Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yes Virginia, You Are That Guy

As you skid into your early thirties, it is common to take a cold, hard look at your hobbies. A typical conversation among early thirtysomethings:

"Yeah, I was really getting into (insert hobby), but then I started thinking; 'Is that what I'm going to be for the rest of my life? That guy?'"

Depending on your interests, "that guy" could mean the amateur carpenter guy, the wine club guy, the too-old-to-be doing-karoake-but-still-doing-it guy. You know, that guy!

In your twenties you still believe you're one of a kind. Whatever your interests are, you're certain no one understands them like you do, and no one else likes them for the same reasons you do. And because you're a constantly improving beam of light, the interests and skills you have in your twenties are just the acorn of what will be an ever-growing oak of ability. Unlike everyone else, you are going to get better with age by continually expanding your horizons and mastering new disciplines.

By thirty you start noticing you fit a profile just like the rest of the herd. The same static slopes you have watched others luge see you're on them too. You also fit a stereotype. Contrary to everything you have always thought about yourself, you realize you too can be easily stamped and labeled.

You realize your current path is pretty much going to be your path. The possibilities are not endless. You're not going to keep making new "friends" each year (in fact, you'll be lucky to keep the ones you have). You are not going to get a law degree at night and become a passionate lawyer for your pet cause. You're not going to move to Paris. You are not going to write that book. You are not going to get back to your college weight. You also won't start that interior design business. Hell, you're not even going to clean up your apartment.

I think the reason this realization is often so hard for people is that in your twenties, you think all of your interests are part of some majestic, forthcoming metamorphosis. Once you understand that glory isn't coming and that all that classic vinyl you collected was just a complicated way of learning the ins and outs of renting a storage space, a bit of melancholy is to be expected. Because once you realize there isn't some cocoon from which you're going to emerge, you finally begin to confront the chilling fact that yes, this is all there is. Whatever it is you do to divert yourself is just that; a diversion (hopefully a pleasant one) as you tick away the seconds of your life.

The process is like the end of puberty. When a teenager's bone plates harden, he stops growing. When an adult realizes that "killing time" is more than just an expression, he starts to mature from delusional paradise-chasing to just hoping for a comfortable decline.

I remember my first epiphany along these lines. At the beginning of 2010, I decided to make a list of every book I read that year. I actually kept it up all the way through the summer. Then one day I was like WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? AM I GONNA BE ONE OF THESE PEOPLE WHO GIVES HIMSELF A LIST OF FAMOUS NOVELS TO READ EACH YEAR SO HE CAN CHECK THEM OFF THE LIST? WHAT LIST? AND WHO THE HELL AM I GOING TO SHOW IT TO?! WHEN DID I BECOME THAT GUY?

Well, horrible as it is, I now concede that part of me is THAT GUY. I seem to be one of those folks who is determined--for no discernable reason--to read a variety of authors. There is no point to doing this, just as there was no point when it was done by all the people who did it before me. We just do it. Because we're that guy.

There is a plus side to this. Once you accept that you have pretty much become what you're going to be, you can start walking away from the Joneses instead of struggling to keep up with them.

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