A few thoughts on adulting

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I like to consider myself something of a Renaissance man. In the words of one of my favorite science fiction authors, Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

I haven’t planned an invasion yet, and I’m still alive to write these words. But I have done some variation of pretty much every other thing on that list. And a whole lot more.

One of the frequent arguments you hear tossed around against going to college is that it’s a waste of money unless you’re going for a very specific reason. I find that argument specious. We don’t educate ourselves only to become masters of a profession. We educate ourselves to sharpen our cognitive abilities. To learn how to think and problem solve and approach the unknown with courage instead of fear.

I think one of the biggest failures of our current education system is that we are still spending significant time and effort teaching knowledge. We’ve solved that problem. Almost the entirety of human knowledge has been cataloged, codified and made available, via the internet, to anyone that has the desire to look for it. And more is coming every day. Need to change the brakes on your car? There’s a YouTube video (or a thousand) for that. Need a quote from Marcus Aurelius? Google is your friend. If it isn’t there already, someone is getting ready to post it as these words are being written.

Conversely, we keep starving the programs that actually enhance the power of our creative minds. Music, art, theater, creative writing. There are proven links between music and mathematical ability. Who knows what other useful skills are enhanced by other artistic and/or creative endeavors? Not to mention the pure cultural benefit of art itself. We’re human beings, not robots. There’s a whole lot more to life than productivity. Sure, the statue of David doesn’t serve any practical purpose whatsoever. But, it’s still there to be admired for it’s beauty over 600 years after it Michelangelo first put chisel to stone. How many of the productive skills of that time are still important to mankind today?

Two hundred and forty years ago John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife:

I could fill volumes with descriptions of temples and palaces, paintings, sculptures, tapestry, porcelain, etc., etc., etc. — if I could have time. But I could not do this without neglecting my duty. The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences: the art of legislation and administration and negotiation, ought to take place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other arts. I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

History has a decidedly progressive slant. We evolve, as animals, as cultures, as societies. The skills we needed a century ago we often don’t need anymore. And the skills we have today very likely will not be necessary tomorrow. Getting stuck in the past is a recipe for extinction.

We also evolve as individuals. And this is perhaps the single most important tenet of adulting. Especially now, in 2018. When I went to college, back in the Pleistocene, I learned computer programming using Fortran. I’m not sure if anyone still uses it but through the years I learned half a dozen newer languages. Almost none of those languages are still in common use. This is over the period of just a couple decades. Taxis are being replaced by Ubers. Cable television is being usurped by streaming media.

Remember that last line of Heinlein’s above? Specialization is for insects.

Dedicate your lifetime to one field field of endeavor and you might just find yourself in the same predicament twenty years (or ten, or five) into your career as the horse drawn carriage manufacturer found himself in when Henry Ford rolled the first Model T off the line. The same can be said for the steam engine mechanic or the Java programmer. You have the greatest computer ever designed between your ears. Exercise every single quadrant of it. For your whole life.

As Thomas Wolfe wrote in 1940, You can’t go home again. Why? Because home isn’t the same anymore. And neither are you. The same is true for all the other good olde days. Besides the fact that they were never as good as you remember them, everything else has changed in the interim anyway. Like time, all movement must be forward.

Have you had a conversation with a Millennial lately? Ask them what they want to do for a living. Not many will say “sit in a cubicle at a giant corporation for the next 30 years.” Why? Because they are shitty, soul sucking jobs that leave you wondering where the hell your life went while you were looking forward to the pension they terminated ten years ago. Teaching your kid that success is achieved in that manner is teaching them to live the life you lived. Is that what you really want for them?

Why is adulting so hard? Because the world your parents lived in is gone. We can only teach you what we know, and frequently that knowledge no longer applies to the world you’re living in. Every generation has to learn a new paradigm to be successful. Even the concept of success changes as time passes.

Want to be a whole human? Never let up on learning.

Thank you for reading.

Written by

father, motorcyclist, old retired guy who’s just a little lost on a blue marble corkscrewing its way to oblivion

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