Growth and Decay

Like attracts like. I'm always growing, and the people that have stuck around with me are the same way. A few weeks back, I was eating lunch with some friends in Edmonton, and while we were all getting caught up, I remarked how everyone at the table was in a stage of rapid growth. We were all at a point where we faced dilemmas and uncertain paths with high stakes and small timeframes. We were all taking big risks, betting on ourselves and long term happiness over short term comfort. J. Cole says "if you ain't aim too high, then you aim too low." The result isn't the important part, but it's the stretching, the reaching, the extension of our capabilities and strength that should be the focus.

I'm in a rebuild stage, much like the Oilers have been for the last decade. (The last time they were in the playoffs, I was in high school.) I've parted ways with a lot of friends, and I think one of the more divisive reasons was because of the differences in our rates of growth. It's not necessarily about still partying vs. settling down, but some people my age are ready to retire while others remain in a building phase.

I've been going to the gym consistently for six months now, which is a huge accomplishment for me. I don't care about the magnitude of the weights I'm hitting per se, but I care that I'm still making it inside the gym. For years prior to this commitment, my health wasn't trending in the right direction. That is, my muscles weren't growing but my belly was. If you had provided me suggestions on workouts and techniques, I wouldn't have appreciated it. Now that I'm in a growth mentality with respect to my physical health, I do. We attract people based on shared values and what's important at the time.

I value being close to the action and to other people. Living in Calgary, I feel like I'm always selling the idea of how great it is to live in the core, to be close to other friends and to be able to access random fun events nearby. This principle is less practical in Canada's largest cities. Even still, we don't actually live what I would consider super close to that many people anyway. It's usually at least a 5-10 minute drive, less than conveniently walkable, which makes it kinda hard to assemble a group together on a weekend or to see friends on a whim. On the other hand, I have friends who have caught on to this idea in Edmonton and have a big crew all living within about six blocks downtown. They see each other at least once every weekend but easily more than that throughout the week. I'm jelly. To be fair, Edmonton's downtown has been under construction for a long time, so even this is a recent development. At the same time, I get why the suburbs are appealing. I can't really turn up my stereo in my condo without my floor-standing speakers pounding through the walls and floor, annoying my neighbours. I wish I had space for a true workshop, putting $10k into tools, storage bins, and all those little electronic components. I discovered that my left hip is rotated out of alignment because I sit hunched over my desk, watching my 3D printer on the left side. The size of our home is apparently dangerous for my health. I get that having a detached home is nice, but I'm not ready for that yet. I can't justify the cost of social isolation.

There are people my age who are ready to retire. They want to call it a life, sit back, and kick up their feet. They're innocuous. Their lives don't really mean anything or impact anyone, and that's enough for them. They have 60 good years ahead of them, and they're basically just an open mouth. All they want is more, not realizing that they'll never be satisfied no matter what income goal they reach. They live only for themselves. They don't want to challenge the system because they've profited greatly from it and plan on continuing to do so for themselves and their progeny. It's kind of an old-fashioned way of thinking, where my parents' generation had to keep working at great personal cost. They made money and had stable lives, but they're super eager to retire and to never work again. They also pushed the importance of passion onto our generation, which is why millennials tend to quit a job they don't enjoy so they can have fun experiences instead. In that sense, I naturally attract people who are shaking up their own comfortable worlds in order to be happier. I have a friend who just moved to the big city so they can be closer to their partner, leaving behind a familiar job and most of their family and friends. The important part to me is that they felt conflicted about the decision. They were unsure which way to go, so they weighed every single variable, and for a long time at that. Whatever they decided in the end, I knew it would be the right choice for them. Even if they made a mistake, counting all those costs would help them to realize the error sooner than later, and making the mistake would be a valuable part of the learning process. You can only simulate so many variables until you're left with an element of unknowns, at which point you just have to give it a shot. Again, the result isn't the important part to me, but instead it's the growth from evaluating all the parameters that reassures me they'll be okay. It takes conviction to take stock of every part of your life and truly question what its value is to you. "I have these certain close friends, and this number of friends I see on a regular basis. I have this home routine and these hangout spots that are familiar to me, and I have these family members that I like to see. This job is comfortable and rewarding. Is that all enough to justify my long distance relationship? If I move and start over with everything, will I hate it? How long before I make new friends?" I'm incredibly proud of them for making the brave decision. They're growing and not retiring.

Everyone's life goals are different. If they're happy living in the 'burbs, you can't really argue with that. However, for people who still don't have a family and/or kids, it just doesn't make sense. I have a friend who bought a house in the suburbs almost right after university, but shortly afterwards, he realized he was too isolated for being in his early twenties and subsequently sold it. Carrie and I could raise a child in our little studio if we really wanted to. We eventually want to get a bigger home once we do decide to pop out some younglings, but we want it for multiple reasons, not just because that's what people our age are supposed to do. The entitled Albertan narrative is that each child needs 1000 sq. ft. of real estate to themselves, and their parents should break their backs to provide it for them. Step outside of the province for one moment and see that few people in the world manage to live that way. A lot of successful and happy children grew up in shoeboxes under the stairs, and there's no causal connection that says a big home made a child into a happy and self-regulating adult. Meanwhile, banks and car dealerships are robbing Albertans blind. And the parents are too busy working to afford their home to be able to raise their kids. Some of these young adults are handed this life plan, and they just go with it.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates

Some are driven by possessions, and some by people. I've had little and I've had plenty, so I'm content these days with not making a ton of money and only working half of the week. I have a lot of material possessions, but what I desire is relationship and friendship. I get a lot more time with Carrie, but it's weird not spending as much time with friends. Maybe we should move to Edmonton's downtown.

The lesson I've been presented through several avenues throughout my counselling has been that I need to be okay with being on my own. I need to accept that sometimes I'm required to be alone and that's okay. Carrie calls them my existential concerns because they have implications in other areas such as how to handle death. We're all created to connect with everything around us, but as hard as it is, I still need to be okay by myself in this universe. Even with the ample amount of time I spent alone while unemployed, it was hard to accept it while the rest of my life was falling apart. Now that I've reached a modicum of solace, I think I can finally face it. Being secure with enjoying my own company will enrich my relationships with others.

It doesn't feel good when you outgrow people, but sometimes that's just the way it has to be. We all have choices to make in order to live the life we want. Inspired recently by Carrie and a friend to read Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," reading this statement stopped me:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

I'm practicing how to meet people where they are instead of forcing them to meet me on my level. I want to keep growing, and apparently the friends I'm making and keeping now are the ones who are choosing to do the same. If my friends refuse to grow, then I have to honour their decision and let them go.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le