When I was 23, one of the true and shared articles on Facebook was “The Brain on 23.” It struck the heart of the lost souls searching for meaning and purpose. It was sympathetic to us, it didn’t lecture us, and it allowed us to communally accept our daily challenges. However comforting it was, it is now frustrating to read. If you’ve read it or have never read it, I have provided a refresher but also have reframed the challenges and the call to action –read on.
The Brain on Being STUCK
We are 23 stuck. We are stuck in the routine of the 9 to 5 that keeps food on the table, the weekend trips that are our escapes, the gym that keeps us active, and the Game of Thrones that keep us glued to our screens. We are stuck as “we work hard in our jobs we aren’t sure we want to make those fancy degrees feel worth it, and we are stuck dating people we aren’t sure we love to make everything feel less lonely”.
We feel stuck wondering if this career path is the life for us while we look at our “newsfeed” at those who are travelling the world, those who live a life of purpose or those who have created their own startups. We feel stuck looking at Facebook or Instagram, as we alleviate out guilt by numbing our existence on Netflix.
“We feel like every second we spend streaming movies from our bedrooms is a second we are not putting ourselves out there. Yet we stream on…
Because for most of us, at 23 life detonates as we suddenly forget why we chose that major or moved to this city or loved that person. All we want is to understand who we are, and we can’t. Only time will tell us.” –Molly Sprayregen
What I’ve done here is, I have replaced “23” with “stuck” and thus I have not shed light on our challenges as acceptable truths that we can sympathetically share, but rather an issue we can work to fix.
What time will tell is more of the same: You continue to do what you’re doing, you climb the corporate ladder into middle management, you hang with the same group of friends, your body ages, and you become comfortable. The more you remain in your comfort zone, the guiltier it is to think about a life of passion and purpose, and the harder it is to break free from being STUCK. Soon going with the flow will carry you into a mortgage, a fiancee, a pet dog, and then kids…and feeling stuck is so ingrained in your life you have come to accept it, which could be great for some people. If you accomplished all this you’ve lived a life now where you’re more privileged and well off than 99.9% of the world’s population.
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, NOT the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all –the realization that life is almost over, and that I can look back clearly on it to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.
The second biggest regret is how unfulfilling work consumed their lives.
Here is an anecdote from one of the most popular and “gilded” reddit posts:
“TIFU. More like more whole life really. Hi, I my name’s John. I’ve been lurking for a while, but I’ve finally made an account to post this. I need to get my life off my chest. About me. I’m a 46 year old banker and I have been living my whole life the opposite of how I wanted. All my dreams, my passion, gone. In a steady 9-7 job. 6 days a week. For 26 years. I repeatedly chose the safe path for everything, which eventually changed who I was. Today I found out my wife has been cheating on me for the last 10 years. My son feels nothing for me. I realised I missed my father’s funeral FOR NOTHING. I didn’t complete my novel, travelling the world, helping the homeless. All these things I thought I knew to be a certainty about myself when i was in my late teens and early twenties. If my younger self had met me today, I would have punched myself in the face. I’ll get to how those dreams were crushed soon.”
Let’s start with a description of me when I was 20. It seemed only yesterday when I was sure I was going to change the world. People loved me, and I loved people. I was innovative, creative, spontaneous, risk-taking and great with people. I had two dreams. The first, was writing a utopic/dystopic book. The second, was travelling the world and helping the poor and homeless. I had been dating my wife for four years by then. Young love. She loved my spontaneity, my energy, my ability to make people laugh and feel loved. I knew my book was going to change the world. I would show the perspective of the ‘bad’ and the ‘twisted’, showing my viewers that everybody thinks differently, that people never think what the do is wrong. I was 70 pages through when i was 20. I am still 70 pages in, at 46. By 20, I had backpacking around New Zealand and the Phillipines. I planned to do all of Asia, then Europe, then America (I live in Australia by the way). To date, I have only been to New Zealand and the Phillipines. Now, we get to where it all went wrong. My biggest regrets. I was 20. I was the only child. I needed to be stable. I needed to take that graduate job, which would dictate my whole life. To devote my entire life in a 9-7 job. What was I thinking? How could I live, when the job was my life? After coming home, I would eat dinner, prepare my work for the following day, and sleep at 10pm, to wake up at 6am the following day. God, I can’t remember the last time I’ve made love to my wife. Yesterday, my wife admitted to cheating on me for the last 10 years. 10 years. That seems like a long time, but i can’t comprehend it. It doesn’t even hurt. She says it’s because I’ve changed. I’m not the person I was. What have I been doing in the last 10 years? Outside of work, I really can’t say anything. Not being a proper husband. Not being ME. Who am I? What happened to me? I didn’t even ask for a divorce, or yell at her, or cry. I felt NOTHING. Now I can feel a tear as I write this. But not because my wife has been cheating on me, but because I am now realising I have been dying inside. What happened to that fun-loving, risk-taking, energetic person that was me, hungering to change the world? I remember being asked on a date by the most popular girl in the school, but declining her for my now-wife. God, I was really popular with the girls in high school. In university/college too. But i stayed loyal. I didn’t explore. I studied everyday. Remember all that backpacking and book-writing I told you about? That was all in the first few years of college. I worked part-time and splurged all that I had earned. Now, I save every penny. I don’t remember a time I spend anything on anything fun. On anything for myself. What do I even want now? My father passed ten years ago. I remember getting calls from mom, telling me he was getting sicker and sicker. I was getting busier and busier, on the verge of a big promotion. I kept putting my visit off, hoping in my mind he would hold on. He died, and I got my promotion. I haven’t seen him in 15 years. When he died, I told myself it didn’t matter what I didn’t see him. Being an atheist, I rationalized that being dead, it wouldn’t matter anyway. WHAT WAS I THINKING? Rationalizing everything, making excuses to put things off. Excuses. Procrastination. It all leads to one thing, nothing. I rationalized that financial security was the most important thing. I now know, that it definitely is not. I regret doing nothing with my energy, when I had it. My passions. My youth. I regret letting my job take over my life. I regret being an awful husband, a money-making machine. I regret not finishing my novel, not travelling the world. Not being emotionally there for my son. Being a damn emotionless wallet. If you’re reading this, and you have a whole life ahead of you, please. