Next Saturday I turn 29 years old. I realized the other day that when I turn 29 I will be the exactly 11 years away from both 18 and 40, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. 18 didn’t feel like it was that long ago, and the thought of 40 tastes like one of those nasty multivitamins I’ll probably be taking when I’m 40. Getting older is one of those universal truths we somehow still manage to get surprised by, like how much weight one weekend at Grandma’s can add to our backside. We all know we are getting older and yet we still think it’s something that happens to other people more than us.
One of the sure signs of getting older is the diminishing importance of birthdays and parties related to birthdays. This started happening to me around 21. Every year I feel like I want less and less, and the things I do want are so boring that 15 year old me would have laughed at whoever asked for those things. I’ve found myself asking for things like Amazon gift cards, books, shirts, and a new wallet. Exciting stuff I know. I think what happens as we get older is that we don’t want less, but the things we do want become more meaningful or abstract.
These things are sometimes harder to define. Maybe we really desire for a new year of our existence to bring on some form of personal growth or a new memorable experience, or maybe it’s simply the desire for a new season of life to hurry up and start. The most valuable thing getting older gives you is perspective, and perspective knows a shiny new toy isn’t what will fulfill you at the end of the day. I know my perspective at 29 will not be the same at 40, much as I can see how much my perspective has changed since I was 18.
I’ve found myself treasuring memories and experiences more and more. Christmas shifted away from stuff and is now much more important to me as a time of gathering with the family I don’t get to see as much as I want. As much as I love the gifts my girlfriend has given me on my birthday or at Christmas, the memories we have shared together have always been more meaningful. Times like the one where we explored the City Museum in St. Louis and acted like little kids at a playground, or the time at a farmer’s market in Kansas City where she bought me a book related to what I was currently teaching at the time that contained an inscription from a husband to a wife dated 1883, or when we were able to tour a pre-Civil War mansion are all more important to me than the Grizzlies polo shirt she got me last Christmas (though it is a really awesome shirt). I value the times I got to spend with my grandparents before they died and the way my Grandmother would laugh and kick her feet when I kissed her on the neck because it tickled more than a heirloom passed down. Memories and experiences give so much more joy in the long run.
In the movie Liberal Arts, there is a scene where a professor who is facing retirement is talking about getting older and what that does to a mind.
Do you know how old I feel like I am? 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face, and I look in the mirror, and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.” … Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.
I’m learning to embrace the fact that I’m not 18 any more. Was 18 a good time? Sure, but do I want to trade who am I now and the things I have experienced now to be 18 again? Absolutely not. I was an idiot at 18.
Learn to embrace the experiences and memories of life that don’t have to do with stuff. Learn to embrace that every new year is an opportunity to build a better version of you.
I’m just ready to get those senior discounts at movies and IHOP.