I recently imagined an elaborate conversation between my 27-year-old self and my 30-year-old self—myself from yesteryear vs. myself from today. Sadly, it was not a pretty exchange. Suffice it to say, there was a vast ideological dichotomy between these two guys.
Looking down on their tete-a-tete from my omniscient point of view, this is a small chunk of what I observed.
My 27-year-old self had it all figured out. He could do no wrong. He was too confident (read: arrogant) for his own good. He had the high-paying job, the fancy title, the status of a young corporate executive, the long-term career goals, the short-term spend-more-money-than-I-make goals, the big house, the fancy car(s), the big screen TVs, and all the stuff that was eventually going to make him happy once all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly.
My 30-year-old self had it all figured out, too—but in a radically different way. He knew he had “figured it all out” as soon as he had stopped trying to figure it all out. He knew he didn’t know everything—nor would he ever—but he knew that with every year that passed he would continue to grow.
The slightly older man also found a certain amount of contempt for the younger man, and it was hard for him to hide this disdain. He couldn’t believe how his self of yesteryear placed so much importance in material possessions, while he didn’t value the most important things in life—health, relationships, passions, growth, and contribution.
With that contempt also came pity from the older man—pity for a man who was lost but didn’t know he was lost. More than anything, the older man sympathized with the younger man, because he had been on the same path a few years earlier.
The two men talked for a while, stating their points of view. Both men had passionate, seemingly valid arguments and rationalizations for their persuasions. And they each had their incontrovertible dogmas. Or so they thought.
There was one gaping difference between these two men, and you could see it in the younger man’s eyes: The 27-year-old man was not happy. Sure, he wore a mantle of happiness and experienced short bursts of pleasure or satisfaction, but he wasn’t truly happy inside. And all the fancy things in the world weren’t going to make him content. If anything, those things only increased his requirement for more things to pacify a deeper problem.
These two men talked about happiness. The younger man wasn’t sure why he was unhappy. He had everything society told him he was supposed to have—right? The older man suggested that contentment was found within, and that no amount of external factors were going to permute the discontentment within.
The older man attempted to share what he had learned over the last couple years. He shared how he found contentment in his relationships with his close friends, how he found satisfaction in growing as an individual and contributing to other people in meaningful ways, how he found happiness in pursuing his passions, not pursuing more stuff.
“So, you just left your high-paying job, got rid of most of your stuff, and started living a meaningful life?” the younger man asked in a half-mocking cynical tone.
“Yes. It didn’t happen overnight, though. It took a couple years of focus. A few years of being conscious. A few years of being aware of what’s truly important. I had to make a fundamental shift in the way I live my—”
“But most people aren’t living that way,” the younger man interrupted with a raised voice. He was heated: he felt his way of life—his entire identity—was being questioned. After all, he had worked so hard to get all the stuff he had, to get the identity he now possessed. “And who the hell are you to tell me my lifestyle is wrong? Who the hell are you to tell me how to live my life?”
“I’m not telling you how to live your life. I’m simply stating the obvious: What you’re doing right now is not making you happy. Nor are you on the path to happiness. The path you are on leads to more discontent—I know, because I have been down the same path. Until you focus on what’s important—until you focus on what’s going on inside you—you won’t be happy.”
“Whatever! Giving up this lifestyle just to pursue my passions seems incredibly unreasonable,” the younger man shouted.
“Of course it’s unreasonable, dummy!” The older man snapped back. “Being unhappy and discontent is completely reasonable within our society. We see it every day. Being reasonable means lowering your standards. Being reasonable means doing what everyone else expects you to do. Being reasonable means living an average life. But I’d rather be extraordinarily unreasonable and content and happy. I’d rather live a meaningful, albeit unreasonable, life. Get unreasonable and everything’s possible. Forget about being reasonable—being reasonable got me into the same pile of shit you’re in now.”
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