For most of the men I’ve gotten to know through my own network of friends and work related acquaintances, one thing we have all come to agree on is something I never would have imagined in my twenties.
In order to introduce this point I should bring up something not known to many; namely that there is a maturation process that takes place within in a man that is at once physical and psychological. Robert Bly in his seminal “Iron John” delineates this 8 stepped process. In regards to this process, what we’ve all come to agree that one step in this process seems to happen between the ages of 33-36. For many of us the wild parties, binge drinking,late night escapades not only were no longer fulfilling. Not only do they affect our bodies more, something inwardly has shifted. Relationships around this time seem to encompass a lot more responsibility, and not just to the person we are with but to ourselves and the vision of life we inwardly strive towards making a reality.
All of us have had at this point the pleasure of experiencing hitting rock bottom like I did in 2015 where I got fired twice from two jobs in a row. For others, a long term relationship comes to an end, or someone close dies. What happens next, is that we each became in a way unique to our own situation ,aware of how many of our dreams haven’t come true and the passage of time. It is important to add that no matter how frivolous the dreams were in retrospect, there is something about them dying before being achieved, that strikes you at your core.
Here is quote from Iron John:
Despite our Disneyland culture, some men around thirty five or forty will begin to experience ashes privately, without ritual, even without old men. They begin to notice how many of their dreams have turned to ashes. A young man in high school dreams that he will be a race driver, a mountain climber, he will marry Miss America, he will be a millionaire by thirty, he will get a Nobel Prize in physics by thirty-five, he will be an architect and build the tallest building ever. He will get out of his hick town and live in Paris. He will have fabulous friends…and by thirty five, all these dreams are ashes.
At thirty -five his inner stove begins to produce ashes as well. All through his twenties, his stove burned with such a good draft that he threw in whole nights until dawn, drinking parties, sexual extravagance, enthusiasm, madness, excitement. Then one day he notices that his stove doesn’t take such big chunks anymore. He opens the stove door and ashes fall out on the floor. It’s time for him to buy a small black shovel at the hardware store and get down on his knees. The ashes fall off the shovel and onto the floor, and he can see the print of his boot-soles in the ashes.
It is from this place of ashes that I decided to compile a list of sagacious thoughts we (my friends and I) all wished someone had told us in my 20’s. It should be noted, before I continue, that in many cultures past and current, it is the responsibility of older men to guide younger men through these tumultuous times. This doesn’t happen in our culture at the current time for a multitude of reasons which are beyond the scope of this post. With that said if you have something to add please feel free to, everyone is work in progress and its always been my belief that we can learn something from everyone we meet in life.
Advice Piece 3587
During the course of your twenties spend time figuring out what makes you content independent of your parents ideologies, friends wishes etc , so that in your 30’s you aren’t dependent on anyone one person or satisfying anyone wishes for a sense of contentment or satiety.
I like to think of individual as rare plants that require a specific set of conditions to blossom. It’s important to find out what those conditions are for you. It has taken me some time to figure out that I am most inspired by talking with others, being able to have many creative outlets, and semi-frequent changes of scenery. I feel most alive when I can oscillate between moments of quiet reflection and moments of intense activity. I have many hobbies that keep my interests: i love reading and learning new things, I love being active, traveling writing, drinking, hosting friends in my place, getting dressed up for a night on the town. I know all that know at 34 years of age after majors wins, losses, and epic fuck-ups, but I wouldn’t change anything
This piece of advice is especially important for relationships. Whether you get married or not, have children or not, you are an individual that is going to keep on growing and developing. You cannot do that in isolation. If you decide to make one person the vanguard of your happiness/contentment, not only do you give them power over you, in many ways stifle your personal growth.
When you take time to discern what are the environment that allows you to flourish, you become very aware early on about what you’ll accept and what lines you will not cross. Most importantly you realize that life is too short to wait on some future day where the optimal conditions to get something you want will materialize.
Most men make the error of thinking that one day it will be done. They think, “If I can work enough, then one day I could rest.” Or, “One day my woman will understand something and then she will stop complaining.” Or, “I’m only doing this now so that one day I can do what I really want with my life.” The masculine error is to think that eventually things will be different in some fundamental way. They won’t. It never ends. As long as life continues, the creative challenge is to tussle, play, and make love with the present moment while giving your unique gift.
-David Deida, The Way of The Superior Man
That last paragraph really hit home when I read it and I haven’t been the same since. For so long I was chasing someone else’s dreams and not being true to my own vision. I was being inauthentic and it made me depressed. I took a lot of jobs simply for the money in the hope that when I get the salary I wanted I would be able to write, travel etc. Looking back there was no reason why I couldn’t do both.
In a nutshell:
Your twenties are a time of great experience and discovery. If you make the time to attune yourself to what calls to you in life, and figure out the conditions that inspires creativity and self-discovery, you will be able to meet the changes that come in your thirties in a much more balanced way. I’ll have more words to say on this soon again.
If this topic interests you and you would like to learn more please look at the following two books mentioned in this post.
- The Way of The Superior Man by David Deida
- Iron John By Robert Bly