Three Quotes on the Way Your Life Changes as You Get Older

I have been 38 for a week and a day, and in the past week I read (or heard) these three quotes that—well, I agree with the first two full stop, and the third one makes me feel a little grody inside, but here they are:

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, age 34, in Vogue:

I think the first half of your life, you’re trying to find out who you are, and you’re kind of knocking yourself against things, and testing things the whole time, to help kind of sculpt yourself. Then later, when you’ve got as close to sculpted as possible, you’re like, Don’t touch anything, in case it changes me.

Maggie Stiefvater, age 37, in a Reddit AMA:

I hit the NYT list with my third book (Shiver), the second year of my career, and I had to completely rethink the way I thought of my life shape. Because it is a very different thing to KEEP success versus GAIN success. It’s an entirely more disagreeable thing, I think, because the opposite of KEEP is LOSE, unlike the opposite of GAIN, which is really just STRIVE, which you can do forever quite happily, I think, or at least I can.

John Green, age 42, in the Dear Hank and John podcast episode Crime Dentures:

One of the things I love about being 42 is that people are accusing me of being a Baby Boomer. It’s almost like all these things are made up, and what really happens is that as people get older, they seek to conserve the power that they have acquired or have had handed down to them, regardless of what the name of their generation is.

Remember how I wrote that adults don’t realize that adulthood includes specific developmental phases, just like childhood? This seems to be the phase I am currently in—for at least the first two quotes, anyway. I don’t feel quite as aligned with John Green’s quote about conserving the power I’ve acquired, though I am very conscious about the way I spend my time and my energy and my resources.

I mean, I don’t really want power—and I hope I don’t start wanting power when I turn 42, although the future is consistently unknowable. I want a balance of contentment and discovery and creative fire. I want a small, comfortable home and the opportunity to build friendships with good people. I want enough money that I’ll never have to be a telemarketer or live in a moldy apartment ever again.

I also want to visit every Disney park in the world, which is the kind of goal that can be achieved with budgeting and scheduling and patience, and I secretly want to create something extraordinary someday, though the majority of my work (including this current MYSTERY NOVEL) is about coming to terms with the idea that you can be creative and ambitious and interested in the world and still be, like, ordinary.

And now, because I’m in my late 30s and have spent the past two years becoming part of the Cedar Rapids community, I’m thinking about how to maintain the life I’ve built so far (which is very different than when I was younger and thinking about the life I’d like to have someday).

So that’s what I’m thinking about, a week and a day after turning 38—and it looks like I’m not the only one. ❤️

Why Hank and John Green Argue We Should “Diversify Our Identities” (and Why I Agree)

I love the Dear Hank and John podcast, to the point where it gets bumped to the top of my podcast queue every time it releases. I haven’t listened to today’s episode yet, but I will this evening — and in the meantime I wanted to share a quote from last Monday’s episode, The Queen’s Dream Job, featuring John Green in conversation with Danielle Bainbridge of PBS’s Origin of Everything.

The quote comes about 15 minutes into the podcast, when John and Danielle answer a listener’s question about getting hired for a dream job. “How can I think of this as just another opportunity,” the listener asks, “and not the opportunity that I’d better not waste? If it doesn’t work out, how do I not see it as it’s all downhill from here?

In response, John Green describes the various emotions he went through after learning that his first novel, Looking for Alaska, would be published by Dutton Books — specifically his worry that he would never be able to write (or publish) another novel, and his subsequent realization that “If I hadn’t gotten to write another novel, I would have been able to do other things.”

John continues:

“I think one of the problems we have is that we often think, like, when we talk about what are you going to be when you grow up or what are you going to do with your life we imagine that you’re only going to be one thing or you’re only going to do one thing, and of course life isn’t like that. You end up doing a lot of things, and some of them you do professionally and some of them you don’t do professionally, but, you have to kind of… my brother always says that you have to diversify your identity. You have to see yourself not only as one thing. If you see yourself just as a YouTuber and your YouTube influence declines, it’s, like, catastrophic to your sense of self-worth.

“But if you’re able to diversify your identity, and understand that you’re also a brother and a father and a son and lots of other things, an AFC Wimbledon fan and whatever else, it becomes less of a devastation. I really do believe that.”

I agree with John — and, by association, Hank — but I’d also suggest that you have some identities that aren’t dependent on your relationship to someone else.

Right now, for example, I am a blogger and an author and a teacher and a freelance writer and a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a friend and a member of a choir, and all of these aspects of my identity are balanced in such a way that if one of them disappears (say, the one where I ran a LLC that should end up getting legally closed this week) I am not unmoored.

But this set of identities requires readers and clients and family members and friends and so on. They are dependent on how I am viewed by other people.

My identity as a pianist does not.

Yes, in the past I have worked as an accompanist and a lounge pianist and a church organist, but the thing about playing the piano is you can do it without being observed or evaluated and it still counts.

You can do it just for yourself.*

Same with biking or journaling or reading or knitting or dozens of other activities that serve as play when the rest of your life is going well and as anchors when the rest of your life isn’t. (You already know how much time I put in at the piano as The Billfold LLC was shutting down.)

Remember: play is a gift you give yourself; performance is a gift you give an audience.

So make sure at least one of your identities doesn’t require an audience to exist — and then you’ll exist too, even when when no one is watching. ❤️

*You can even play certain masterworks in ways you know the composer probably never intended, with intense shifts in dynamic and tempo, just because that’s how you want to do it and there’s no piano teacher hanging over your shoulder to tell you you’re doing it wrong.