On the eve of turning 35 . . . What's next?


There's a scene in one of my favorite movies, Liberal Arts, where a retiring professor is lamenting with an old student (Josh Radnor) about transition and getting old. At one point he tells Josh, "Ask me how old I am." When he does, the professor (played by Richard Jenkins), responds with, "None of your god damned business," and they both smirk. "Now," the professor continues, "ask me how old I feel." 

"How old do you feel," Radnor asks.

"Nineteen. And I've never not felt like I'm nineteen."

I don't think 35 is all that old, but it does seem to be a sort of wrapping up and moving on. For the past thirty-four years, I've been able to get away with many mistakes and shortcomings because I was either young and dumb, a newly-wed man, a young father, or new to my profession. I was allowed to make immature mistakes. But thirty-five, with four kids, and a recently hired principal? That man is no longer young, no longer new, and no longer has an excuse. He's also half way done with life and should know better by now. He is now fully and completely an adult. 

That is, if he doesn't keep putting it off.

In his TED talk, Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, Tim Urban brilliantly and comically describes the mind of anyone struggling with, or fully embracing, a life of procrastination. And for most of his talk, he's cute and funny, because his content is light and simple, and because what he has to say is relatively harmless. It's just the funny quirks of life. 

Then, in his concluding thoughts, Urban reaches beyond the college essays and weekly schedules and simple deadlines that direct so much of our daily lives - the contained kind of procrastinations - and talks about the second kind, the deeper kind. The kind that don't have deadlines, the kind that matter most. These are the ones that, at the end of our lives, we're most proud of, most excited about, and the ones people talk about when we've past on.

They're the entrepreneur kind, the outside the career kind, the working on relationships or growing as a person kind. And because they have no weekly or monthly deadlines there's never a sense of urgency to get them done. We can always put them off until tomorrow, until life is a bit less busy, or until this current contained deadline is finished (which they never are because there is always another one right behind). So they are continually placed on the shelf, waiting for future days, and hardly ever getting the attention they deserve. 

So in order to create a sense of urgency, in order for these goals and ideas and ambitions to be brought down and polished off, Urban shows this graph. And it really got to me.



At first, it looks like a LOT of squares with plenty of time to do many things like traveling, writing that great American novel, and getting to know my kids and wife and extended family. 

But then I saw this one, and I got a bit more anxious. 


This morning, while waiting in the hallway between classes, several teachers passed by on their way to wherever they were going. "Morning," I would say, or, "How are you?" and their responses were fairly common. "Happy Friday" and "TGIF!" I would nod my head in agreement because, even though I love being a teacher, I too love the weekends. And when Monday comes along, I look forward to the next one. 

Then the next one.

Then the next.

And the next.

Until I saw them all, neatly piled in rows and lines, advertising the entirety of my (possible) life, and it terrified me a bit. So I printed off a sheet and started filling in the boxes. 

The first grouping was nothing all that extraordinary, just my days growing up in Indiana, making friends, playing sports, graduating high school, and generally wasting a whole lot of time. A lot of time. And a lot of boxes. So instead of going line by line, box by box, I started making little patterns, dividing up the space into little chunks, and finding a sort of rhythm in the process, which made the time go by faster and with a little more flair - with a little more excitement.

Days in Indiana

Days in Indiana

Then, suddenly, I found the whole process a bit discomforting. I was filling in boxes, weeks of my life, with such simplicity and absentmindedness that I even forgot what I was doing: shading in the days and months and years of life that I will never get back.

I started considering how fast I filled in those boxes, how quickly they turned into years, and how many I might have left.

When I was finished, I added in a few key dates: the day I finally graduated from University, when Josey and I married on a small mountain top in Montana, the day I turned thirty. 

I placed my kids on the chart (not when they were born, but how many squares they have lived).

Then I found the day (roughly) Judah will graduate high school and the square my grandfather last filled before he died. Suddenly, the time allotted seemed a little bit smaller.

Indiana Out of house, before marriage Marriage but before China China Still married, post China

Out of house, before marriage
Marriage but before China
Still married, post China

I may feel like I'm nineteen, and hopefully always will, but my squares are quickly filling. Sometimes with great fanfare, other times not, but always they are. And on the eve of my 35th birthday, I'm feeling that reality more then I ever have before. 

If I live to be as old as Grandpa was, I'm already halfway there. The empty boxes until my first-born son leaves are fading. And with each passing year, I get further and further away from the immortal age of nineteen.

I don't think working through all this means I'm in a midlife crises. In fact, I think this could and should be a good place to be (at least I hope it is) because this might be exactly what prevents the crises, some years from now, when the panic of a deadline is realized and there isn't enough time to cram in the good and important stuff, leaving a large and empty space of regret. 

I know I'm not the first, the only, or the last person to turn 35, to wrestle with mortality, or to look back on life and gasp at how quickly it has past. Nor am I the first to look at the future and hope and dream of what could be yet cringe at all of the things that actually could be.


"Everyone," Urban says at the end of his talk, "is procrastinating on something in life . . . and because there's not that many boxes up there . . . we need to start working on it today."

Here are few things I've been procrastinating on:

1. Pursuing my family
2. Writing an actual book, not just blogs
3. Teaching my son how to cook
4. Taking my wife on a vacation . . . without kids
5. Saving for colleges
6. Writing more letters
7. Getting back into shape
8. Forgiving family
9. Giving
10. Shaving.

And I don't want to procrastinate another day, I will tackle two right off the bat: writing more letters and giving.

If you've read this far, write a short favorite memory (either here or on Facebook) of you and me and on the evening of Sunday, April 30th, Judah will pull a name from a hat.

That lucky person will get a FREE BOOK and handwritten note!!!

As always, thanks for reading.

Enjoy the weekend!