As I write this, it’s December 31st, 2019.
This transition feels especially auspicious as it marks the dawn of a new year, a new decade, and an American election. It’s enough to make me want to cross my fingers and hope we individually and collectively leap in a positive direction (it being leap year and all) and look up with true 2020 precision.
But if there is one thing life has taught me, it is that there is no predicting what comes next.
When I was 13 years old, my history teacher assigned us a project. We were tasked with creating a hypothetical timeline of our own lives (assuming we would live 100 years). He asked us to map out major benchmarks and mark what age we expected to reach them. If I recall correctly, by now I was supposed to have met my life partner, bought a house, married, had two children, earned my master’s degree, and crafted a thriving career.
That’s not exactly the way it’s panned out so far.
I did manage to get that master’s degree. My career seems stable (well…as stable as any career ever can be, I suppose). And I did, technically, buy a house.
But the rest?
I never did manage to find that life partner in time to have two children by the age of 28. The biological clock many women report having? I dunno if I got one of those, for no alarm bells sounded as I turned 25 and then 30 and so on. Thinking about it, now, that was probably for the best. How I thought I would find a man, marry, and punch out two babies while also staying on track with my academic aspirations and career goals is beyond me. Meanwhile, the house I bought, I sold within the same year. It is currently, and thankfully, now possessed by a young family who will likely be in a better position to make it a true home.
No – life definitely did not pan out the way my 13-year-old self would have deemed appropriate. It turns out, life had a much better imagination than I did.
My 13-year-old self had no clue that only 3 years later, she would bump into a worldly philosophy teacher who would turn all her ideas about what constituted a “good life” upside down. She couldn’t have known that she would fall in love at 16 and spend the next 16 years in one long-term relationship or another. It wouldn’t have occurred to her that such circumstances would end up giving me a bit of romance-fatigue. It also didn’t occur to her that the curiosity already taking root in her inquisitive mind would develop into an unquenchable desire for self-exploration. She would not have thought to send me traveling abroad to countries far outside the U.S. border. She would not have considered the possibility that I would unfold into the kind of person who would be invited to attend any number of 2020 new-year celebrations only to turn them all down in favor of an evening at home spent with a dog, a cat, a roaring fire, a few scented candles, some music, and a laptop.
My 13-year-old self is thick on my mind, this evening, because my Mom and my 13-year-old niece came to visit me this past Christmas. She spoke with me (her self-assured 13-year-old voice booming with the confidence only a 13-year-old could have) about her concerns. She talked about the challenge of navigating the politics of friendship, homework, and family. And she asked me about what I imagine her options might be as she moves into adulthood. Should she go to college? What kinds of jobs should she consider? What might she be good at? Is it really that important to do well in school, anymore? How can one do that and still have downtime and time for socializing? And anyway…she noted that I am certainly not a millionaire. She commented that I have clearly worked hard my whole life. How come I haven’t made a lot of money, yet? (Explaining the concept of living debt-free and living below one’s means went a bit over her head).
I had few…nope…NO answers for her. How could I?
At 13, I would not have been able to envision a world with social media in it, let alone the possibility that one could make a living working in that arena. At 13, working as a health coach (a job I now have the good fortune of claiming) would not have occurred to me. I don’t even know if it was a thing at that time. I don’t think I would have imagined we would elect Barack Obama in 2008. And I DEFINITELY would not have imagined in even my most drunken of hangover dreams that we would elect Trump.
If you listen to the news, as my mother does, you will see a country divided and torn by political officials who are too busy trying to keep their jobs to do them. If you listen to intellectual titans like Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, or Jordan Peterson on their podcasts, you will hear them lament about culture wars aggravating the problem further. You will also hear them appeal to their listeners to try cultivating a life of subjective contemplation and personal responsibility.
So whether talking about what is happening in my life, personally, or in the country/world more broadly…It would be easy to spin a doomsday tale. I have plenty of material in my life I could use to craft a narrative about myself that would sound tragic by even Hollywood’s standards. And we could all sing melancholy tunes about the way our country is falling apart. But nothing about it would be precisely new. Because life is ALWAYS changing. That’s the only constant. Bob Dylan sang “the times they are a-changin” in 1964. He was right in some respects. The times they did a-change. But he was also wrong. He sang “come writers, critics, who prophesies with your pen, and keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again.”
The chance will, of course, come again. And again. And again. Change is coming for you, my dear friend, whether you are prepared for it or not. Change is coming for our country, though what direction the wind will blow us toward is TBD. And change is coming for the world.
The times, it seems, will always be a-changin.
So as this year…this decade…closes, I find myself stepping away from the wishbone. It seems to me that any wish I put out into the world today will likely be irrelevant tomorrow.
Instead, my desires remain much closer to home.
May I, as Dylan challenges me to do, keep my eyes wide. It seems appropriate to do so in a year that is otherwise used as a trademark for perfect vision.
May I stay honest about what I see. There does not seem to be much use for keeping my eyes open, otherwise.
May my actions speak as honestly as my words, for only when my thoughts, words, and actions are in alignment do I seem to sleep well at night.
Finally…May I honor Dylan’s warning and learn to swim with the tides of change, instead of sinking like a stone (for my time, to me is worth saving).
What are your hopes for 2020?