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t leave your dreams for later. Relish in your energy, your passions. Don’t stay on the internet with all your spare time (unless your passion needs it). Please, do something with your life while your young. DO NOT settle down at 20. DO NOT forget your friends, your family. Yourself. Do NOT waste your life. Your ambitions. Like I did mine. Do not be like me. Sorry for the long post, just had to get it out there. TL:DR I realised I let procrastination and money stop me from pursuing my passions when I was younger, and now I am dead inside, old and tired. Edit: I am quite overwhelmed at the response, thank you for your time. I had posted on a whim, and did not expect the reception. In regards to my post, I must admit I was quite emotional at the time. As I read what I had written earlier, I can’t stop myself from noticing an abundance of spelling and grammatical mistakes, phrases that I would not usually say. I don’t think I have used Capital Locks so much in my life. However I will not edit them. That would not do it justice. I have read many of the replies and will try my best to answer the reoccurring questions. I will add that the replies have given me a new perspective of life, Reddit and humanity in general. The amount of encouragement and humour persists to amaze me. Despite my situation, I even found myself laughing at a few of the comments. What my plans are. I am planning to cut down my hours substantially. I will take a new job if I have to, as I am relatively well-off. I am going to talk to my wife. Divorce is currently not what I have in mind and I hope that our communication and relationship will improve. If it doesn’t, then so be it. We will both move on. I see there are quite a number of negative comments about her, however I am going to have to say in her defence, she really is a lovely person. She is smart, empathetic and has a great sense of humour. I’m not saying it was okay for her to do what she did, but she’s not an evil person. I know that. We were both in the fault. We let communication dwindle, and with it, our relationship. There is so much more to being a head of house than just being able to bring in the money. A steady balance of emotional connection, love and finance is what I will strive to give. My son. I don’t any anything about him. I really don’t. I have unknowingly distanced myself from him; I only see him around dinner time. I do not recall having a proper conversation with him, it’s quite preposterous now that I think about it. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll start bonding with him, I have become quite a boring person. However, I plan to change that. I refuse to be a poor role model. I will ensure that he does not make the same mistake I did with my family. I have decided I am going to start watching his basketball games and rugby games on Saturdays. I never have, due to work, but I will ensure that I do. Perhaps I will even play video games with him. There was a time I had a collection of SNES games, and I wasn’t half bad either. Who knows, I might really connect with my son, and it seems to be something he enjoys. In regards to the novel and travelling, I admit, I am a different person from my youth. I no longer have the creativity and desire to complete the novel. When I found the long-forgotten 70 pages, the writing was no longer mine. I have changed substantially in 26 years. I am sorry to disappoint as so many of you seemed incredibly keen to read it. However, I am just as excited to read the stories of all of you aspiring writers that have expressed their passion! The travelling, I might still do. Family trips probably, in the school holidays. Maybe with my wife every now and then, if she’d have me. I can’t turn back time and see my father for a final time, though my mother is still alive. She lives in London, so visits are quite difficult. However, I will make an effort to see her. I do love my parents. I only wish I had not prioritised them as I did. In regards to the advice I have given. I stand by what I said. Live your life. Do not procrastinate and let lethargy stop you. However, I might add, avoid living in poverty. I have had the good fortune to have had never experienced hunger or homelessness. I would imagine chasing your ambitions and being happy would be considerable more difficult without proper nutrition and living standards! I believe someone mentioned their dream was financial stability. I say, that is just as valiant as any dream to have. We are all different and are missing different things in our lives, be honest with yourself and you’ll know what you really want. I believe there were arguments upon my language and university/college or what not. I will clarify that, although Australians generally call tertiary education ‘university’ here, I have made small efforts to pertain to Americans, as they are the main users, at least I assume. And yes, university/college was free when I attended. I believe Australians now are able to attend them relatively free (upfront) and can pay their fees after they graduate. I believe I have covered the general scope of questions. P.S. Thank you for the gold, I do appreciate it, but they aren’t of real value to me. Perhaps if Reddit ever includes a re-gifting gold feature, I will gift them to some of the commenters. And yes, please stop sending me gold! I also believe someone tried to even donate to me? I assure you, money is not what I read. Please save it for yourself! I don’t think I’ll come back to Reddit, unless i hear about a way to re-gift gold. I thank you all for your sympathy, your time, and I wish all the best for those in difficult situations. I have faith in your capacity and ability to change, to become happy, to help yourselves. Because after all, you’re the person in the best position to. And no, I am not considering religion, I just do not have the correct mindset. I am logical to the point that I cannot, however that is not to say religion isn’t bad, it gives people the hope and sense after death which I really do envy. Sincerest of Regards, John.
At what point could he have comfortably in his life completed his novel, traveled the world and helped the homeless? At any point –could he have accomplished this without a significant risk and without leaving his comfort zone?
My first video expands on this article. See my response