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What Will You Do With Your 30,000 Days? – Part 2

Jun 5, 2024 | Reflections

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” —Jim Carrey

Last week, we unpacked the first 10,000 days and specifically looked at the idea of The Dream, an orientating direction to start off in life. A key feature of this direction is the simplicity, formula like approach to living. If I do these things, then I will get these outcomes. As young people, this sort of linear causality is all we know – and is only further reinforced by school. The rules of the school economy function almost exactly this way.

This week we transition to the middle 10,000 Days. Middles are messy – we know this instinctively. Middle films of trilogies that are great (Godfather Part II, Empire Strikes Back) are the exception, most are garbage (here’s looking at you Cars II)

This middle period of time is marked by a number of transitions. These could be everything from the emerging centrality of parenting, moving to more seniority at work, to the unexpected loss of parents and friends.

What then is the work of the middle stage?  Or as we phrased it last week – what is the central question of this period?

Similar to the first 10,000, I believe here to there is a central question to be asked / answered, though it can be phrased in 2 ways.

The first phrasing of the question is “who am I if what I thought I most wanted in the world doesn’t come to pass?”  This is the question of a failure to achieve one’s dream. The second is “who am I if I do get what I most wanted in the world and realize that it wasn’t enough.” The second phrasing is the question of if one achieves the dream and realizes the dream itself was wrong or inadequate.

Said more directly, the question is this – when (not if) the dream of the first 10,000 does not bring us everything we thought it would, what do we do next?

If the first 10,000 is about dream making, this period is about waking up to the reality that dreams are just that. This realization forces us to ask and ultimately answer the deeper questions to truly understander who we are.

This process is inherently uncomfortable. And for many, avoidance is the preferred strategy. Toxic addictions may surface as a way to soothe the disquieted soul. Midlife crises may attempt to distract from these gnawing existential concerns.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Still for others, rather than the uncomfortable, deep work to process through the failure of the dream to give you what you want, many people double down on the strategy. They insist that what they are looking for out of life is found in the next success, the next big thing.

They disregard the learnings they might have acquired and push through with more effort. Arguably, this is akin to the business leader who notes that the company is losing money on every unit sold, but assures his board that they will make up the losses with higher volumes.

Either approach, avoidance or doubling down, inhibits the acquisition of the wisdom this stage has to teach. Importantly, the repercussions of this loss of wisdom often is not felt until the final 10,000 window.

Instead, working through this question about the failure of the dream brings us to the second significant question of middle age is how do we find contentment in going deeper?

At the first level, this is about going deeper in our own self-knowledge and understanding of the world. But is applicable even more broadly.

Consider – when we are younger much of the enjoyment and pleasure of life derives from novelty.  Variety, of course, being the spice of life. Yet as we age, while novelty has a time and place, there is simply less of it available. 

Instead, our enjoyment must shift to appreciation, going deep to mine the uniqueness of something. Instead the quest is learning to drive enjoyment and pleasure from the depth of an experience.

In order to support this shift, I believe this is why you see certain activities / hobbies / interest consistently become of interest in middle age. For example, as my collegiate statistics professor demonstrated, the odds of playing the same hand of Bridge in your lifetime is infinitesimally small.  Similarly, golf is different every day – depending on weather, hole position, and your physical condition.

 There is a meme making the rounds on the web that states, “after turning 35, men must make a decision: to either get really into World War 2 history or really into smoking meat.” WWII history is limitless in its complexity and depth, no doubt making it an attractive hobby. 

The common thread across all these is that your enjoyment of them is inexhaustible – there is really no end to your engagement with them.  They have enough embedded complexity to support your interest.  This evolution could also be framed as finding joy in the process vs. only the outcome.

Coming to this sort of enjoyment may come naturally for some. For others, whether due to personality type or our own dependence on the steady dopamine drip of novelty offered by social media, we may come to it kicking and screaming.

Next week – the final 10k or “what to do when you have the wisdom of the aged, but aren’t the elderly?”

A few books on middle age:

  • Second Mountain by David Brooks
  • From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks
  • Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob Buford
  • Midlife: A Philosophical Guide by Kieran Setiya


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Nashville, TN