I turned 38 today, which I find to be a deceptively momentous milestone. We usually mark the onset of middle-age at 40, but I think 38 is more meaningful to me, because it means I have now spent more time living outside of my parents' home than in it. When I turned 19, I had just started college, which now seems like a million ages ago. Since then I have lived in two different countries, five different states, and eight different cities. I earned three degrees, and worked for at least a year at five different jobs. A lot has changed, much more so than in the first 19 years of my life.
The dreams of my youth are mostly dead, but that's okay. I managed to become a professor, but that dream, to which I sacrificed many years, turned into a nightmare. I used to think of myself as a modern day Beatnik who would live a bohemian lifestyle forever. Nowadays I'm a family man with a wife and two kids, but they make me far happier than my old lifestyle of hanging out in bars and going to rock shows. If I went back in time to my 19 year-old self, he might think I am a sell-out for abandoning the bohemian path, and lame for ending up as a teacher, just like his mother and sister.
In the last 19 years, I've been forced to take the wisdom of my ancestors to heart, whether I wanted to or not. They lived through hard times and had their dreams crushed by the Depression, but managed to find contentment despite their poverty. The universe is indifferent to us and our aspirations, we must take heart in the small things that we can control. Changing the world comes not through revolutions, but in everyday, practical efforts to make it a better place to live in. The older I get, the more I appreciate Voltaire's Candide. At the end of the book, the title character finds peace not through visionary ideals, but by engaging himself in meaningful work. My days of sowing my wild oats are long gone, I am much happier doing as Candide, cultivating my garden. Call it getting soft or slowing down in middle-age, I think it's hard won wisdom.