As an aside, the title for this article comes from a well regarded Magic: The Gathering strategy article by Sam Stoddard (host of the In Contention podcast) entitled “Creating a Fearless Magical Inventory,” wherein he talks about frankly discussing the weak points of your game, the things you do wrong that lead to losses, and making them public to give yourself a blueprint for improvement. It’s a great Magic article, but it also has its role as a strong thought experiment when applied to other aspects of life.
Part of the way through next year, I am going to turn 27 years old. I’ve known this for a while (obviously. Math is math, you see), but I don’t think it has really hit home with me until this past month. I’ve technically been in the ‘real world’ for close to six years now, but that isn’t really an accurate statement when you look at the way I’ve approached my post-college life. When I worked for Merrill Lynch for close to three years right out of school, I refused to put down roots. I worked my ass off at that job, and easily could have gotten into the system of promotions and salaries and pay grades and so on, but I actively chose not to do that. I wasn’t going to work in finance for the rest of my life (or so I hoped at the time) so why should I bother getting comfortable? I was just killing time until I went to grad school anyway. I was a mercenary. Doing my job well and getting paid, then going home and never thinking about work or having any sort of ties or loyalty to the company. In my mind, I was still a college kid just trying to get by until what I wanted came along. That took away three years of my life.
I left for Boston with three years of entry level work experience and no desire to ever work in finance again. It shouldn’t come as a surprise; my love is philosophy, education, and academic pursuits. These are not the hobbies of many people in the financial sector. There’s nothing wrong with that, to be sure, and I hold nothing against these people, but I don’t mesh well with that atmosphere. The key, though, is that I still felt like a recent college graduate, despite quietly approaching age 25. I got my first job at my current employer after four months of unemployment torture, but I was still thinking about college. I work for a college (the same college I attended at undergrad, but ‘alma mater,’ if you will. Which you will, because that’s the accurate term), and take classes when I can, continuing to cling to and try to recapture the feeling of my youth.
Earlier this year, one of our managers left for another job and recommended that I apply for the position. When first approached, I initially thought the idea was silly. I had barely been with the department for a year, and the idea of reaching manager level didn’t seem to fit. But then I realized that I had four years of post-college full time office experience, plus another two from college. I went for it, thinking a new job with a higher pay scale would let me buy more ‘cool stuff.’ I got the job and proceeded to buy some cool stuff, upgrading the TV in my room and buying a Playstation 3, among other arguably frivolous purchases. I did these things and I still felt like I was going through the motions, doing things and making decisions based entirely on the now with no consideration for the future. I spent almost all my time thinking about Magic: The Gathering. Seriously. For about six solid months, that’s all I thought about. Now, I’m not about to be the person who spouts platitudes about societal norms and expectations. I don’t care what society wants or expects from me. One bit. I go my own way, and have never kowtowed to what others want from me. But at the same time, the responsibility of growing old, and the pressures of the real world (certainly different than the pressures of college life), began to weigh on me, moreso than in the past. It’s an odd situation, looking back, and I guess quarter life crises do happen (though based on average life expectancy, I guess it’s more of a third life crisis), and it all comes down to the way we act when it happens.
This isn’t the settle down/have a family/move to the burbs/two cars and 2.3 children type of life crisis. I would be shocked if that one ever happened, to be honest. It’s just not in my character. This crisis is more of a ‘who am I kidding?’ crisis. I don’t have the time, drive, or dedication to become a legitimate Magic player. I’m not going to have the necessary testing time at my disposal to make the possibility of wasting a Saturday at a PTQ into a situation where I would have at least some likelihood of succeeding. I’m not going to be a Pro Tour player, let alone champion. And that’s fine, but it’s not the way I’ve been approaching the game. I’ve officially burned myself out of competitive Magic. Which is also fine. I need to calm down and really take a look at what I want to get out of this game. I need to look at the fact that I haven’t read a single issue of Captain America in close to a year, and still spend money on it every month to have the privilege of sitting in a reading pile that gets bigger with every comic shipment. That’s abjectly silly. Yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, the summer was crazy, and future summers will continue to be crazy. But I still managed to keep up on the comics I cared about enough to demand my attention. So why waste the money? Cutting back on Magic and comics isn’t a cost cutting measure. I can afford to support them as hobbies in the way I have over the last six months or so. That doesn’t mean I should.
