I can remember sitting in a college library in 1997, reading up on all the changes George Lucas was making to his 20th Anniversary “special “ edition of Star Wars. I was two years old when the original movie came out. The difference from being two to to being a college junior felt like an endless expense of time.
In 1999, “Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” came out. It was the first Star Wars film in 16 years, and the most anticipated movie release of all time. When 2019 rolled around – that film’s 20th Anniversary – it felt like it had come out just a few years ago. 20 years didn’t feel endless anymore.
I’m 48. The last 20 years of my life have been filled with great experiences and accomplishments, from parenthood to home owning to becoming a director at a major games publisher. Today doesn’t feel like 2003. But it does feel like that time passed in the blink of an eye.
I use film markers to consider my current age: Harrison Ford was my age when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” came out. Marlon Brando was my age when he was shooting “The Godfather”. Steven Spielberg was my age when he directed Schindler’s List.
I have been told that time starts to move even faster after you hit 50. When I’m that age, my daughter will be going to college. My son will be driving. And if history is any indication, I’ll likely be in the same situation I’m in now, more or less. Same job, same accomplishments. Good by any reasonable measure. But still not feeling complete.
But what does it mean to feel complete in the face of aging? I take solace in knowing that I’m likely among the most successful of my peers from high school, college and journalism. I have had my fifteen minutes of fame. I’ve made a meaningful impact in my field. I’ll be able to send my kids to whatever college they manage to get into. I may even be able to retire a little early.
Given that, why do I feel like I’m at the start of my achievements? Why am I still asking what I want to be when I grow up? Why can’t I comfortably settle in to a life well spent?
Sometimes I feel like I’ve already won in the game of life, and everything that follows is just gravy. I’ve accomplished all the stuff you’re raised to want when you’re little.
But this is not how it works. Consider famous folks who accomplished incredible things in their past, but are ridiculed today… not for any scandal, but simply because they didn’t (or couldn’t) maintain their success over a long period. Michael Cimimo is among the most laughed at celebrities of all time. He’s broadly considered a failure by people who will never experience what he did in 1978 – standing up and accepting a Best Director Oscar for a movie that won Best Picture.
You’d think – once somebody experienced that – the rest of life would be gravy. Imagine making that mark in one of the most challenging and celebrated industries. And then, on your death bed, being seen as a loser.
Or there is the recent example of Bridget Fonda.
This is someone who won multiple golden globes, worked with the best talent in Hollywood, and has accomplished more than anybody criticizing her ever will. And yet… all the stories that covered her this month read as if she’s some terrible failure. Why? Because she chose to be a civilian, stop working, and enjoy life, food and family. The very stuff people imagine they’d do if they got rich.
Seems like no matter what a famous person did in the past, if they don’t keep up the four hours a day in the gym and plastic surgery, they will be endlessly demeaned.
Now, I’m not famous. So standards are certainly less punishing. But still, while I am nearly at a point where I could retire, I don’t think the remaining time I have would just be viewed – by me, family, or peers – as “happily ever after” if I sat around, read, play games, and ate.
No, there is an internal and external drive that pushes us to continue to contribute. To accomplish more. To have one more real legacy work completed. And this never ends. If I managed to write a best-selling book, I would just need to move on to trying to write another.
There’s also a hostility to people who physically “let themselves go”. Even when the game of life seems won, there’s little patience for those who just want to sit back, relax, indulge, and reflect.
So to bring this back to the shifting sense of time. I no longer have the luxury of thinking a range of great potential futures lay ahead of me. My future is not a big mystery. I’ll work a few more years, and then I’ll retire. But what becomes essential is that I spend the remainder of my minutes doing things that are of high value to me.
Absolutely no more time should be spent on social media or in mobile free-to-play games. This is low effort content that is not respectful of my remaining hours. Has to go.
I see playing spend-capped video games as high value. Reading books is high value. Writing is very high value. TV shows can be high value if they are truly exceptional. Reading comics is high value to me.
And of course, time with immediate family is high value.
Self-improvement, particularly as it relates to eating and physical activity, is high value, too.
I now know that when I turn 70, it will feel as if 48 was just a few years ago. I want to be able to look back at that time and say that the things I chose to do with my time were meaningful and deliberate. I never want to just pass time.
When I’m dead, none of this will matter to me, of course. There is no such thing as lasting personal value. We all flame out to nothing. And while it gives me comfort to know that family and friends will remember me when I’m gone, I won’t have the capacity to care about any of that when I’m actually gone.
So no, there is no permanent or even long term value. But there is value in every moment you can personally experience. And I need to prioritize making those moments worthwhile.