I was walking back from a friend's apartment when it began to snow. Big, soft, clingy flakes iced my coat, scarf, and hat. During the previous two hours, I'd sat and discussed experiences and frustrations of teaching life with two old college friends. All three of us are now teachers in different fields. All three of us used to talk about experiences and frustrations of student life a little over a decade ago. I thought about this change in perspective as I walked home. Essentially, it seemed like the decade hadn't passed, yet I know each of us are very different people than we were.
Oliver Burkeman (whose writing a friend suggested I look at in response to my previous post) wrote about how people often look at life--even when they're young--as if a change in their personality was no longer an option. He wrote:
We labour under what they call the "end-of-history illusion", imagining that the person we are now is the final version, and that we won't change much in future. The researchers asked 19,000 people to complete personality assessments, either recalling how they'd changed in the last decade, or predicting how they'd change in the next. Then they compared the recollections of, say, 40-year-olds with the forecasts of 30-year-olds, and found that people predicted far less change than others remembered. (To make sure that the people looking back weren't misremembering, they compared those results to existing studies of how personalities change.) As one of the researchers told an interviewer, "I have this deep sense that… the core of me [is] not going to change from here on out."
It's easy to see how this might land us in trouble. When you assume your current preferences won't alter, you'll make bad decisions: embarking on a career or marriage, say, not with a view to its durability, but solely based on how it makes you feel now.
Intellectually, I realize that we are always changing. Buddha, God, and about every counselor I've met has said as much to me. But emotionally, I see how I can fool myself into thinking: this is how it's going to be for the rest of my life.
So what does one do with this knowledge? My friends and I are all at points where we're making decisions that will change our lives--physically in body and physically in place--for the foreseeable future and result in permanent change. When you're 24 you see these possible changes differently than you do at 34. "Oh, cool!" I thought. "Change is awesome! I don't ever want things to stagnate!" Now, I think: "Oh, dear! What will this change mean to X, X, and X?"
When we left New York, it seemed like the right thing to do--more money and a reunion with old friends. Now, I question whether we ever should have left. Trying to return to New York is more difficult than I'd previously thought at 29. If you look at the "now" feelings at 29, it made sense to move for the job, but in the "long-term" feelings at 34, maybe it doesn't make as much sense.
So, what's to say I won't regret moving back five years from now? Maybe my 34 self needs to examine my 39 self. But couldn't that be a trap in of itself? Constantly questioning a future that is hazy at best?
Burkeman concludes: "[C]hange is all there is. To be honest, it's all rather exhausting."
You said it, Oliver.