’t had their morning cigarette/e-cigarette/vapor/whatever kids use these days, but later, I had a moment of honesty with myself—a courageous conversation with the mirror, if you will.
To these kids, I am old.
When I was their age someone who was 34, used a word like “cool” frequently, and had three kids was definitely old. Given that I get a little bit older this weekend I thought I would process it like I process a lot of other things: by writing about it …
Here’s a few observations from someone who is now solidly in their mid-thirties:
1. Other people will say “Happy Birthday” the following way: “You’re still young—wait for the colonoscopy.”
Today someone who I consider a friend and mentor stopped by my office to wish me “Happy birthday”, which turned into a conversation about how lucky I was to be 35, because it only gets worse.
Among other things, I have a colonoscopy to look forward to. At 25 a “Happy Birthday” was accompanied by, “Woohoo! Are you going to go out and get wasted?!”
Now it’s, “Wait for it—in the blink of an eye they will shove a camera up your rectum.”
2. Stuff from your youth will start to look really old.
I saw a picture of professional wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage the other day, one of the last photos taken before he died. He looks like a really angry grandfather who spikes his coffee with pure testosterone.
Point being, a transformational figure from my childhood looked really old before he died—and he died five years ago. When I was 30.
I’m just going to stop talking about this.
3. But part of you will always be in high school.
The other day the class president of my graduating class created a Facebook page, and asked if each of us wanted to answer a series of questions about what we had been doing since high school.
I took full advantage of this, and mentioned owning my own company, writing for Inc, and getting to visit the White House. It was my own personal She’s All That moment. You know the moment—when the pretty girl takes off her glasses and overalls and everyone thinks, “Wait a minute…she really was all that, all along.”
If I was remembered at all in high school it would either be for having a mullet way, way past when it was socially acceptable (well into the mid 90’s), or for a general surprise that I graduated at all (it was close).
Anyway, after this post a few girls that were significantly out of my league in high school friended me. I am very happily married, to a very lovely woman, but it was a big moment for me, and to my wife’s credit she was happy for me (I have an awesome wife).
At 35, either part of me hasn’t moved past high school, or maybe it’s just that little victories count more.
Or maybe it’s both.
4. You cannot fathom any reason why you should learn Snapchat. Or “How to Snapchat.” Or even the right way to refer to Snapchat.
I have three kids that are getting older right before my eyes, a new business, a nice writing gig on the side, and a growing concern that our culture and society is imploding before our eyes.
This might make me a Luddite, but I just don’t have the time or inclination to learn how to Snapchat, especially when I am still learning how to properly utilize The Twitter.
5. You realize you are lucky.
Fifteen years ago I remember running into a former classmate at a Laundromat in our hometown. He was home from college for winter break, like almost all of the people I had gone to school with, and he asked me what I had been up to.
What I had been up to was drinking, sleeping with high school girls, working a dead end job, and living with my mom and brother in HUD subsidized apartments.
What I told him I was up to was going to college in Colorado.
Why Colorado? It sounded like a good place to go to imaginary college.
He asked, “What school?”
I froze, muttered something, and left. That shame helped me realize I needed to do something more, and make something more of myself. If anyone would have told me where I am today, with a happy family and a good career, I don’t think I would have believed them.
If the price of contentment is occasionally feeling like Grandpa Moses, that’s okay. Who knows—maybe I’ll feel twice as good in 15 more years.
If that’s the case, bring on the colonoscopy.
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