Many people don't know this, but every single person gets a little older with every breath we take. This strange phenomenon called "aging" is in fact so gradual that even if you observe it for an entire week, you may not notice anything.
The same applies for the many tiny ways aging and experience shape our thoughts and ideas. I'm 36, and while I can obviously still remember the guy I was 10 to 15 years ago, I doubt we'd have much common ground if we went out to grab a beer together.
Why is this? Because the sheer span of time between us has created some surprising changes to the way we think. For instance, there are some striking differences when it comes to ...
#4. Those Dreaded Late-Night Thoughts
Do you ever lie awake at whatever passes for 2 a.m. in your sleep cycle? That unholy time past the witching hour when the all-too-familiar "Aaaaaaahhhhh we're all going to die someday!" mood strikes and the kinds of Questions that warrant capitalization start running through your head? Sure you do. It's one of the nastier symptoms of a condition called being a person.
Although this will probably keep happening every once in a while for as long as you live (hooray!), chances are the things you find yourself pondering in the dead of night to ward off the bogeyman tend to change focus over time. As a kid, it might be the shadow of a particularly grim-looking tree outside, or the bully from school, or maybe that weird noise that oh god oh god it's coming from under the bed, isn't it? Then, you hit your teens and suddenly your night terrors are about all those strange and frightening things you pretend you don't give a shit about during the day (and also about your awkwardness around people you find attractive, but that doesn't ever really go away, does it?). Finally, adulthood strikes, and you're kept awake by "How on Earth can I pay the rent next month?" this and "What if [INSERT ARBITRARY WORRY HERE] goes awry?" that.
A survey among three random senior citizens I cornered at the mall indicates this will later give way to
general dread of bladder-control issues and something they insisted on calling "floppage."
This shift is so gradual it's almost impossible to notice, especially because it's not uncommon for those older night thoughts to make temporary comebacks amid all the new ones. For instance, it took me well over three decades to notice this trend. I'm not sure whether this is reasonably fast or ridiculously slow, though I strongly suspect the latter, seeing as this thought occurred to me at around 2:30 in the morning between the time-tested classics of "Did that noise come from the closet?" and "I bet Tesla had a system so he didn't have to get up and walk to the toilet in the middle of the darkest night."
#3. Activism and Causes
Rahul Sengupta/iStock/Getty Images
Take a moment, if you will, to reply to the following: what is the cause that you are most passionate about? What's the thing you always end up having arguments about with your drunk uncle during the holidays? What's the first thing you write down when doing David Wong's 60-Second Guide to Learning the Awful Truth About Yourself? What is your spark? You can write your answer down in the comment section, or on a piece of paper, or on the forehead of that hobo standing behind you right now. Remember, don't look him in the eye!
Done? Awesome. Next, imagine you're 10 years older or younger. What's your answer now?
Everybody knows that old cliche about how hippies eventually give up their dashikis and tie-dyes in favor of suits and regular paychecks. The same thing applies to pretty much any ol' agenda or activism you can think of. A fairly insignificant percentage of people spend their entire lives as hardcore punk fruitarians who protest against those Malaysian critters that poop expensive coffee. At some point, jobs and bills and family enter the equation, and before you know it, you've barely picketed a kopi luwak farm in years.
But does this mean you've completely discarded the part of your personality that liked to protest? Of course not. The way you do it has just evolved. Let's imagine the 20-year-old you was heavily against, say, fur farming. For the purpose of this analogy, let's say you were a full-on activist, throwing paint at people wearing fur coats, protesting, raiding farms, and releasing minks into the wild. Let's represent activist-you with this picture of a grumpy bag of quinoa:
Thank you, Getty image search.
At some point down the line, the conditions of your life will change. Maybe you meet your soulmate and skulk off to start a family. Maybe the bills start accumulating and you need to get a better paying, more demanding job. Maybe you'll just get older and your knees can't take sneaking around the fur farms with a wire cutter anymore. Years go by. You're now about 35, and your social and monetary situation is completely different. Let's generously assume you're in a pretty good place and represent you with this picture of a content bag of quinoa:
Hahahahaha! They had this, too? I'm seriously saving these guys for later use.
You might notice that, regardless of the state they're in, both of those anthropomorphized Chenopodium containers are still the exact same bag. It's the same with you and causes -- it's not that your fire stops burning, you just change the way it's channeled. Active activism tends to be a young person's game; as you get older and more experienced, you tend to find more cost- and time-effective ways to express your opinions.
A young PETA activist might grow up to become a politician, or gun for a professional position that gives them some leverage over things. At that point, they're not actively screaming anymore. Hell, they're probably not even thinking about activism. However, chances are they still retain a tiny part of their youthful opinions, like an aversion to the fur industry. So when a situation arises where they have a chance to do something that's for or against it -- approve or deny a bank loan, let a minor health regulation issue slide or report it, go fix a fur farm's plumbing immediately or say they're busy and go to another customer -- chances are they choose the latter option. They're now working within the system, pulling strings.
This applies to every passion, too. Look at that thing you wrote down earlier. Maybe your cause of choice is politics, or a Lex Luger Fan Club, or maybe you're just really passionate about campaigning for a Game of the Year award for the latest Call of Duty. Keep hold of that piece of paper, and look at it 10 years from now. Remember the fire you had about this thing when you wrote it down, and really, really think about where it has gone.
Chances are, you'll find it. It might come out in different -- and often a lot more subdued -- ways, but it's still surprisingly close.