Preface: Between a few extra busy work weeks and planning for vacation to Green Bay next week, I felt like I didn’t have anything substantial to share today. But I’m on a 4-week streak of posting every Wednesday and didn’t want to break it, so I rummaged through old drafts for ideas and was surprised to find this post from April that was almost completely finished, but never shared. Because I’m uniquely skilled at having the same conversation over and over again, it fits in perfectly with what we’ve already been talking about this month. Go figure. It also reminded me of this billboard of truth I read yesterday in Atomic Habits:
On the first day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film photography students into two groups.
Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group. They would be graded solely on the amount of work they produced. On the final day of class, he would tally the number of photos submitted by each student. One hundred photos would rate an A, ninety photos a B, eighty photos a C, and so on.
Meanwhile, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the “quality” group. They would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one photo during the semester, but to get an A, it had to be a nearly perfect image.
At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group. During the semester, these students were busy taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the darkroom, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.
I’m fully aware that, in life, I tend to fall into the quality group. I am chronic planner and a terrible practicer. And if I need to practice anything, it’s remembering that I don’t need an exhaustive plan for micromanaging my existence; I just need to practice being who I already am—the nice person who lives underneath all those heavy layers of self-imposed expectations.
This post reminded me of that.
April 24th, 2019
Last Tuesday was my final day of being 32. The About To Be A Year Older Train has a similar vibe to the January Crazy Train for me—and, ironically, the bulk of the frantic rush to plan a better life took place early Tuesday morning on an actual train to NYC.
All of the regulars were there to party: I’m going to run! And eat more salads! And write a book! Or at least a book proposal!
Every year, the list is mostly the same. I always want to be better in ways that matter. And every year, I come up with an elaborate plan of how to become this better version of myself. It never works—for all of the reasons already cited here. And yet, in a display of optimism that is markedly absent the rest of the year, I keep believing this trend will change.
I planned to really double down and finalize my Unrealistic Life Plan on the train ride home that night, but I missed the train. I was catching up with a friend after work and lost track of time. There was a chance I could have made it, but my directional skills kicked in and ensured otherwise. The next (and last) train to Harrisburg didn’t leave for another three hours.
It gave me permission to ditch the plan and have an adventure.
I got on the train three hours later tired and happy and with very little desire to plan anything other than when to eat tiny pastries. When I arrived in Harrisburg at 1am, I took an Uber home from a lovely older man named Adeleno who drives the overnight shift to help people who are drunk and people who are women get home safely at odd hours.
The next morning I had birthday breakfast with Britt and Jenny, a household tradition. A friend who has known me since high school sent me the gift of a personalized rap (for real) and friends from out of town stopped over to visit. Our monthly rotating dinner group surprised me with a birthday dinner field trip. It was such a nice day, all around.
A few days later, I found myself on the train again.
This time I was heading to my parents’ house for Easter. The shine of a fresh start had dimmed a bit by then, but I still imagined that I’d use the time on the train to plan out my Big Dreams for 33. Instead, I tended to some work that needed to be done and read a little and spent the last hour of the ride chatting with my seat mate, Janet, an incredible lady who knows Mark Murphy! THE PACKERS’ Mark Murphy!!!
There was no time to plan once I actually got home. I was too busy spending time with people—having a quiet night at Jaclyn’s house, dying blindingly glitzy Easter eggs with my dad, going shopping with my mom for our end-of-August beach vacation because she’s convinced that everything summer-related will be sold out by May 1st.
Now it’s Tuesday morning and I’m on the train again. My parents dropped me off at the station in Albany early this morning. I told them to just drop me at the door, but of course, they parked and came inside to wait with me. I’m sitting at a window seat soaked in sunlight, surrounded by beautiful Spring time views that prove the earth is coming back to life again—and this time, I’m not even trying to plan how I’m going to be better this year. Because this version of myself, the one that has been in action since last week, is already who I most want to be.
I want to prioritize people. And experiences. And live with both common sense and a sincere appreciation for the little joys of regular, everyday life.
Missing that train last week because I was too focused on time spent with a friend, and then using unexpected free time to go on an adventure in NYC? That feels decidedly on-brand for who I want to be at 33. And of course I also want to run and eat more green things and make any recognizable progress on a writing career. Those would all be nice things. But I’m not sure they’re necessary things.
Maybe the magic of your 30s is understanding that who you can be is pretty great, but who you already are isn’t so bad, either. That person has seen some things. She has some flaws (and maybe one of them is publishing her inner thoughts on the internet), but at her core, she’s doing just fine.
Another shout out for the aforementioned article by James Clear. His book, Atomic Habits, is every bit as good as advertised.