Getting Older Isn’t a Bad Thing
When I was a kid I used to dread growing up and having to take on adult responsibility.
When I started to enter adulthood and take on responsibility, I started to dread getting older. Losing my athletic ability, not being a cool young person anymore.
There was this weird sense that once I turned 30, an important part of who I was would die. That somehow it would mark the beginning of the end. The start of a long, slow decline.
Biologically speaking, there is obviously truth to this. Your physical and mental prime is in your early 20’s. Your athletic prime is in your late 20's.
As far as we can tell from biology, everything goes downhill after your 20’s.
In my specific situation, my 20’s might have been the best of the three decades of my life leading up to my 30th birthday.
It’s an interesting thing, to think back on the arc of your life.
Your well-being during early childhood was likely strongly influenced by your family situation.
During the years of transitioning into adulthood, social factors tend to become more important.
I find that between middle school, high school, and college, most people will have great fondness for one of those three chapters of their lives, and great disdain for another.
For me, high school was the rough time. I really struggled to connect to anyone, had a lot of anxiety about applying to college, and had trouble forging an identity.
College, on the other hand, was amazing. It was a period of growth and friendship. My connections were wide and deep. Most of this was thanks to my church, which connected me to dozens of amazing people and helped to develop me into a leader.
It was at church that I met a woman named Sarah.
We got married a couple of years after graduating.
When I was 26 we welcomed our son into the world and when I was 28 our daughter came.
So not only were my 20’s theoretically my physical and mental peak, they were a decade marked by deep friendships and personal growth. The decade where I met my wife, got married, and had kids.
Surely it has to all be downhill from there right?
My 30’s are going to be the best decade of my life (so far…)
My 30’s will be the first decade where I was married the whole time.
My 30’s will be the first full decade where I was a dad the whole time.
My 30’s are going to line up nearly exactly with my 10 Year Plan for a Remarkable Life, which I first wrote out a month before turning 30.
Moreover, a major shift has happened, which started in my late 20’s. My mindset has started shifting. My courage has started to increase. Instead of taking what life gives me, I’m making plans to get the results that I want.
My 30’s so far have been a time of tremendous growth.
The year that I turned 30 I renewed my commitment to my own education and read 59 books. This year I’m on pace to read a similar amount, but have added a goal to take four online courses.
I also lost 30 lbs+ and have kept it off for well over a year. Most of my 20’s my pant size was a tight 32, now it’s a loose 30 and I can probably switch to a 28 next time I buy pants. I’ve been wearing a size 32 since high school. Generally people don’t have a smaller waist as a 31 year old dad then they did as a scrawny high school kid (I also have way more muscular definition than I did back then…)
It’s a powerful feeling, to know that I’m not the victim of my circumstances, to know that I can make real change and influence my situation for the better.
Why it’s possible to peak as a person later than your 20's
In theory, your 20’s are the best your body and mind ever get. Peak bone density, peak metabolic rate, peak everything.
Even your mind is at it’s sharpest in your early 20’s and declines every single year thereafter.
If literally everything goes downhill, why are people seemingly able to improve at so many things as they age?
You weren’t close to your peak to begin with
If you were able to reach your actual potential, your early 20’s would be your peak performance years.
Your body would be as fast and as strong as it could ever get, and your mind would be as sharp and as agile as it could ever get.
Everything would be downhill from there.
But you never get close to your true potential. There is a cap somewhere out there for what you can accomplish it, but most people never come close.
Pro athletes come closer than the rest of us to maximizing their physical potential, but even they peak later than their physical prime.
Part of the reason for this is that when their body hits their physical prime, they haven’t been training long enough to see the full potential of their gains.
Some things actually go up with age
As long as you are committed to growing, there is once thing that is not guaranteed to decline with age: your maturity.
When I think of maturity, I’m primarily thinking of things such as character, wisdom, and experience, which can keep increasing.
In the last section I talked about the fact that athletic prime occurs later than physical prime, even for pro athletes.
Part of why this happens is that they grow in wisdom and experience.
The best predictor of how many home runs a baseball player will hit is his power, which can be measured by the average exit velocity of balls that leave his bat. Here’s the thing though, average exit velocity starts declining immediately, but home run totals take a while to start falling and may even go up at first. The reason for this is that the player gets better and coming up with an approach that will lead to more home runs. They can’t hit the ball as hard but they more than make up for it by finding better pitches to hit.
It’s never been your abilities that were holding you back
The most common thing that keeps people from growing is their mindset.
Your mindset isn’t dependent on your physical or mental abilities, it’s something you get to choose.
If you adopt a fixed mindset, this means that you believe (wrongly) that you already have the true measure of yourself. You know what you can do or can’t do and there’s no real chance that you will surprise yourself.
With this mindset, trying new things becomes something to avoid, because if you try something new you’ll almost certainly fail, and failure is embarrassing because it shows your weakness.
Do you ever remember in school how some people boast about never studying, but always getting an A? Does it ever strike you that they might not have been entirely truthful? Unfortunately, despite the fact that I loathed other people for doing this, I did it myself in high school. This bizarre need to make it seem like you got great results from minimal effort comes from a fixed mindset. If our abilities are basically fixed and known, then I am better than you if I get similar results with less effort.
On the other hand, you could adopt a growth mindset which recognizes that although there probably is a limit to your potential, you aren’t close to finding it, so you might as well start searching.
With this mindset, failure doesn’t hold you back because it isn’t seen as an embarrassment to be avoided, it’s seen as the natural stepping stone to growth.
Of course you’re going to put out writing that gets criticized, you think, that’s just what happens to new writers. It’s not a reflection of who I am as a person. My commitment to growth counts way more than the quality of my initial attempts.
I spent a long time stuck in a fixed mindset, and it is nasty. You spend more time avoiding failure than pursuing success. Guess where that gets you.
Do you honestly believe that your best years are ahead of you?
It’s not naive optimism to think so. You really can influence the future and make life better for yourself. You really can grow and mature. You really can build deep and meaningful relationships.
Your body and mind are in an inevitable decline, but your mindset is up for grabs. Choose wisely.
This is the twelfth in a series based on my article 30 Lessons About Life You Should Learn Before Turning 30. Shoutout to Dr. Christine Bradstreet 🌴 for the idea to turn the post into an in-depth series.