I was a precocious kid, the kind that’s remarkably well-spoken for a 6 year old, and everyone thinks it’s cute. At that time I figured, since I got along with adults so well, I must be pretty much on par. I knew I had facts and figures to learn, but obviously I operated on a similar level.
But then I turned 10, and I could plainly see how much sophistication I lacked when I was only 6. I’ll skip the montage, you get it, this is an ongoing process.
But think about this. Now that you’re an adult, when is the last time you can remember being young and dumb? What is the oldest you can remember being, when you were a categorically different person?
I remember turning 18, and I’m talking to this girl online for a couple months, and fast forward a year and I’ve eloped with her. That was dumb.
I’m 21, I’m spending a lot of my week as an officer in this “business fraternity” at my third tier business school because I have this vague idea that it’s a “great networking opportunity,” whatever the fuck that means. That was pretty dumb.
It gets fuzzier at that point. As an adult you have fewer growth experiences than you do as a child, so it takes longer. The gap between now and when you were young and dumb gets longer and longer.
That’s a bad thing.
I have a theory that you should strive to keep that gap as short as possible. Every year you should look back and think about what a dumbass you were a year ago. That way, you know you’re growing.
To phrase it another way, if you look back and don’t see how much of a dumbass you were a year ago, then you’re still the same dumbass from a year ago.
The perception of time passing is controlled by how many “salient events” take place during that time. For our purposes, salient events are events that we consciously notice. They might be novel in some way, either by being different and new, or by being exciting.
You can see this is true if you consider that a year backpacking abroad will seem in retrospect to have been a whole lifetime. So many new and exciting things happened during that year, that when your brain recreates the experience it feels subjectively “longer” than if you sat in a cubical filling out TPS reports the whole time.
When you’re a kid, time crawls by because every day you’re experiencing new and exciting things. As you age, you settle into routine and soon nothing much is new or exciting, and time is flying by.
When we are bored, we become aware of each passing second. Each agonizing moment becomes a salient event because we’re aware of them as they pass, and so time passes in a trickle. Later that day we sink four hours into World of Warcraft without a second thought.
To be a new and better person means to have new and better experiences—events that shape who you are, and color your perception. Each new experience can potentially be the event horizon of being “young and dumb.” On one side of the horizon you see your young self, and on this side you find your new, better self.
The key ingredient to growth and the perception of a full and meaningful life is those salient events. Don’t sink into routine; seek out new ideas and new people, and new experiences.
The last time I clearly remember being young and dumb was a little over a year ago when I separated from my wife. That was a tremendous moment of growth for me, and I can confidently say that I’m a categorically different, better person now.
But that gap is getting too long, so I’m getting antsy. It’s time to up the ante, make a rukus, meet new people, go new places, start new projects. You should think about doing the same.