One of the last lines of The Office is “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” The good news–there is a way. And it’s called being aware of your circumstances.
As I look back on my (admittedly) short life, I’m noticing how increasingly complex it’s gotten. I swear, my biggest concern in high school was where my friends and I were going to eat lunch. College was more complicated–we lost nearly two years to the pandemic–and now, once I’m done traveling, I’m going to have to “make it” as an entertainer in New York City.
Now, and I mentioned this in my last post, these are extraordinarily privileged problems to have, and none of them are bad. The point is that life is getting more complex, not necessarily harder, and many, many people will of course have more challenging circumstances.
The lesson, though–and this is something I’ve really tried to be aware of as I’ve kayaked through Thailand or rock climbed in Switzerland–is that if life will always get more complex, then we’re always in the good old days. The trick is realizing that we’re here.
It’s not to say that life goes in a straight trajectory of simple→complex. But it’s a fact that as we age, we’ll take on burdens like mortgages, health issues, families, and a million other unpredictable problems.
So while I’ve traveled, it’s been a simple exercise to remind myself, like a mantra, “These are the good old days. Enjoy them. It will not always be like this.”
One of my favorite recent songs is “A Lifetime to Find,” by Wilco, where Jeff Tweedy sings: It takes a lifetime to find the life like the life you had in mind (listen to the song. The line sounds far better when it's sung). This is, of course, just another way of framing age-old wisdom: Life is about enjoying the process. The good old days are not arrived at, they are likely already around you, waiting to be enjoyed.
And look, life won’t be perfect all the time. There will be many weeks or months that certainly don’t feel like the good old days. But life will get more complex, and if we don’t practice enjoying what we have now, we aren’t going to be good at enjoying it later.
At the end of the day, this is another gratitude practice. I’m lucky to have friends and family I can rely on. I’m lucky that I get to move to New York City to do a job I love. And I’m lucky to be backpacking through one of the coolest places in the world.
These are the good old days. I’m off to Vietnam. See you next week!