So, my friend posted this TED Talk on her facebook and I am going to write about it, even though it feels viscerally wrong to call attention to TED in any way, because I am bored and I have opinions.
The talk is all about how twentysomethings shouldn’t treat the decade as a throw-away time, but should be going ahead and getting their lives in order.
As someone whose life is roughly half-ordered, I have mixed feelings about this. I do think that experimentation and exploration are a bit overrated. It’s not possible to keep your options open, because when you try to keep your option open, you foreclose the option of becoming more specialized. When you change cities, you foreclose the option of becoming very entrenched in one city and one community. When you change fields, you foreclose the option of moving ahead in the one that you left.
Furthermore, even if you don’t actually move or change fields, maintaining the mindset that you’re going to move leads to behaviors that hinder your progress. You pass up opportunities to make new contacts, meet new people, gain relevant skills, etc, because you view your current situation as fundamentally temporary.
I know that in my own life, I’m extremely happy that I chose to pursue writing in a serious way. After the fact, it seems like the obvious choice: it’s the thing that gives me the mot satisfaction and interests me the most. However, when I started out, it wasn’t like that. It gave me zero reward and it was almost painful to do. Moving forward with it in a serious way was a conscious choice, and I consciously gave up other opportunities in order to do so. To a large extent, the satisfaction came as after the choice; not before it.
That’s how it is in life. When you start doing something, your brain rarely screams out: “This is what you NEED to do!”
Instead, you get all this very murky data: these hints and glimmers of what you might someday be able to feel. But on the basis of those hints, you have to make major decisions that will affect the rest of your life…and it’s very possible to make the wrong decision. But if you want to get ahead, you do eventually just need to close your eyes and choose.
But where I disagree with this talk is that its premise seems to be that there are these life events and the key is getting things locked up, and then, what…things are easier? You’re happier?
That’s not true (and the available happiness research backs me up on this). Human psychology militates against that kind of contentment. Accomplishing shit and making money and surrounding yourself with the right people is something of a game. It feels good, and it’s fun to do, but it doesn’t provide lasting ease.
In modern times, whenever you read about what people “ought” to do, the premise is that they ought to do it because it’ll make them happier. But that’s largely untrue. There’s very little that makes a human being happier for very long. Money doesn’t do it. Love does, but only for a few years. Children really don’t do it (having children tends to make people unhappier).
So, given that, the real stakes in life are fairly low. There’s no such thing as wasting time or wasting your twenties. No matter what you do, it’s still a decade that you live through, and it’ll still be pretty much just as happy or sad as any other decade of your life.