Has anyone ever told you, “You better enjoy this time. These are the best years of your life.” How did that make you feel?
What if those years weren’t your best? What if you struggled when you should have thrived?
What if you spent those years fucking up and suffering instead of experiencing what you were supposed to experience and having the good times you were supposed to have?
What do you do now? Mourn what should have been? Or do you ground yourself in reality and shake off the nonsense?
When Are the Best Years of Your Life Supposed to Happen?
What’s the conventional wisdom on when your best years are? Here are some theories:
1. High School / College
This one makes sense, right? You’re young. You have opportunities to have fun and be social. You have your whole life ahead of you.
But hold on. If these are your best years, then why would having your whole life ahead of you be a good thing?
Wouldn’t it all be downhill from there? Wouldn’t peaking in high school and college be a kind of tragedy? To spend the last 60 years of your life comparing it to the first 20?
The Truth: School years do afford you opportunities. But for many, they bring nothing but pain, humiliation, confusion, stress, and anxiety. Most spend those years either struggling to be social, to find an identity, or to deal with issues from their childhood for the first time.
I believe the richness of life comes after you’ve acquired the wisdom to live it in your own way. And that can take a lot of time. There is no good reason your schools years should be the best years of your life.
2. Being in a Relationship /Marriage
Finding someone and settling down is what everyone is trying to do right? Marriage is just what you do. Once you find that, you can rest easy.
The Truth: It’s strange. We all know how often marriages and relationships don’t work out, but so many people are anxious to be married by a certain age. As if forcing love to fit a time frame were a good idea.
I’m not anti-relationship. Being with one person could make for the best years of your life. But the caveat is that they could just as easily be your worst.
Rotten relationships wreck people. And rushing marriage is probably not the answer to anyone’s problems. “But it’s just what you do at this age.” No, it isn’t. You don’t have to do a damn thing.
You made it. You’re wealthy. You’re secure. You have a stock portfolio. Everyone wants to come over and use your inground pool. Your best years will be spent in luxury.
The Truth: Success is not one thing. Success for one person could be total isolation. Or maintaining a farm. Or traveling. Or building a hospital in a third-world country.
We’re all finding our own way. If you do everything by the book, you end up living someone else’s vision. That’s the real nightmare. But at least no one ever hated you or looked at you funny.
Other People’s Eyes
Is your vision of a good life really yours?
How much of what you believe has been filtered through someone else’s beliefs? What have your parents and your friends instilled in you? What has your culture instilled in you?
People see you in a stage of life, and they project their reality onto you at that moment. If you take in their “wisdom” without healthy skepticism, you’ll end up lost down the road.
So how would you define the best years? What do you envision when you think of best?
Best will depend on a million factors, and it could take a while to figure out what it means to you. The important thing though, is that you define what best is. Take all the advice you want, but at the end of the day, the best is your choice.
You have to be willing to take risks without conventional wisdom to fall back on. That’s how you discover your own wisdom.
When The Best Years of Your Life Happen
The best years of your life belong to you. They aren’t due to happen at a particular time. You can’t force them, because you never know how life is going to go.
If you strive to make things better and work toward being the person you want to be, the best years of your life will occur organically. That’s my theory, at least.
And you know what? You might not even realize they're happening.
But, if you're sure that your best years haven’t happened yet, then don’t worry. Keep aiming for them. If you think they’re already behind you, then consider this. I don’t like getting wisdom from tweets, but I appreciated what this man had to say:
For what it’s worth: I was 43 when I got a PhD. I was 51 when I started my dream job. I was 54 when I married the love of my life. I was 55 when I ran my first marathon. I was 67 when I self-published my first book. I turn 70 next year, and I can’t wait!
The older I get, the more I realize how much of what I believe about time and expectation is bullshit. You get the last word on what your life should be. So make your choice and shoot for that.