This epiphany popped into my mind a few days ago, and has been in my head since:
I am mostly happy with the things I've done in my life so far,
but I was late to many of those things.
1. I have it good
I am content with my life overall. In fact, I have to be: if I were to apply the most important metrics to my own life I suspect it would rank well above average (mostly due to chance, and to circumstances out of my control). I am a defender of objective measures of well-being, so I have to use those.
If I examine my life dispassionately, I have to admit that I have it pretty good: I am quite healthy, usually with very little physical or psychological pain; it's reasonable to expect that I live a few more decades; I have never suffered violence of prosecution, being assaulted or involved in a serious traffic accident.
I have children (because I wanted to) and they are with me. I have a partner, and we are happy together. My sibling and my parents are all alive and I have a good relationship with them all. My family is healthy too.
My household is in the richest 2% of the global population. The place where we live is spacious, bright and comfortable. I suffered very little unemployment in my life. I can work from home whenever I want and walk my kids to school, so I avoid commuting and don't have to get up very early. I am a national of, and live in, a country that is among the 15% best to live in the world (21st in quality of life, 22nd most democratic, 27th most developed, 32nd most peaceful).
I have no debts, I have some savings and I save money. I can practice sports, access cultural products and travel. I can do many things that I like (like writing this).
All that is what matters. I could earn ten times more, be able to bench-press 200 kg, play the saxophone really well, or have three cars; but I know that none of that would improve my life by much compared to the baseline.
2. Like, really good
And apart from having a very good situation overall (being healthy, having kids, working jobs I liked, etc) I have managed to tick a few very personal checkboxes that for one reason or another were also important to me. For example: I became a software engineer, doing an Erasmus in the meantime; and years later I got a second college degree in a topic that also interested me and was completely unrelated to computing.
I lived abroad for a few years, in a few countries. Especially, I lived in Tokyo for two years, which was perhaps the closest to a life dream for me. I became fluent in two foreign languages and learnt a little bit of two more languages that always intrigued me, as I always intended.
I owned big motorbikes (two so far), became a vegetarian, and ran two popular marathons (the last one, New York City). I played in bands, sang in choirs, scuba-dived, and skydived. I took the “Giving What We Can” Pledge and now donate 10% of my gross earnings every year.
So, what would I change if I could change the past?
3. But I was often late
I was often “late” doing all those things, compared to my peers in general, or to a few people I look up to in specific areas of life. So if I could go back in time, I would do most things that I did, only earlier.
There's a figure that is very present in my mind: 11. Eleven years is how “late” I was becoming a father, compared to my own father. When I was born, my dad had just turned 28. When Miss Entropy was born, I had just turned 39. I sometimes imagine myself at different stages of my kids' future lives, and I lament that I would be old too soon. I think of how old my dad was when I did certain things for the first time (eg, won some local literary prize, went to college, became emancipated, settled down), add eleven years to that, and think: that is way too old. And it's not only in comparison to previous generations: I am often older than the parents of my kids' classmates.
So, having kids: late.
Investing: I bought my first bond at around 27, and my first stocks at 34. Quite late; I missed many years of compounding effects. I bought a little bit of BTC in 2015. (OK, maybe that is not really late… but I should have done it a few years earlier!)
Having a house of my own? So late that I am now 43 and I'm still renting.
Living in Japan: I moved to Tokyo a few days before my 34th birthday, but that had been a dream of mine since I was 27.
Finish my first marathon: at 32.
Become a motorcyclist: at 29.
Living abroad for the first time? Ignoring my Erasmus year in Italy, I moved to London when I was 25. I would have loved to experience that a few years earlier (see next paragraph).
Proper full-time work: at 24, when I finished college. I should have become financially independent earlier than that (see next paragraph).
Graduating? At 24. I chose a tough 5-year MSc (which I loved) and that many (most?) people finish in ≥6 years. I should have chosen the shorter version (the 3-year degree) and be done in three or four years instead.
All those were mostly good decisions, which took me to good places. But I could have been in all those places a few years earlier.
4. The idea: let's not be that late again
The bright side to this somewhat disappointing realisation is that now that I've spotted a trend in my life trajectory, it should be “easy” for me to course-correct (to the extent that it is still possible). That means making an effort to identify the next life goals, and acting quicker to get there. And so I have been wondering:
What are people my age starting to do now?
What will they be doing in a few years' time?
The idea here being: let's try to anticipate important decisions and life changes among my peers, because it's likely that I'll want to do that too — and let's be more determined than I was before.
I have noticed some things that many guys of my age did recently, or are starting to do now; here are a few of them.
Number one is: own a house. I'm such an outlier in this dimension that quite a few friends and acquaintances roughly my age have paid their mortgages in full already, or are in the process of buying their second or even third property. That second house (for holidays, or as an investment) is definitely a milestone I see some people my age reaching now. I am eternally divided about this, for reasons that are personal and complex. A decade ago I thought I would never own a house, but in the last years my views have shifted a bit. In fact, a year ago, we almost bought a flat (the deal fell through at the last minute). I still don't know what we'll do about that, though.
Another one: write (and perhaps publish) a book. This is most definitely on my bucket list.
Start a company, or launch my own online product or service. That's something I would like to do, yes. I have had some (bad) business ideas over the years, and even acted upon one of them once, investing some time on sketching a product and a rough business plan and programming parts of an MVP. I don't seem to have the entrepreneurial gene, though. The ideas that pop into my mind aren't great, and I was never brave or reckless enough to put significant effort into them.
Change careers: I'm neutral about this. I like my job, but I like doing other things, too. I wouldn't mind being paid to teach, or to write; but it's more likely that I will change careers at some point because the job market forces me to do so.
Get back to college for another degree, or do a PhD: I don't think so. Not because I wouldn't love studying again, or becoming an expert on some field I like, but because I'm growing sceptical of universities and official study programmes. My version of a PhD would be designing a personal syllabus and consistently carving time to study, or even pause all work to focus on that (see next paragraph). I can also see myself doing something very specific and short, like an MBA or a series of MOOCs (ie, a “specialisation” or “nanodegree”).
Some people my age who can afford it take a long sabbatical (to travel, think, write, study) or even retire from work altogether. What's not to like about that? Of course I'd want that, too. The question here, I guess, is whether it's important enough to put the effort and make the sacrifices necessary to get there some day. Retiring early is very tough, but taking six months or one year off is definitely doable for me; I'll do it if at some point the benefits outweigh the costs.
In the “clichés” category I see three funny ways to deal with the existential crises of the forties and fifties: spend a lot of money on something decadent, like a sports car or a boat; do something boring, like playing golf or collecting and tasting whisky; start doing something reckless, like some extreme sport or driving very fast. I find all that laughable, but I know I should be open to the possibility that I'll be much more sympathetic to those ideas in a decade or two (!)
Another thing that some (many?) men do in their forties or fifties (and another total cliché) is getting divorced, and perhaps start a relationship with a younger woman. A move that is not on my list — and that probably is the consequence of bad luck or bad decisions that are orthogonal to ageing. But then again, the point of this exercise is identifying things that I do not feel like doing today.
What do you think?
Does it even make sense to try to consciously nudge my natural tendencies (indecision, conservatism, contrarianism) to avoid some regret in the future? Can I engineer myself to be more resolute and to arrive earlier this time to the next milestones in life by looking at what most other people like me typically do in their forties? Am I being fooled by FOMO or envy?