Ten years ago, we used to stay out till the sunrise. We’d wait for the lights to come on at the club, and whenever we met at our little high school reunion summer festival, we didn’t go to my friend’s house to eat our customary after-hour cheese platter until at least 4 AM.
The last time we went, however, it was closer to 1 AM. At midnight, the first people moaned about being tired. At 12:30 AM, the streets seemed dead. Instead of an entourage of 20 people, only a core four of us remained. Most of us weren’t even hungry. We snacked on the cheese a bit, one guy passed out on the couch, another almost fell asleep in his seat, and the host could not wait to go to bed.
Had it been a movie scene, any viewer could have guessed the next line: “Yup. That confirms it. We’re no longer 20 years old.” Usually, such moments are accompanied by sadness, a sense of nostalgic longing for a past that’s no longer there. Personally, I found it liberating, not least because I still had a 30-minute drive home ahead of me.
When the roar of youth goes quiet, what are we really missing? Is it the time wasted at the pub, the dancing until our legs can barely carry us, or the hangover turned morning-pint, possibly with a quick throwing up interval? I don’t think so.
I think what we grieve when our youth sails into the sunset is the feeling. The feeling of having so much time, we could handily waste 12 hours at the pub and not lose a second’s sleep over it. The feeling of unlimited energy, of being able to bounce back from any hangover. Most of all, however, we miss the feeling of having our whole future ahead of us.
In our 30s, much of that future has already turned into our past, and usually, it all went very differently than we imagined. But how exactly did we imagine it? To be honest, most of us probably didn’t have a very precise vision, but everything seemed possible, and what reality can possibly live up to such high expectations?
The beauty of aging gracefully, should we allow ourselves to do it, is that the more reality you pile up, the fewer alternate futures you feel you need. It’s okay to be a lawyer instead of a painter, single instead of married, a little chubby instead of The Rock, because it’s never too late to go after those things if we really care about them — and if we don’t need them, all the better.
“Wisdom is knowing the long-term consequences of your actions,” Naval says, and as we get older, we tend to take those consequences more into account. We get comfortable planning on longer timelines, and if those timelines include going to bed at 12 instead of 4, that’s a good thing.
A roar feels powerful while you’re roaring, but as soon as there’s no air left in your lungs, the volume fades, and so does the feeling. The quiet ones, however, always have the option of speaking up. Better yet, they don’t need to use that option to feel strong. They trust in their tomorrow because they’ve survived a lot of yesterday, and they know that, as long as they’re having cheese with friends, today will always be enough.