In December 2004, Matt wrote:
I worry about the future. I can’t help but wonder what I will be like in 10 years time.
That’s me, by the way.
I look back on this, as I do on all my old writings, and feel sad, but detached somewhat, almost as if I am reading about someone else. I feel sad thinking about how he must have been feeling 10 years ago. I feel sad for the situation he was in. I feel like I wish I could offer him some encouragement, or some comforting words of advice. It will be OK, Matt.
Then I remember that I am talking about a past self. I remember that Matt is me, and, worse, I might not even be sincere when I muster up those emotions. They are mere platitudes – the kind of thing you say to anyone who’s feeling down, even if you don’t know that what you’re saying is true.
Because, the fact is, when I look back 10 years, I don’t honestly think that, if I, 29 years old, could be magically placed into the room with my 19 year old self, to impart words of wisdom about the decade to come, I could say that everything will be OK. It won’t.
Number 1 reason why is because life is not like that. One bit. Some you win, some you lose. You hope you are going in roughly the right direction, and that your losses outnumber your wins. But there are big losses. There are missed opportunities. There are giant distractions. There is huge procrastination. There is hope, expectation, and then the smack of reality.
I don’t know why, but this is the kind of life lesson that I wasn’t really aware of back then. There is something wonderful about the naivety of youth. Though I was already jaded with cynicism about life and the society we live in, I still did believe that a great swathe of the world was still open to me. That I could still be anything I wanted to be, assuming I had some talent, of course.
10 years ago I reflected very heavily on the beginnings of my new life at university, living away from home. I believe that that was a very astute observation, and one that I believe was a major launching point for me and my life. 10 years ago it was clear that I was just going along with what seemed to be the sensible course, with the benefit of the largely dull but positively life-changing experience of working as a grunt in society. That also turned out to be prescient, and ultimately my view of the world of work still hasn’t changed and never will.
I knew I had to get out. I knew I was getting nowhere. Fortunately, I had already lined up a University place. It was my get out clause that I’d never really intended to use. I applied to Uni just to placate the parents. I really wanted to go out there and work. I was fed up of education. Hence the gap year. But it didn’t turn out that way.
10 years ago though, I hoped that my university experience, and growing up away from home would give me better chances in life. It did to some extent, but not because of the actual education I obtained from it. Just more because it shaped me into the person I am, enhanced by the independence I gained, and the friendships I formed. I worried about this 10 year ago, not knowing where it was taking me, but I think this bit turned out OK.
I then reflected strongly on the process of “adultification”, as I called it. Again, I am impressed with my 19 year old self. I could write all of these words again today.
Ask a random person on the street about their life, and one of the first things they will tell you is what they do for a living. Is that how our society judges people? Merely on what they’re doing in exchange for cash? What have you actually contributed today apart from the C02 emissions from the car you’re driving?
What pervades my earliest writings is my sense of depression and despondency. I worry about the decades that were stretching out ahead of me, and wondering just exactly what I could fill them with to make myself a worthwhile life, full of engagement with others, and how, exactly, I could make a mark on the world.
I still worry about this, and in some senses my worries are enhancing with each passing day, as that creeping feeling of mortality grows. But I don’t feel as depressed now. I feel like I at least have some concept as to what I want to do with my life. Back then I really had no clue what I was getting myself into, and no idea how to answer that question I posed above: what do I want to do in exchange for cash? I feel like I have answered this, so it no longer poses depression.
But the underlying question still does. The real point of the question was to explore what more things one can do in life to make it more worth living. As to this, I have no idea. Neither did I 10 years ago. It bugs me, but unlike 10 years ago I bury myself in my work to avoid thinking about it. I couldn’t do that then. It’s called distraction.
I can never get rid of the niggling thought at the back of my mind that I’m missing out on something. That I’m here to do something far more important than study Western Europe.
I just don’t know what.
In some ways, the end is the most confusing part of my post. I have spent some of my life rather grandiosely wondering if I had some major talent I was supposed to be sharing with society for the good of others. When I was young people wanted me to be a doctor, or some super clever scientist. In my more superior moments, I wonder whether I am better than other people. Sometimes, when speaking with others, I feel like I am more intelligent than them, and not on their level. I try not to think too much like this, as it’s extremely damaging for me, but this nagging thought does arise from times that I am better than most of the people I meet, on an intellectual and mental acuity level.
This is horribly patronising to others. I wonder whether this was what I meant in the above paragraph. Or was it simply just an ironic way of writing that my studies were dull, with no relevance to real life, and that I needed to think about what will happen when they are gone?
I think I have turned out the best I could in the 10 years since I sat, morosely opining on the imminent life disaster I thought I was leading into. I always wish I that I had a different personality, one that was more open to others, engaging, tolerant of others, empathetic, and charitable. But that was never likely to happen. I didn’t have that 10 years ago. I don’t have it now. Personality only changes marginally through the years. I feel like the 10 years have been relatively kind to me.
Except for the fact that I do look older. Physically I look worse. The hair is a disaster. I generally look a bit gaunt and washed out. Most people remark that. I try to increase my weight by eating more, but it doesn’t work. I should be grateful of that, really, but I do get tired of people saying I look tired. I don’t actually feel tired at all, but if I’m looking it it must mean that I am working myself too hard.
I reckon the Matt of 10 years ago could understand that. He was a hard worker as well… but at least he had actual youth to protect himself. I don’t.
Looking back is important. You learn what worked and what didn’t. You should learn and readjust from that. I think I have. I think I have changed and improved in many ways. I learned to be comfortable being me. I learned to be independent. I learned to have a drive to always ask for more. But in doing so I created an aloof and difficult personality that doesn’t get on well with anyone more than a superficial level. There are very few people I let into my inner confidence. I was like that 10 years ago. I am like that times 100 today.
I regret that I am not a more exciting person. I regret that my previous wishes to see the world and travel are unfulfilled, and almost extinguished. I am jealous of my 19-year-old self who went off to the USA on his own. I wish I could do it again now. But he was young and carefree with absolutely no commitments to anyone or anything. I am not. I have a life to maintain. I have businesses to run, and people who rely on that.
But regrets are not good for you. I have learned to bury my regrets firmly. I am better at that than 10 years ago. I still get angry when I fail, or slip up, but only because I hold myself in such high standards. That, arguably, is actually worse than 10 years ago…
Overall, like most things in life, it’s a mixture. A delicate balance of positives and negatives, some outweighing the others. I think I am in a better position than I was 10 years ago: a post-teenaged ball of angst, full of the woes of growing up emotionally into a proper adult. Now all of that is long gone, for good and for ill.
It’s the next 10 years that really worry me.