I noticed today that it’s almost Christmas. Beyond my shock that another year has gone by, I realize that this means it’s the season of reflective journalism, or the time of year when pundits stop reporting news and start reporting feelings.
I work in an office that’s full of kids who are three to five years younger than me. Many of them have never held another job and some of them are less than a year out of school. In a social setting we mix pretty easily, but there are times that I look at them and think about how much they’ll change by the time they’re my age. You know, once they get to the other side of that painful process of self-discovery that comes when Mom and Dad close the breadbasket and you find yourself making ends meet in a less than perfect world.
Those are some tough years, the ones right after college, but they’re also a lot of fun. So I got to thinking about how much I’ve changed since I was their age and I thought I’d make this end of year list: the things that I’ve changed in the last five years.
Not all of them have made me better, and that’s kind of the point. So here we go.
For the Better
I quit answering text messages. Well, to be clear, I didn’t really make the decision myself and I still do respond to texts that are informational (“what time?”, “where?” etc.) but in the last year I’ve found myself in a job that moves too quickly to allow for any sort of triviality.
At first, I was concerned that I was rude and missing out on things by just ignoring my phone; but by letting go of the implied obligation that every message brings, I think I’ve actually become happier and more relaxed.
I built my social life around outdoor activities. This probably won’t work for everyone but I spent my whole life in locker rooms and one of the real treats of the Los Angeles lifestyle is the availability of world-class outdoor recreation 350 days a year. Playing sports is what I really love to do and I guess the lesson is that when you live in a global city, you have the opportunity to build your life around whatever that one thing of yours is. If it’s knitting, baking, or drinking, I guarantee you know people who would like to join. So that’s why I leave the bar early on Saturday nights now: so I can be up in time for a day of volleyball on the beach or hiking in the mountains.
I decided I was proud of my home. I’m from Kentucky and when you’re living in big coastal cities, people tend to frown on anything that says Red State. It’s sort of annoying the way that people here will go to bat for stuff like female genital mutilation because it’s “cultural;” and they’ll accuse you of being a racist because you don’t pick non-dairy creamer; but they’re totally fine with deeming the entire country between Las Vegas and Philadelphia as ignorant or irrelevant. I digress.
Long story short, I think that in my early twenties, I really wanted to walk and talk like those same prep school kids from New York, Boston, and now in LA; but now I realize I’m from a distinct place in the world. It’s beautiful, it has a heritage, and a certain set of values that I can celebrate alone or in company with a glass of bourbon and an ice cube. My home isn’t perfect, but neither am I, so I guess we’re a good fit.
For the Worse
I stopped learning about the world and started learning about my business. When I lived in D.C. and covered the Department of Defense, I was struck by what military strategist repeatedly referred to as maintaing America’s “Qualitative Advantage”. What did this mean? It meant that the United States’ likely enemies would probably outnumber us in population, so our Armed Forces would need to have superior training and better equipment in order to prevail.
Flash forward to Hollywood. There is a boot-strap component to the biz but more often than not, you’re competing against people who are wealthier and/or better connected than you are. Beverly Hills High, Harvard-Westlake, Crossroads Academy, etc. – these are the prep schools that mint producers and agents the way that Philips Exeter and Andover grow Wall Street brokers in madras and marble incubators.
So I think that for those of us who aren’t born into showbusiness, it’s important to know more about everything – to maintain that “qualitative advantage” about the world and how things run, since we’ll always be at a deficit to the kids who grew up nextdoor to Stephen Spielberg.
I stopped hosting parties. I used to have a great apartment in Washington, D.C., that was walking distance from most of the places that people wanted to go. There was an understanding that you could always come to my apartment for a drink and go on your merry way; and if I ever wanted to host something bigger, people always showed up.
In Los Angeles, I have a nice apartment but it’s off the strip that people deem “cool”. This is a huge social deficit because the easiest way to make friends is to have a party. Free drinks will get all your friends over, but more importantly, it’ll get the friends of your friends too. A good party is the fastest way to spread your roots around town.
The second-tier effect is professional: your social life and work life are exactly the same thing, like it or not. So being able to host a party says a lot about your professional abilities too.
Maybe it’s time to be house poor again.
I stopped spending time around families and churches. This will make me sound like a crank to most of my friends but I realize there was a benefit to associating with people who were more emotionally mature than myself. It’s easy to get carried away in life but I think it’s important to stay grounded in the notion that there are things that are more important than you. But when your life exists in the space between your obsession with career growth and your desire to meet the hottest girls, you’ve already shot yourself in the foot.
We could all use some perspective. Boring people who go to church and raise families would probably benefit from a night out with my friends; but I am 100 percent sure when I say that I’d be a better person if I had spent more time with people who get that they weren’t the center of the universe.
I stopped keeping up with professional sports. Don’t make the mistake I did when I fell out of touch with sports. Sports is the basic currency of bros and though the world is becoming more diverse, bro culture is still the most universal in your type-A workspace. So my recommendation to future generations of professionals is to have a strong background in math and science and to always know what’s going on in at least two major pro leagues. If you can do that, you’ll be able to glide through the small talk that’s necessary to introduce yourself to the overlords above you.
So there you go. Grow up fun but not too fast. Merry Christmas and Happy 2015.