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Possibilities & Experiences

August 26, 2011

The really great thing about being young is that anything is possible.  The younger you are, the more possibilities you have.

Each choice we make means we are discarding other choices.  Sometimes you can come back to the choice and sample the other option.  Typically, you don’t get another chance.  You go to one college (or maybe you transfer), you have one college major on your degree (usually!), and one graduation.  You date a few guys but you don’t date the others, you move to one city over another, you take one job rather than another.

In my late 20’s, I still feel like I have a lot of possibilities.  I still feel like I could have several more careers, live a few more places, and realize many more of my dreams.  Or I could stay here without changing my path, and still realize a lot more dreams.  Dropping my path and pursing medicine is unlikely at this point (but actually still possible), but most things haven’t been ruled out.  Hopefully, I have a long life ahead of me.

Still.  I feel like I’m on the cusp of a stage in my life where millions of possibilities will start slipping out of my grasp.  I want my marriage, I want kids, I want a career, and those three things will demand so much time, energy, love and passion that I won’t be able to follow all of my selfish pursuits.

With just one life, I’ll never be able to realize all the possibilities.   I’m still learning to accept that many things will remain undone, many dreams will remain unlived.  That’s what happens as you go through life.  You have to stop telling yourself “maybe one day…” and either make it happen or don’t.  But really, we’re all going to miss almost everything – it’s just sheer numbers.

On the other hand!  The really awesome thing about getting older is you get to trade in some of your possibilities for actual experiences.  Instead of daydreams about your future, you are there!  I have a job!  I have a husband!  I live in a small apartment by the beach!  I have been to lots of cool places, I climb mountains, I have run a marathon, and… In short, I have a life I love.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

The young have many possibilities but few experiences.  The old have many experiences but fewer possibilities.  Do you ever feel sad at the thought that some things are no longer possible, even if they clearly weren’t that important to you anyway?  What things did you once dream about that you now realize probably won’t make the cut?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2011 9:33 am

    Well-said. I also read the original NPR post through your link. I never thought about this and now I feel a bit sad.

    I think at some point, you get through this sadness and appreciate the life you chose. At least that’s what I noticed among older friends and family members, assuming that they didn’t make too many “bad” choices in their 20s, 30s or 40s.

    • SP permalink*
      August 26, 2011 10:38 am

      Yes, I was kind of thinking more about people who made bad choices, and now are older & with regrets. You don’t see so much of that in young people, because they have made fewer choices and still have a lot of potential.

      I try not to dwell on any specific regrets, but I still love the idea of “potential” and “possibility” and hope and optimism for the future. At some point a person stops “having a lot of potential”, and you are… what you are. You can change and grow and improve always, of course, but… I don’t know, it’s an interesting shift. Luckily, it is also very slow!

      It’s sad, but like the article said, beautiful. How small would the world & possibilities have to be if it actually was possible to fit everything worth doing into a single little life?!

  2. August 26, 2011 9:40 am

    This article denotes a profound thought, and one that I wrestle with frequently. For instance, my wife and I are planning on trying to start having kids soon, and I’m excited for that, because I want kids and I think it is good to have children. However, my wife and I also feel pretty strongly that our lives will cease being our own when we do have kids, so the benefit of having kids will come at the price of not being as easily able to focus on our other priorities.

    One quote that I saw on a friend’s Facebook was kind of encouraging to me, though. It’s apparently a Dr. Seuss quote that says, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” The implication of this, to me at least, is that whatever course my wife and I end up taking in our lives, there will have been value in it. On my more optimistic days, I can see that. On my more pessimistic days, well…I try not to have too many pessimistic days.

  3. Bonnie permalink
    August 26, 2011 11:03 am

    Wait until you’re in your mid-30s, like me–those ‘missed opportunities’ really start stacking up. And you will think about them a lot. However, I still feel like a few more of my dreams will come true (or at least possibly could) and I do believe that new dreams come along that might not even be in your head at all in the present. It does seem that five minutes ago I was 20 and then I blinked and I’m 35. Things take on a greater urgency the older you get (for instance, I know I don’t have forever to have kids), too, and as you said, the sheer amount of time to do everything that you dreamed of doing just isn’t there.

