Not sure where I thought I’d be by 32. Once upon a time, it sounded so old. Yet I still, mostly, feel so young. I think.
Once, 32 sounded accomplished. Yet, mostly, I feel like I haven’t done anything. Or anything near enough.
32 was Karl Malone’s number. A Ryan from history past cares about this confluence of life/math.
Sometimes I feel like I’m still in my 20s then I realise I’m 32. That’s a lot of years to starjump in a moment. it can rattle the brain. I’m probably in my last year of being ‘early-30s.’ When I was young, I thought anyone post-30 must know it all, and must be on the right track and have everything figured out, man, post-30 were the real adult years. Ha. I’m looming closer to the age my father killed himself, and my son is very nearly the age I was when that happened. I’m noticing streaks of grey in all sorts of places. I have not been carded in years. People assume I know stuff about stuff just because of my age. I’ve been married nearly half a decade – I never even had a relationship last that long before, no less be so serious and legal for this amount of time. It won’t be long until I’m looking at my 40th like it’s some monolith at the end of the hall just waiting silently for me. Most of the kids I teach weren’t born when I started teaching.
Age, it always makes me think.
Above it all, one thought crushed me this week. The kids learning to drive on the roads with me are now officially half my age. That’s something.
So I thought I’d put it all into perspective and context by writing an open internet letter to my 16yo self. I’m going to open up a hole in the flat circle and cast my words through.
You’re about to learn to drive, you have a girlfriend, high school will be over soon. In a few years, none of these things will be big things at all. They’ll be memory blips in your rearview and you’ll be looking forward for more, always more. And I want you to keep doing that. One of the reasons you will succeed – and you will at times, I’ll discuss below – is that you keep moving onto the next thing. You keep looking upwards at 45 degrees. Don’t ever stop. Don’t get stuck reworking the same thing. Don’t get stuck trying to fix the broke thing to make it work when you can just build something else to get the job done better. Don’t settle or stagnate.
Right now, at 16, you are looking to the future and it’s murky. You want to write. You know you will teach. You want happiness and fulfilment and to be challenged. You will get all those things. But you’ll have to forge through other happiness that might be fleeting or not what you were expecting. There will be failure. There will be hard choices. And sometimes things will be easy. Your job is to work out which is which, and before it’s all too late. But you’ll inherently know how to do this. It’s your young superpower.
Enjoy each year for what it is. And each year will come to stand out as something for a special reason before they eventually blur to paste in front, beside, and all around you. You will have a year where you feel incredibly blessed, and a year where you work bloody hard, and a year where you test what you can achieve. Each year is something special, so hold onto it all. Eventually, you’ll come to miss those lazy days. Purely because you’ll never have them again. But that’s a good thing.
I can’t give much advice to you because that would cause a temporal paradox and then I wouldn’t exist to type the advice to you and then you wouldn’t do it and then I’d be here – and then we’d be looping. But I will say this, because maybe it’ll make me do it. Strive to be the best person you can be. Compliment others, share, shout a drink, smile, don’t gossip, don’t ignore people. Think about the best men you can think of – now emulate them. Be one of them. Always. Not just sometimes, always. When you’re tired, when you’re frustrated, when you’re drunk, bored, angry, happy. Always be someone you can be proud of.
The other piece of advice: whatever you want to do or be, just do it. Permission is not needed. There is no ‘right time.’ Just do it and know you won’t be able to at first. You’ll suck, it’ll take time, but the fact you are trying means the world to most, and the fact you’ll slowly get better should be all you need to know.
As for your future, I won’t spoil the fun stuff, but it’s going to be fun. And I think it all works out. Even just this far, you marry the best person in your life, your kids are perfect, you’ll be a great teacher and you’ll love it, and you’ll also write. A lot. By the time you’re 32, you’ll have work published in more massive publisher’s books than you would have ever dared to dream. So remember where you came from, and how much you wanted it, and don’t ignore the success to focus on the next step. Take a second, enjoy the victory, and realise it’s something you should be proud of. Each level up is something you didn’t even think possible before you did it so don’t brush it off, soak it up. Then work your ass to the next summit.
Everything turns out a little better than you could have imagined. So enjoy getting here.
See you soon.