Y for Year: no yearning for yesterday

A scary interpretation of life

Years ago at a tech talk I was attended, an executive described his planning process this way: “I don’t plan beyond a year into the future, because so many changes happen during that time.” This idea was blasphemy for an overplanner like me, but I’ve come to see his message as, “Accept and adapt to things that happen out of your control.”

We humans think we can control time. We draw artificial lines at the end of every New Year’s Day and at each birthday. We constrain each day to boxes on our calendars and planners. In reality, we live moment to moment in one long unbroken chain of events, just as the earth continually orbits the sun without congratulating itself for completing each revolution.

Yet we still need measurements to organize our lives and track our progress. We want to point to each other and say, “You’ve been on Earth just as long as I have, so we are kindred spirits.” And so we measure ages, grade levels, seasons, and relationships in units of time. I’ve been alive for 24 years. I’ve been writing this blog for 4 of them. I spent four years in high school and another four in college, and watched the Summer Olympics after each graduation. It took me 18 years to officially become a grown-up, and to learn that there’s always more growing up to do.

While years are good measures of how many yesterdays we’ve lived through, everyone must yield to the fact that years are not predictors of tomorrows, merely containers for future events. We cannot deny or resist the relentless passage of time. I know I’m not the only one who’s anxious that my youth is slipping through my fingers faster than I can enjoy it. In less than a year, I’ll be 25. And in five short years after that, I’ll be 30. Thinking about the future and the baggage each age brings is a yucky task.

But I’ve come to accept that being overly nostalgic for the past or worried about the future only cheapens my life in the present. I can plan all I want for tomorrow and the years to come, but the time to enjoy living is now. If it’s true that “time flies when you’re having fun,” perhaps the feeling that my years are flying by is a sign that I’m actually enjoying life. Sometimes, I even find that the promise of change is a comfort when I’m fretting over small problems. I can tell myself that in five or ten years, my current problem likely won’t matter.

Every year in my time capsule journal, I write letters to the past me of last year and another to the future me of next year. I predict my future and find out if past predictions came true. It’s always a treasure to see how I changed and improved gradually through middle school to young adulthood, until 12-year-old me and 22-year-old me are complete mysteries to each other. All versions of myself are preserved in these snapshots, and each one is important to me.

Would I travel back in time just to reclaim my youth and innocence? No, I appreciate that each year adds another layer of complexity and experience on me like a multi-tiered cake. The best progress I can make is to look back at the end of every year and think, “that was the best year of my life.” And so far, all 24 years have been my best.

This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write an article for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.

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