    • August 29, 2011 9:31 pm

      I wish I was a vampire. They live forever, or at least hundreds of years, right? I remember reading some fiction about them (way before twilight, before it was cool) and the vampire was so sad that she couldn’t die because life had been so long and she was bored. I could not fathom that.

      Um, sorry – vampires aren’t the point either.

  4. August 26, 2011 11:25 am

    My dad made a comment along these lines to me once, and it really struck me and changed my perspective. I was saying something encouraging or motivational and he just shrugged and said there was a point in his life when he realized he had “made it” as far as he was going to and had to let go of his vision of himself as a super-successful entrepreneur who would end up with a giant retirement portfolio. This seemed like giving up to me, or like pessimism, but the older I get I realize he is right and that is probably how I’m going to have to look at some things eventually. Some of my older women friends non-chalantly say “that ship has sailed” when talking about finding a great love – instead they had great careers or global adventures or kids maybe. Again the movies would have us to “never stop dreaming,” but you also have to be content with what you have had and not dwell on what could have been. Doing so will ony ruin what you have.

  5. August 26, 2011 2:04 pm

    This is such a great post. I love it. I sometimes feel like I am behind my peers but I still have a ton of time an opportunities ahead of me.

  6. August 27, 2011 5:20 am

    I would like to put out there that possibilities don’t diminish with age, only our mental attitudes and perspectives about what is possible diminish. At 36 I decided to say “screw it” to what people told me was possible or not. I left my stifling corporate job, returned to graduate school and embarked on a career in international human rights. Now I’ve just moved 1000 miles and am beginning my PhD next week. After making a conscious decision to create my own life rather than follow the expectations that “society” has for what we’re supposed to do with our lives, I’ve never looked back. I might be too old to have my own kids now, but I can still adopt a child in need if I choose so kids could still be in the picture if I wanted them to be. In fact, I see more possibilities now than I ever did when I was younger, making decisions from a place of fear like I did back then. Yes, maybe a specific opportunity has passed, but there are always more opportunities and possibilities and missing one just means your path was meant to go a different way. You have to create your opportunities and leave your mind open to see possibilities.

    And yes, contentment does play a big part. I am content with a much smaller amount materially now because that helps me live my dreams – having a big house or a fancy car holds no appeal for me at all, but being able to travel and to pursue my work against human trafficking does, for example. But good gravy, while we all have limits, don’t place additional limits on yourself that are only there if you give them the power to be.

    • August 29, 2011 9:28 pm

      I admit the tone of the post came off much more sad and regret-y than I meant it, but “placing additional limits on myself was SO not the point. I read that NPR article I linked to several months ago and it has just STUCK with me. This was meant to be a thoughtful reflection on how one little life is short and small compared to the vast possibilities on how to spend it. There is no way we can do EVERYTHING we are capable of. There just isn’t time.

      Yes, you can always change your life, but your possibilities do become limited with age. So at 36, no, it wasn’t too late for a new career passion for you, and that is GREAT that you were able to pursue it. Wonderful!

      But take it a step further. Now you are 46. Ok, adopting a kid is probably not a good idea anymore (but maybe one could make it happen). Now 56. Still not too limited, but if you want to retire, starting a new career will take a lot of sacrifice. Ok, now 66. Then 76. I don’t think my grandparents sit around dreaming about what they might do with their life and who they might be. They still have dreams of what they want to do IN life, but a large part of the story has been told. I don’t mean this in a harsh way – just in a realistic, practical, accepting way.

      I fully intend to celebrate the choices I make and the experiences I have – but it’s silly to act like we can do anything, anytime, and that we have eternity to do it. I find the feeling of endless possibilities a very magical thing about being 17 or 18 (kind of makes up for all the crappy parts of being that age!). I’m not limiting myself with my attitudes, I’m just being conscious that the choices I make MATTER and life is short and I better love it.

      • August 30, 2011 4:51 am

        Interesting. It seems, as well, that it’s about giving it our best shot, being content with our choices, and choosing not to wallow in regrets. Lots tho think about – thanks!

  7. August 29, 2011 1:22 pm

    Hmm..I just came across this blogger’s post/experiment related to life’s regrets.

  8. September 1, 2011 10:48 am

    Being in your late twenties is not too old. You can still do anything with your life. The difference between me (21 years old) and someone in their late twenties is the older has more experience. We both still have the same opportunities!


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