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I took Vanessa Van Edwards’ course on happiness recently, and something she said stuck with me: we are either chasing after or waiting for the things that would make us happy.
As a creator, I thought, something is missing, because chasing after and waiting for things can become disempowering. What about creating what we need?
Creating puts the pen in our hands, and that’s much more empowering than any other option—except that creating doesn’t answer to happiness. The thing that paralyzes almost all creators, to various degrees, is the inability to “ship“—which according to Seth Godin means to publish and put a project out into the world—and then to consistently ship. Why?
Because most of us wait for when the timing is right.
Timing is important, there’s no doubt about it. But there are many schools of thought when it comes to the timing of the execution of our ideas. Some say to jump before we are ready, while others tell us to workshop our ideas before launching prematurely. There are about as many ideas of the perfect timing as there are authors writing about it. Life is short, and long, but we can’t keep collecting paradox after paradox. Meanwhile, the best years of our lives will have passed us by.
Which brings us to another cliche: “The best years of our lives.”
Some say that childhood offers us the best years of our lives—carefree and without real responsibility. When I was a child, all I wanted was to grow up quickly, because I couldn’t make any decisions for myself, and I thought life would surely be better if I could make my own decisions and be in charge of my own life.
Then, there are those who say that university will be the best years of our lives. My grade 12 law teacher was convinced of this—his face even glowed when he told us of the friendships we would form from drunken midnight debates and debacles, and how those are not experiences life could afford us after graduating from the academia bubble, so we should truly “carpe diem” every university day, because those are surely the best years of our lives.
My university years were full of highs and lows, privilege and loss; it was mostly a lot of searching during a time of little permanence, so I wouldn’t qualify that period of my life as the best. I suppose my law teacher must not have been to New York, where drunken midnight debates and debacles are plenty available, on any given day. Maybe that’s why (or how) people don’t grow up here.
In the Neverland that is New York City, I spent the remainder of my 20s—which some books like to tell us are the “most defining decade” of our lives—full of extremities, no doubt. (I read that book cover to cover when it was published, and it did help me maximize my decade.) But it was also defining in the sense that I’ve accumulated some fantastic failures and a monstrous magnitude of mistakes.
This is a decade where we buy into the filters and simply don’t share the universal heartache that our life is not adding up, that we don’t know whether we are a job or a promotion away from our big break, or a few dates or years away from a meaningful life partner.
It is undeniable that youth has an immense advantage, but it’s also, by nature, troubling and excitingly conflicted. We don’t have the direction, wisdom, nor the tools to balance our temperaments. So they often say youth is wasted on the young—some of it is, no doubt, but that’s only one dimension of a million variations of how youth is experienced, no differently than any other stage of life.
Ultimately, it’s what we do that determines who we will become, so every age and every stage of growth is filled with opportunities for self-creation. It’s not about timing, after all—it’s about alignment and actualization.
Timing is a wicked thing, because it’s largely out of our control and no one’s journey is a replica of another. We will all experience highs and lows at different times in our lives, and consequently, the best years of our lives will be different from the person next to us, and the person next to them. But one thing is universal—you can’t fully enjoy something when you’re not ready for it.
So, the best years of our lives occur when we are ready for whatever adventure awaits us, at whatever age we happen to be.
The best time to start a business? When you still have that drive within you. When rejection doesn’t faze you. When you still remember what your dreams look like, and when you still believe they can come true.
The best time to be married? When you’re ready for marriage. When you choose your life partner. When you’re ready to grow up.
The best time to relocate? When you’re ready for tectonic changes.
The best time to make a major decision? When you’re ready for that venture, adventure, or misadventure.
As advanced as the digital age is, our lives are more fragmented and dislocated than they have ever been. The longer I fantasize about us being whole, the more I realize that’s not where our culture is right now, because the inconvenient truth is that, from a utilitarian perspective, it serves more people and interests to keep us fragmented, than it does to keep us whole. Forces of the digital age, forces of the market, and the livelihoods of a significant spectrum of the population thrive on our lack and deficiencies.
The result is a universal experience of being out of sync with the best years of our lives. Misalignment has become both cause and effect of the universal insecurity and pains of being human.
The feeling that the best years of our lives are beyond us is an extremely common, even timeless problem. I tried to see what Google had to say, and it told me that Samuel Goldwyn made an iconic film, of exactly the same title, based on the disjointed and dislocated “best years” of the servicemen between wartime and peacetime, military and civilian life. Because “the best years of our lives” is the universal question we all want an answer to, 73 years after it was made, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” remains one of the best pictures of our lives.
Men and women readjust to life’s changing circumstances differently, because as Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out in “You Learn By Living,” it is engrained in our gendered conditioning. She goes on to say that,
“Readjustment is a kind of private revolution. Each time you learn something new, you must readjust the whole framework of your knowledge…The process never ends. Every age…is an undiscovered country. We are constantly advancing, like explorers, into the unknown, which makes life an adventure all the way…Whatever period of life we are in is good only to the extent that we make use of it, that we live it to the hilt, that we continue to develop and understand what it has to offer us and we have to offer it. The rewards for each age are different in kind, but they are not necessarily different in value or in satisfaction.”
Never, perhaps, have we been in a situation where we are constantly inundated with information and opinions on how to live our lives, yet remain as conflicted and confused as we are. There is brilliance, challenges, and gifts in every phase of life, but until we are ready for them, we cannot receive them as they are, nor can we appreciate the gifts that they are.
Why should we let the boundaries in other people’s heads define our lives as if they’ve written the maps of our lives? Have they? Have we? Who did we give permission to be our cartographer? Who did we give permission to structure or even vandalize our life with their limitations?
I’ve experienced and witnessed a lot of failures to realize that the best time to do something is whenever we are finally ready for that adventure.
This “readiness” could take days or years or even decades, and the “prep classes” vary for all of us. When we are actualized, every person, book, song, movie, and experience turns into a prep class. But when we are misaligned, we are not in a position to accept the lessons that come our way. We block them, deny them, reject them, and pretend they don’t exist.
The best years of our lives were never a numbers game, after all. The best years happen when we are aligned and ready for all that life brings.