How to Live In the Good Old Days Before They Actually Become the Good Old Days
Photo by Andre Labrune (@andrelabrune)
(check this guy’s gallery out for real his stuff’s fantastic)
Written by Elliott Pak
“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.”
Love, Meet Attic.
You know those really small significant memories you have that involves someone saying something that sticks to you forever, but it was so in passing that you’re almost positive the other person probably doesn’t even remember it?
I have this one memory from high school. I was at my drummer’s house, bout to go jam again, and I was just hanging out in the backyard smoking a cigarette, waiting for people to get ready. His dad came out, and I noticed he had placed a bunch of his old surfboards around the backyard, as decoration. I walked over to him and asked him about it.
“I didn’t know you surfed.”
“Big time. Used to be the only thing I did, I loved it. But somehow, as I got older and older, my boards slowly found their way closer and closer to the attic. Until I totally forgot about them. Good ol’ days.”
I was kind of stunned. Being a stupid little teenager, I blurted out, “That’s never happening to me. I’m going to be clutching my guitar until I’m dead.”
You know that condescending “HA” you get from older people who are way wiser than you, when they completely refute you. That “HA” that infuriates you to your very core and makes you want to do everything you can to prove them wrong – yet you know deep down that they probably know something you don’t know.
That scared the shit out of me.
Long story short, life elbowed me in the face, and even with that scary self-awareness of the inevitability of not having enough time for my hobbies, the axe slowly got used less and less as I grew up, less and less songs got written.
I’m in a weird, shitty, transitionary, purgatory part of my life right now.
I’m changing careers, I’m focusing on honing my skills at a hundred things I never even considered just a year ago. Starting all over.
You know in Friends when Chandler quits his job and chooses to start a new career in advertising and has to get an unpaid internship with a bunch of kids, and everyone thinks he’s a weird old fart? That’s what I feel like. I know I’m a lot younger but its WHAT I FEEL LIKE.
(if you don’t know Friends, I don’t know you. I don’t even like the show and I know every fucking episode by heart)
I have a not so typical problem for someone my age. Many on the other side of the fence would probably say it’s not a problem at all.
I don’t not know what I want to do with my life – I know exactly what I want to do. Except its like 10 things. 10 things I want to master and be an expert at and want to accomplish. 15 if I think about it for more than a couple seconds.
We’re generally taught growing up that we’re supposed to have one grand dream – become an expert at that one thing – and I have way too many for one lifetime (really hoping that statement isn’t true).
Whether I’m going to do all of these things or not isn’t really the issue here, in fact that decision was really easy. Either I do or I die trying.
The problem is attempting to concentrate on one thing at a time. There are so many things I want to do RIGHT NOW, layered on top of so many responsibilities and goals I’m SUPPOSED to be doing – I get decision paralysis really bad.
Do I move this piece up a little, and then this piece a little, and then this piece a lot? Do I spend my time pushing one piece all the way up, and let the others sit for a while? If I keep starting new projects am I going to forget about the old ones?
Growing up, I always figured there would be a clear ‘next step’ in everything I did. But I guess growing up I didn’t think I would be trying to accomplish 10 different things at a time. The path is far from linear for me, which leads to lots of anxiety.
Decision paralysis. I think it’s my worst trait. In fact that’s what I tell interviewers that ask that “what’s your biggest fault” question. Decision paralysis. (I thought it was a great answer but a lot of those interviewers haven’t called me back so I guess fucking not)
I know it sounds like I’m asking for some answer to this problem but I’m really not. It’s rhetorical. Don’t answer it.
But my decision paralysis, switching careers, questioning every move I make, is what’s taking up the majority of my worries and mindset right now. To the point where it’s all I think about sometimes – I lose sleep over it. To the point where sometimes all I think is –
I can’t fucking wait for this period of my life to be over.
I can’t fucking wait to get to that “happy successful restful peaceful” point. As if somehow, there will eventually be a period in my life where there aren’t any problems.
And don’t read this like you don’t do that too. Let the problems that’s taking up your life right now take the full focus of your life. That in the back of your mind, you’re just looking forward to some point where everything is just “good.” A period of problem-less-ness.
The Worry Jar.
It’s pretty easy for me to just focus on all my problems right now. I mean – right now, the decisions I make will have the biggest impact on my future, more than any other decision I’ve ever made. So it’d be pretty damn easy for me to just go “well FUCK I can’t really just enjoy everything right now, these are the biggest problems I’ve ever faced in my entire life!”
But if I take just a tiny step back from the whole mess of anxiety, it’s pretty clear to see that every problem I’ve ever had in my life was the biggest problem I’ve ever had in my life. And if there’s any sort of continuity in life, whatever comes next is going to be very easy to build up in my head as “the biggest problem of my life” once again.
Good job if you’re still following, I had to read that about 6 times to make sure it made sense.
A period of problem-less-ness. Looking back, didn’t we always think the next part would be that? When we were in elementary school, wasn’t all we wanted to be in high school? And then in high school we just wanted to be in college? And then in college just couldn’t wait to be free of school?
It’s a mirage. Waiting for that future no-problem-period is a fucking mirage. Problems never disappear. We squash one and three come up in its place.
But back to the present.
I think our minds tend to build whatever problem or rough patch that we’re having at that exact moment in our lives up to be relatively huge.
Like there’s this big jar in our heads. Let’s call it the worry jar. It never changes sizes. But no matter what, if we don’t make a conscious effort against it, we fill that jar up with whatever bullshit we happen to be worrying about at that moment.
Objectively – they can range from really stupid mundane problems to something more serious, but despite how big it actually is – if that’s the only thing we have, we have this shit ability to center our whole lives around it. We fill that jar up with whatever it is until it’s the only thing we think about.
And once we fill that shit up – which a lot of us tend to do (I absolutely do) – we don’t really leave ourselves any space to enjoy the present. We just spend it worrying and wishing for the future, and we consequently miss all the amazing things that are happening. And all those fleeting amazing things inevitably become something we’re only able to enjoy while looking in the rearview mirror cause we wasted the present worrying.
For some reason in the back of our minds, I think we tend to think that both the good things and the bad things going on at that moment in our lives are going to last forever.
But they don’t.
And everyone just ends up going, “oh, shit. That problem didn’t last forever. I worried about that too much.”
And “oh, shit. That amazing thing didn’t last forever. I didn’t appreciate that enough.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of enjoying things more in hindsight then I did in real time. I’m sick of spending all my time worrying about something, and then remembering that same problem a year later as something totally mundane and not worth worrying about.
The Good Old Days.
Another sitcom reference deal with it.
In the last episode of The Office, Andy says all emotionally,
“The weird thing is, now, I’m exactly where I want to be. I got my dream job at Cornell, and I’m still just thinking about my old pals. They’re the ones I made here. I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.”
Woah. Heavy hitter from The Office.
So how are you supposed to know when the good old days are taking place before you’ve actually left them?
WELL GUYS here’s my theory.
Every moment of your life is eventually going to be “the good old days.” Every single period, every single chapter. It’s all eventually going to be the good old days.
That shitty date you went on the other day? Good old days. Food poisoning? Good old days. Shitty entry level job? Good old days.
So that would include right now, whatever’s going on, right now too.
Problem is we don’t really have the foresight to understand what aspects of right now will eventually become the good old days, cause there’s so much anxiety-invoking bullshit floating around all mixed in with the good stuff.
Up there in the beginning, Marcel Pagnol said people “always see the past better than it was.” I think that’s pessimistic, or at least a little misleading.
I think we always look at the past with such fondness because we’re able to take a step back from that particular time and appreciate the good things that were happening, without the nagging worries that filled the jar at that time. It’s not like we’re sugarcoating the past – we’re just separating our old problems from the good memories with this mature clarity that can only be seen from far away.
We don’t “see the present worse than it is” – we just tend to focus on the wrong things. We put our problems up on a pedestal.
It’s not until we’re far off into the future with brand new experiences and wisdom and problems, that we realize how easy and mundane our old problems were that we allowed ourselves to focus on so heavily.
So lately I find myself saying this over and over:
However much you might think your problems suck right now, you’re going to miss it. You’re just too busy focusing on the bad parts.
Everything you’re worrying about – it’s probably going to work out, cause if you care enough to worry about it, you probably care enough to do something about it – and once it’s done you’re probably going to forget about it.
I don’t know if you guys read it but in my last article about the motorbike crash in Vietnam – basically there was a small period of the trip that was one of the most lonely, depressing, and helpless times I’ve ever felt in my life. That’s all I was concentrating on at the time. Feeling bad for myself and focusing on how shitty everything was.
But after the dust settled, the seemingly never-ending bad parts – well, they ended.
And now I laugh at the bad parts. I laugh at the fact that I got into that accident. Man, I was worrying about everything back then. But all of these amazing things were happening in the background of my focus on the shittiness – and once again, I was only really able to enjoy them looking backwards.
