The Benefit of Aging

“I wouldn’t mind living in a small town like this,” I said yesterday. I have officially come full circle from back when I was 13 or so, thinking, “I hate living in a small town like this. Can’t wait to get out of here.”

As a 13-year-old, it was hard to imagine a life so full that boredom doesn’t exist. Now, every waking minute could be dedicated towards doing important work, work that makes money, being a good boyfriend, son, or friend, or any of half a dozen hobbies — and those are just the things that matter. That’s to say nothing of paperwork, chores, and doctor’s appointments.

Back then, perhaps like every 13-year-old, I imagined life would always be full of only one thing — free time — and who wants to spend said free time in a village with just 1,400 souls? Nowadays, it barely matters where I am. Most days will look roughly the same, and if you have neither infinite time nor an infinite budget, a small town with a few restaurants and some nature close by will do as well as the most optionality-filled metropolis. In fact, it’ll likely do a lot better, since it won’t constantly dangle more things in front of your nose that you’ll inevitably miss out on thanks to life’s (or your) limitations. It’s easier to enjoy what you have when you’re not staring at a display of everything you don’t.

What I find most remarkable about all of this is not the change of heart but the fact that 13-year-old me just couldn’t imagine anything different. It takes real emotions for ideas to sink in, and unless we go through the experiences that makes us feel those emotions, our power to change our mind stays weak and superficial. Age takes more from us than it gives, but with life experience — and the manifold emotions that come with it — we gain the ability to not just project but feel what other realities would be like, and only then can we truly decide what we actually want.

Out of all our uniquely human skills, perhaps these two stand out more than most: The power to imagine something different, and the will to insist on using it.