Every so often, a tweet makes you stop, think, and re-evaluate your life. This is one such tweet.
"If you don’t look back at yourself and think 'Wow, how stupid I was a year or two ago,' then you must not have learned much in the last year or two."
— Tim Urban (@waitbutwhy) February 28, 2018
For the record: yes, I’ve done my research and listened to the podcast, rather than trusting a quote picked out by someone else. That is indeed exactly what someone on the podcast says: specifically, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates.
OK, I admit, I’m immediately suspicious of one-sentence platitudes on how to live your life. But the above really gave me pause. Sure, there are things I look back on where I think yeah, I was bloody stupid. (Let’s be generous and assume that by “stupid”, Ray simply means “had more to learn”.) I work in playout on a major TV channel; I like to think I can deal with channel breakdowns better now than at any point in my career.1 I know I’m a more considerate person when it comes to relationships than I used to be. And I used to be the kind of person who sneered a little at trigger warnings, privately if not publicly; I’m not perfect these days by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m certainly more aware of social issues now than I ever used to be.
But I think back to how I used to be in other areas… and I don’t feel I was stupid at all. In fact, I was better at some things than I am now. When I was writing news stories for Ganymede & Titan daily, I got a knack for how to write an entertaining news story very quickly, which I have all but completely lost now. Sure, maybe I’m happier these days writing more longform, personal stuff: but there are times when having the old skill would be extremely useful, and I just can’t do it like I used to be able to.
Oh, and I used to be able to write headlines.
Or take my current job. Am I happier directing a TV channel now than I was working as a shelf stacker in a cash and carry? Of course I am. But I’d be a fool not to recognise there were certain things about that job which made me a better person in some ways than now, if only because I was fitter and more physically dextrous. Sitting on your arse for 12 hours a day is not the way to improve yourself in this regard. Being on your feet all day scooting up and down the aisles lifting heavy boxes is, no matter how little I enjoyed it.
We are all complex creatures. Yes, we learn and improve on some things as we get older… but we lose things, too. I don’t look back on my older self and see just stupidity; I see parts of myself which I have lost, and wish that I hadn’t. The hours I used to spend swimming or cycling; my interest in programming; the articles I used to write which I’d never dare to now because of self-doubt. As we choose to improve some areas of our lives, other things fall by the wayside. That’s only natural: but to pretend no matter how hard we try that our lives consist of constant improvement is a fallacy.
If you only look back on yourself and see stupidity, maybe you’re just not giving your past self a fair chance. And more importantly: maybe you’re not giving your future self a chance to put at least some of that right.
Those who work in the industry will know that now I’ve been foolish enough to say this, I fully expect to be tested on it shortly. ↩