True conviction comes from the intersection of necessity and volition. I’m not choosing to become an ascetic, giving up my worldly possessions. But the are real world (no scare quotes this time) things to consider. I’m not fresh out of college anymore. I’m a lot closer to 30 than I am to 20. And that’ll be even more of the case next year. There are things I need to do to determine that I can survive as a functioning adult member of society in order to live comfortably in this new fangled real world in which I find myself. I have accomplished some things in the past year that I never thought possible. I have lost over 100 pounds of excess weight, and continue to lose more pushing to the realm of health. I quit smoking after eight years of pack a day abuse. There was a time a few years ago when I was positive I would not live past the age of 40, 45 if I were to be considerably lucky. Despite this, I refused to do anything about it. That’s no longer the case, which is comforting in itself. The shift comes when you realize that having a long life allows for maximized pleasure in this beautiful world. In the past year, from a health perspective at least, I’ve set myself up to have a long and fulfilling life. And there are practical things that go along with this outlook, a completely different understanding of what is required. I need to prove to myself that I can live on my own, cook my own food, keep my own space clean and well maintained. I need to wear clothes that fit me now, not the ones from two years and 110 pounds ago. I need to develop a taste for wine (okay, that’s not really a need per se, but I think it’s intellectually important). I need to travel. I need to take advantage of my situation in life in a way that isn’t so transient.
I’m never not going to be a geek (nor, apparently, am I going to give up on double negatives). My personality was forged in the fires of British comedy and tempered by video games in the 1990’s. These things never go away for good, and I don’t want them to. I’ll still play Magic. I’ll still read my fair share of comics and travel to some cons (especially ones run by my boys over at Comic Geek Speak). I’ll still make trips to Best Buy on Tuesdays to pick up new movie releases. The hobbies don’t change, but the scale does. I have an incredible appetite for media and art in all of their forms. I am truly a member of the digital age. But it’s difficult not to look at my possessions with a sense of imbalance. I have DVD’s upon DVD’s, multiple long boxes of comics, boxes and boxes of VS System of Magic cards, many video game systems, two HD televisions, home theater equipment, and no pots or pans. When I move, the only furniture I’ll have to my name is a bed, my dresser, and a bunch of shelves. No couch. A few folding chairs. No kitchen stuff at all save a few glasses. A card table I use as a computer desk. This is what my life represents.
You can only continue the charade for so long. I guess ‘charade’ might be a misnomer; I still believe that there’s nothing tangibly wrong with the way I have chosen to live my life. It’s simply time for a change. It is still in my plans to go back to grad school, get my PhD and become a professor of Philosophy? Yes. Does that mean that everything I do now is just transitory and I shouldn’t think about things rationally in the long term until that happens? No. This is what happens in the real world. Time doesn’t stop for me to complete my goals. Finances don’t stop because I want to do something fun and may not consider my current job to be a ‘career.’ I had a long conversation with a friend of mine not long ago about these things. He’s getting married next year. We talked about retirement plans. Retirement plans! But why should I think about retirement plans when I’m so closely removed from college? Right? You mean that’s not the case? Ah. It’s crazy. But this is what you need to do in order to live comfortably and not work forever. You put the work in. I don’t necessarily expect to write about Magic too much in the coming weeks or months. I’ve been thinking a lot about music lately. Listening to it a lot more too. It’ll be good to talk about music again. I think I’ve neglected it a little too much lately. This isn’t a new beginning. It’s more of an evolution. These things happen when you grow older.
This post was written to the tune of Ministry’s Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs