My hairline is dropping back.
Like, way back.
Everyday I take a shower and rub in some expensive conditioner that’s supposed to thicken my ever-thinning man mane.
After applying the fraudulent product I always pull my hands down and assess the damage.
On a good day, there are only two or three black strands lying limp between my fingers.
I praise the brittle, dead hairs for fighting valiantly and them let slide away, down the drain, to Valhalla.
A Viking burial.
Luckily, my head isn’t shaped too oddly, so once I give up the good fight and shave I think I’ll be able to pull the look off. My younger brother Daniel, who looks just like me with bigger ears and more body hair, has been pioneering the Lex Luthor with moderate success for about two years now.
My brown, furry, Brooks Brothers-wearing guinea pig.
Not all heroes wear capes.
As I processed and eventually accepted the inevitable arrival of shiny-headed Aaron, I began to take a look at my life on a grander scale. Okay, to be honest, that’s bullshit. I’m always analyzing. Over the last six or seven years I have pounded introspective processes and mindfulness into my routines. Plato said, “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and I examine the shit out of mine, probably to a fault. I’m working on it. Writing helps.
That’s actually one of my favorite things about writing. Sure I love to motivate and make you guys laugh, but if nothing else, my blog posts and short stories serve as my own digital roadmap. With one click of the mouse I can revisit my old pieces and analyze past perspectives. I can see exactly how I felt about my career path or my personal relationships or my abuelito thinking I’m gay.
So, no. I didn’t need a case of male pattern baldness to catalyze self-examination, but the gradual and consistent reminder of my ‘maturation’ served as a reference point. And it reminded me of an article published by my life guru Mark Manson called, “The Four Stages of Life.”
In his article Mark lays out his simple theory about, you guessed it, the four stages of life. Let me give you the Readers Digest version:
Stage One: Mimicry
Mark calls his first stage of life ‘Mimicry.’ In the first stage of life humans learn to navigate the world, both physically and socially, by mimicking those around them. Young humans are like little sponges, observing and imitating the behaviors of parents and siblings and the snotty-nosed punks they go to kindergarten with as they learn to navigate the world. Once an individual develops the capacity to make rational decisions and act independently, they move on to Stage Two, ‘Self-Discovery.’
Stage Two: Self-Discovery
Stage Two usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood and lasts until a person reaches their mid-twenties or mid-thirties. As the name suggests, these newly autonomous individuals set out on a journey of self-exploration.
Manson says it best,
In Stage One, we learn to fit in with the people and culture around us. Stage Two is about learning what makes us different from the people and culture around us. Stage Two requires us to begin making decisions for ourselves, to test ourselves, and to understand ourselves and what makes us unique.
This stage of experimentation can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Some go to college. Some try various jobs and career paths, others experiment sexually. Whoa, that sentence escalated quickly. But it’s true.
Some people prefer to try drugs, lots of drugs. Still others yearn to explore in a more physical and temporal manner, setting off to travel for extended periods of time (cough, cough). After some time running through the gauntlet of experimentation, most people begin to reach their limitations.
In short, we figure out where we excel and where we, well, suck. We discover the things we like and the things that move us. We also begin to realize that some of the things we experimented with don’t serve us in the marathon of life. Our strengths and weaknesses become apparent and we begin to envision a general course for our lives.
Stage Three: Commitment
Stage Three is the commitment stage, the time to start setting some roots.
Stage Three is the great consolidation of one’s life. Out go the friends who are draining you and holding you back. Out go the activities and hobbies that are a mindless waste of time. Out go the old dreams that are clearly not coming true anytime soon.
The very genesis of this blog was sparked by a personal quest to finalize my transition from step two to three. I stood at a turning point. I jumped and brought ya’ll along for the ride. I had vision and a sense of purpose and damn, it felt good.
One more ride on the experimentation express and I’m done, I swear. I can remember the sense of assuredness that coursed through my veins as I typed the question (and subsequently answered myself )”… do you want to quit your day job and travel the world before you start teaching again? Fuck yes. ” 2015 Aaron was a smug little bastard.
But the bridge between self-exploration and commitment has been everything but easy.
