Last year I wrote an article called “20” (sorry, English-speakers, it’s in Russian!), and I enjoyed this small tradition of reflecting on your ‘personal year’. I’ll try to continue doing so every year (similarly to Adele, I guess). Hence, this post.
Most of us think of the year ending on December 31-st. For China — January 25th. For Russia and its ‘old New Year craze’ — January 14th. No matter where you’re from, the idea is pretty much the same. It’s a 12-month cycle which we use to reflect on events happened and set goals for the upcoming year.
I believe New Year’s reflection to be a very external and even social exercise. We are almost pressured every year to start thinking about what we’ve achieved over the past 12 months, set new resolutions and buy gym membership cards (which we never use anyway). It’s all about achievement, doing ‘something’ with ‘someone’.
Birthdays are a whole different matter. They are an introspective exercise and are very personal. At least for me. Birthdays are similar to New Year’s in a way that they chunk out a 12-month cycle in your life — but they are much more intimate in the way they make you look at life.
You don’t think about achievement on your birthdays. You don’t think about checking boxes off your to-do list. On the contrary, you think about your life. About growing up. Growing older. Dying someday. You look at your life from a very large zoom — assessing how far you’ve come and how fast you’re going.
Unlike on airplanes, where as you go higher, it becomes harder to feel the speed, you feel the speed of life only easier with age. No matter what you do, life accelerates and goes faster than you think. Each year — faster than the previous one. And that’s OK. That’s one of the things in life which you simply accept with a brief sigh of sadness. C’est la vie.
Birthdays serve as milestones for your personal growth. You assess your thinking and the way it changes over the years, along with your perspective on life which is perpetually dynamic.
Where I am from the word ‘adult’ starts to be used when you’ve passed your 18th birthday. (You can drink vodka in bars, so that probably means you’re a real Russian adult!) In other countries it’s either 16 or 21. But I agree with none of them. In my opinion, adults (especially guys) are people from age 40. Which means, that if you’re below 40, you’re, essentially, a kid.
Some people say that you become an adult by taking on responsibility. For yourself, as well as for others. The earlier you take that responsibility — the earlier you’ll grow up. I was lucky (or, unlucky, depending on how you see life) — I took on a lot of responsibility last year: running a business with 2 partners and full-time employees, as well as sustaining life for myself and for my girlfriend. Responsibility makes you stronger — it makes you grow.
But it doesn’t make you an adult. At least, not only responsibility makes you an adult. There are a lot of kids who make money (a lot of them much more than I do) — are they considered more adults than a 27-year-old still living with his mother?
There is another quality that complements responsibility and makes a person mature. Let’s call it emotional intelligence. Or, rather, emotional stability. It’s a quality that the brain develops up to 25 years old of age, but in reality people achieve it at about 40.
It’s about being more tranquil. Less impatient. Thinking long-term. And overall, having the confidence that everything will turn out to be OK. It’s what people call maturity.
Today I am 21.
Re-reading my post ‘20’ I realized how far I’ve come over the previous 12 months. I became calmer, more practical, less impulsive. I’ve gained some of the emotional stability quality that makes a person an adult. But not all of it, of course.
Unlike my previous-year-self, I don’t stress over achieving that much. My 2018 was filled with ‘do that’, ‘get this’, make ‘that amount of money’. But I recently realized that success for me (and it’s a very personal thing, mind me) is not external, it’s internal. I feel happy doing simple things — reading, learning, writing and teaching —things that don’t require money.
Hence, I can be happy…right now.
When you separate happiness from success, something wonderful happens. You are not stressed out anymore. You become happy by default. You do the things you are doing and achieve what you want to achieve not to feel ‘secure’ or ‘whole’, but simply as a by-product of what you’re doing. Letting go of the obligation to achieve is a great relief and makes life more pleasurable day-to-day.
Another thing I realized over the past 12 months is that finding your thing is about doing something, not being someone.
You enjoy the process so much that you don’t care whether you’ll get the credit, or be perceived as successful or be called names like “entrepreneur”, “influencer”, “author”. You don’t care about all that shit, you simply want to do what you like and become better at it.
If the only thing that motivates you is the result (i.e., money, recognition, status) then you’re on the wrong path.
As Feynman said, ‘you are the easiest person to fool’. When society thinks that being a blogger, entrepreneur, business-life-coach is cool, that has nothing to do with you. It’ll be cool being someone else soon. My (and yours) job is to do, not be.
Those are some of the things I’ve been thinking about on the back-end of my brain for the past year, and all of them contributed to that emotional stability I was talking about earlier.
But the great thing about life is that it evolves (constantly). Hence, next year, in a blog post called ‘22’, I might be writing something completely different — and my readers would go like, ‘What the hell? He just said he now wants to be a billionaire, not a monk!’ — but I believe we shouldn’t judge ourselves for changing perspectives. We should celebrate it.
Only fools and dead men don’t change their minds. Fools won’t and dead men can’t.
— J. Patterson
Do I consider myself mature? An adult? Hell, no. I’d like to think I still have 10–20 years to fuck around. Fun fact: when both of my parents where 21, I was already 1. Me? I can’t even imagine having a baby. I am still a baby myself!
At 20–25 years old, you build your foundation. Something, that life and all of your future experiences will stand on. Whatever you put inside during those years — information, experiences, mistakes that become lessons, will define the rest of your life. That’s something I am thinking about a lot and I think that 20-years-old should be thinking in general. Not making an extra buck, but building that platform for your future-self.
Now, the older you get — the faster life goes for you, the less you change as a person. That’s something I believe to be also true, although very much depending on the person herself. As Gardner said, ‘you’ve got to reinvent yourself all the time’. So it’s important to continue to invest in yourself no matter the age or circumstances.
One of the ways to track your progress is to simply reflect. And the great thing about birthdays is that they serve as milestones. You use them to reflect on life as a whole, on internal changes, not external achievements (leave that for New Years resolutions).
Now, I’ve got a new year, a fresh start. Let’s see what it’ll bring.