If you don’t wish to read a white, straight, cis guy’s thoughts on getting older that’s quite reasonable. But, if I may ask a favor, would you scroll to the bottom and share a recommendation with me? That’s all I seek for my birthday!
Birthdays were one of the first hacks Facebook figured out to increase engagement. The right-hand sidebar had a box (where now there are ads, I think) that would say today is So-and-So’s birthday and also they would remind you that X people had written on So-and-So’s wall so why don’t you. So you would.
Ever since then, I’ve made it a game to avoid the annoying rash of notifications from people who may or may not have thought about me in the past year. Every year – until Facebook limited how many times you could change your birthday – a few days prior to my actual birthay I would change the date in Facebook to a date in the past. After the actual date, I’d change it back, just so those who were genuinely curious might find it. I’m kind of a grinch that way. I really don’t understand birthday celebrations beyond the initial one - it’s definitely a big deal to make it out of the womb, but after that it’s just another day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be Eeyore, quite the opposite! I do not hate birthdays because of anything to do with them, rather, I just don’t like to pretend that any specific day in an arbitrary categorization of time makes one special. I like all days to be celebrated! But that’s really hard for us as humans. I guess it’s the corrollary to the logic given in The Incredibles: if everyone is special, no one is. And if every day is special, then none are. But that’s flawed logic! It’s a false dilemma and false dilemmas have become my number one biggest pet peeve in the world. Every day is another period of daylight during which you can do amazing things. Or shitty things. But it’s a day just the same as all the rest.
Anyways, today I turn 30 years old. And this simultaneously feels like NBD and also kind of monumental because… well I can’t explain it. But I thought I’d write about my 20’s because they are gone and I’ll miss them. Although, who wants to stay in their 20’s? Not me.
I learned so much in my 20’s. Just on a skills level I learned how to be a decent video editor, a kinda crappy motion graphics designer, a pretty good front-end developer, and an amateur UX enthusiast. That’s pretty good considering I dropped out of college after 2 years (oh how I wish I could go back)! And on a personal level I learned how to be a boyfriend (I first dated a girl when I was 20!), then learned to be a fiancé, then a husband, then a father and a husband. Also the whole time I was learning how to be a friend. I am definitely still learning how to be a friend and a father and a husband!
But there was a lot more learning too. I started the decade convinced I could be an expert in something; anything. I wanted to find my subject and master it. I am not cut out for this type of study. My curiosity leads me to connections and parallels, not deeper into the fabric of a topic. I made peace with this in my 20’s. This curiosity is great for learning across the spectrum of human knowledge but it is terrible for spending the time necessary for expertise. I discovered that I personally learn best by approaching a topic as a puzzle and therefore I seek to understand the frame of the puzzle (the straight-edged pieces) so that I can take new information and contextualize it as one does with non-straight edged pieces. As a result of this self-knowledge, I’ve made peace with the fact that I tend to ask really ignorant questions when I’m learning a new topic! Like, confoundingly ignorant questions. This past decade taught me to embrace my ignorance, not as a point of pride but as a point of motivation. A lack of understanding is not weakness, it’s simply a sign there are more questions to be asked.
This past decade could not have been a better time for me to embrace ignorance as motivation - this was the time when the internet took off and information was freely available. I first learned of the Dunning Kruger effect a few years ago and that gave me a framework: the way to name what I was after. If I could not be an expert on a subject (and perhaps I still can, it’s just no longer a driving motivation), at least I could try to get a handle on how much I didn’t know. The Dunning-Kruger effect — the strange psychological behavior that causes us to derive confidence from ignorance — became my nemesis. I no longer necessarily seek confidence, instead I seek to understand the nuance and complexity of a subject. Perhaps — and this is only a working theory — perhaps by understanding the questions surrounding a topic; the mysteries embedded in a field; I can at least apply the knowledge gained from a subject more wisely in my life.
The last few years of this decade found me embracing my ignorance-as-motivation and seeking ways to overcome it. This has manifested itself in numerous ways: reading more widely, actively seeking to destroy the filter bubbles I’d established in my social networks, questioning things I’d always held to be true. This process, I confess, is not exactly uplifting day-to-day, but viewed longer-term I cannot help but recognize that I am growing and enjoy life more as a result.
For awhile now I’ve had a line from the Frightened Rabbit song Heads Roll Off as my Twitter bio:
While I’m alive I’ll make tiny changes to earth
I love this thought and plan to hold on to it as long as it represents where I am. I am just one person - and yet I’ve been made aware the past few years that despite our rhetoric and lofty goals, all people are not equal in the modern world. I recognize that I posess basically all the privileges that one can have in the modern world. In my early 20’s I just enjoyed these privileges, never stopping to ask why they were not available to others; never questioning the pyramid shape of our culture since I was conveniently sitting at the top.
I have learned so much, I have gained so much more understanding. I recognize my privileges and I understand more about the history that has given them to me at the expense of so many others. I am fully and deeply committed to the goal of ensuring that all people have access to these privileges, moving forward. What the hell that looks like; what the causes and solutions are; how society and government should change and how they ought never look like again; these are ongoing questions and topics that so many people are discussing and pushing forward and I am so glad to be alive during a time when I can listen and learn and join in. There are so many wise voices I’ve been exposed to, especially in the past year who constantly call out injustice and seek to understand the historical context.
I know this: there are too many injustices in the world today. In my 30 years on this world I have surely perpetrated some of them and been a passive enabler of others. I am ashamed of these sins of commission and omission. So many other injustices I was unaware of for so long, which is unjust icing on the injustice cake. I am trying to listen, to learn, to hear and understand, to empathize and support, to do what I am able to do. I am not yet doing everything I should be doing. I hope I’m making progress.
My wife is due to give birth to our second child in March. My thirties will therefore involve a much larger responsibility of wisdom than did my twenties as my oldest kid is just now 2. Where much of the past decade was navigating the fun complexities of marriage and adulthood, this new decade will add to this the challenge of doing what I can to guide my children into becoming people that choose to make the world better. I hope I do well at this. I hope to learn how to better love and support the myriad marginalized people around us. I’ll keep pushing into the realms of my ignorance with the goal of reducing its immensity. While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth. And I’ll encourage my children to do the same.
If you’ve made it this far, I have one request for my birthday: show me something or someone that taught/amazed/challenged/shook you. A video. A song. An essay. A short story. A twitter username. A wikipedia page. A book. I love recommendations! It would make this birthday the best. Thanks! For anyone wishing to be even more generous, you could make a donation to the Ferguson Bail Bond Fund or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or any other non-profit you love and know does good work.