Those were some good fucking times I had during that depression and loneliness. Some good fucking times. Wish I could go back. Wish I could go back and tell sad-cripple-Elliott to quit being a depressed little bitch and enjoy everything else about the situation, cause that pain is going to pass real quick, and so are those fleeting amazing things.
Like eating the most glorious 10 cent Banh Mis off street vendors. Or getting lost in beautiful cities. Or making a small Vietnamese baby laugh with simple peek-a-boo tactics. Or just being able to see the sun set over the Perfume River. Or the fact that I was blessed enough to be floating around Southeast Asia doing whatever the fuck I pleased for four months.
All of those amazing things were actually happening to me. I mean even still, right now, to me – those all seem like crazy things you only watch good-looking YouTubers do or read about in National Geographic. I still look back at some of the stuff I’ve done and feel like I have NO idea how I ended up in these situations.
But there’s all of these tiny little things we don’t even know that we’re going to appreciate in the future.
One very specific unappreciated thing for me during the wrist-breaking saga (again if you didn’t read the story, I thought I broke both my wrists in the accident) was just riding the metro through busy cities. Bangkok, specifically. Just standing in that packed little tin can, riding high above the city, music blasting in my headphones.
I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about trains and planes and moving transportation that I just fucking love. Something about it always makes me feel introspective and day-dreamy and at peace. Like I’m in a music video of my own life. (Anyone else like this or am I weird?)
But at the time, I wasn’t concentrating on the little beautiful things about the situation. I’m sitting there, double-casted, much more preoccupied with how ridiculously stupid I looked. Just sitting there feeling sorry for myself.
Looking back now I should have had my face pressed up against the glass with my mouth dropped open like a little kid going “WOW DID YOU GUYS JUST SEE THAT FUCKING BUILDING HOLY SHIT” to random strangers.
I should have been basking in the grandness of the situation – but all I was doing was nervously busy testing how far I could bend my wrists.
Yet here I am today, reminiscing about a dirty train in Bangkok.
Nothing Gold Can Stay.
Literally everything good in the world is fleeting. Every good moment will eventually end and fade away.
But so do the bad things. The seemingly everlasting problems always fade away too.
And it’s not even like you’ll know what to appreciate with this “newfound knowledge” or something. It’s not like I can just be like “Hmm, my arm might get chopped off tomorrow, so I’m going to appreciate carrying stuff a little bit extra today.”
But you can at least be aware that there’s something you’re taking for granted right now that would easily put your problems into perspective if you knew what it was.
You’re probably missing something amazing that’s going on in the background. Take a minute to think extra hard about what it is, and appreciate the fuck out of it, because it won’t be around forever.
You kinda gotta just have blind faith that one day, for some reason, even the seemingly shitty periods of your life will contain something that you’ll miss dearly.
So I guess the whole point of this article isn’t about changing decisions, not about preventing problems, not about making pain more bearable, not about any bullshit get-happy-quick scheme, or really any kind of physical change in your daily routine – but just to realize that tomorrow, you’re probably going to realize that today’s problems weren’t such a big deal, and you’ll really wish you enjoyed yesterday’s weather a bit more.
When I was a kid, it was hard to imagine I would care about anything other then playing guitar and writing music all day. There’s almost no way I could have had the foresight or experience to understand how much life would change, and how small yet significant that part of my life would become. That shit was gold to me, but sometimes things change no matter how hard you try to hold on.
Right now, it’s hard for me to stop focusing on all the struggles. The career change, constantly comparing myself to my peers, the endless decisions that I feel are going to affect my entire future. But I imagine that in a year from now, these problems are going to seem petty. And that I might have missed something important while worrying about those things.
So right now, instead of labeling this period in my life as a “weird, shitty, transitionary, purgatory part of my life,” I’m trying my hardest (and it’s hard) to perceive it more as this “excitingly risky and fleeting moment where I’m afforded this crazy opportunity to chase some wild dreams, whether it works out or not.”
(currently brainstorming a label that rolls off the tongue better)
Theoretically – if you’re that aware of what’s going on right now, you won’t have regrets. You’ll just do it right. 50-year-old you will look back at this time and be like “YUP DID EVERY SINGLE THING PERFECTLY WOW I’M GREAT.”
But we all know that’s some unattainable bullshit. Things are going to change, and you’re not going to see it coming.
But if you’re aware enough, hopefully you can appreciate the fact that right at this very moment, you’re living in the good old days.
Go surf a little more before your board finds the attic.