As I travelled my sense of purpose surged. I found great joy in meeting fresh faces and exploring new cities. I was invigorated by exposure to foreign ways of thinking and the customs that accompanied those mindsets. I thought my passion rested in exploration, so coming back home hurt. I mourned my time abroad instead of celebrating it. I took a good paying job in an industry I knew nothing about and frankly, didn’t ‘love.’ After years of writing and telling you guys to break the chains of complacency and go for broke, I felt like a sell out. I had an ocean view, a shiny new car, and a shitty attitude.
After months of wallowing I realized something that seems obvious in hindsight… traveling is not my passion, I was just blessed with an opportunity to do some really cool stuff during my stage of self-discovery. Mr. Manson says screw finding your passion, I say amen brother. But we all get caught up trying to find that “p-word” these days. It’s all around us. Every time we open our smart phones it slaps us in the face. We are constantly drowning in an endless array of options, doggy paddling through pictures and inspirational captions of our smiling friends ‘never conforming,’ ‘chasing their passion,’ and ‘catching flights not feelings.’ This never-ending barrage of imagery leaves us ill-equipped to deal with the levels of cognitive dissonance that come with commitment.
For right-swiping, Instagram obsessed Millennials, stage three is scary.
You mean to tell me that I have to pick one career? One vacation destination? One lover? Billy is in Bali swimming with sea turtles and homie hasn’t had a job in like five years. Ooh, Brett and Bonnie just bought a house. How the hell do I buy a house? I don’t have a cool million lying around. Fuck Brett. Damn, I need a wife. What should I eat for lunch? A burrito. It’s always a burrito. (All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Fuck you Brett.)
I may have gotten carried away with the alliterations in my “scrolling through Instagram inner monologue” but you can see how this over exposure to a false reality made up entirely of success and accomplishments can lead to low self efficacy, envy, and hell… even depression. These modern day highlight reels also cultivate indecisiveness and wire our brains to crave constant distraction. At the very least, high levels of social media usage can alter our daily moods, effecting our overall sense of happiness, productivity and personal relationships.
It’s no wonder older generations have taken to calling Millennials the Slash Generation, referencing their inability to commit to one specific career path. The fact that a high number of Millennials feel that they have no influence in the workforce doesn’t help. How are we supposed to be passionate if we don’t think we can make a difference?
Maybe we’re just asking ourselves the wrong questions.
Instead of seeking to align our careers with our passions or looking for our life’s purpose, perhaps we should simply ask ourselves “what can we do with our time that is important?” And for me, that subtle shift in questioning has made all difference. The need to constantly over-analyze my path and purpose has been lifted ever so slightly. The pressure has been lessened. I’ll take it. It’s all about progress, not perfection. Thanks Mark.
The question has also helped eliminate negative thinking patterns and unproductive habits that snuck their way into my daily routines. The shift is gradual and requires constant tending, but I can feel the difference. No, managing a small business who’s signature service is killing German cockroaches is not my passion, but learning how to be an effective manager and leader is definitely important. The volunteer work I do through my church with the immigrant community is important. Being in close proximity to my family and spending quality time with them is important. Building capital to provide stability and security for my future family is very important.
I feel better about it.
Perhaps you do too. If not, try getting off your phone ya dummy.
Now quick, let me tell you about Stage Four so you can take your dog for a walk or something and get some fresh air.
Stage Four: Legacy
The last stage of life is all about cementing one’s legacy. After decades of dedication to whatever it is an individual deemed worthy of their commitment, a person enters into the last phase of their life, working to ensure that their hard work survives, even if they do not.
Stage Four is important psychologically because it makes the ever-growing reality of one’s own mortality more bearable. As humans, we have a deep need to feel as though our lives mean something. This meaning we constantly search for is literally our only psychological defense against the incomprehensibility of this life and the inevitability of our own death. To lose that meaning, or to watch it slip away, or to slowly feel as though the world has left you behind, is to stare oblivion in the face and let it consume you willingly.
At a young age, after enduring some difficult seasons, I gained the understanding that Stage Four is a luxury. Many of us never get a Legacy Stage. Others are forced to scramble in haste, scratching and clawing to ensure their legacies will be protected.
I suppose I’ll worry about Stage Four when I get there, but I have a feeling I’m on the right track.
A little less scrolling and a little more gratitude goes a long way.
It feels good to be back.