As it has been my habit for the past few years, the time has come for my year end/birthday reflection post. And since this year happens to be the beginning of a new decade of my life (I’m turning 30, if you weren’t aware), I thought I should look back at each of the previous decades of my life and highlight the primary lesson or focus from each. Let me preface that I have no idea how rambling or full of rabbit trails this might get, so continue at your own risk 😉
First Decade: Learning
One of my first lasting memories was of desiring to know. Tasting this, grabbing that, smelling this; I had to find out more. It’s not uncommon for parents to claim their child was inquisitive but I didn’t just want to know “why” but I needed to know “how”. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that I could learn much faster on my own than asking someone else. So I read and read and read. And learned. But it wasn’t just reading. I built and played and created. Legos were also a key part of my growth. My brothers and I would create elaborate castles and towns and ships, each with its own narrative. Creating stories was just as important to me as reading them. I think that’s part of why I write today, it’s how I learned to create. But back to reading. I gobbled up everything I could get my hands on, and then some. I started reading harder and harder books, with bigger words and higher difficulty. By the time I passed into the second decade of my life, I was reading at least four grade levels above my age. I’m not trying to brag too much, but I was reading at a college level by junior high. Needless to say, reading was how I learned to feed my appetite for information. And I had to use this knowledge to create an identity that allowed me to make sense of a world that didn’t really understand me.
Second Decade: Soccer
If anyone close to me was asked what my favorite sport was, I’d imagine they’d answer soccer with little hesitation. And my love for this sport was found almost comically, because I grew up in a traditional Hoosier farm town where football and basketball were king. But football, being a fall sport like soccer, was an expensive venture, so my parents decided I should try the cheaper alternative instead. Turns out, I was really good at it. A natural almost. In fact, one of my earliest memories of playing soccer was having a coach tell me to only use my right foot like everyone else in swarm league because dribbling the ball with my left let me separate from the crowd of players and score many times. And some of my fondest memories from my middle school years revolve around playing soccer. It was something I could be recognized for and made me more than just “that smart kid”. Because honestly, I sometimes hated the fact that I was so much smarter than kids my age. They gave me weird looks because I knew all the answers and probably showed them up in class on numerous occasions. But soccer, soccer allowed me to be “one of the guys”. Let me belong. Let me put my knowledge of the game to use for the benefit of my teammates. And as my skill developed on the field, so did my involvement off it. In high school I started watching professional soccer in earnest and even began refereeing on occasion. My biggest regret when it comes to pursuing my love of soccer is that I never made an effort to play competitively in college, a decision that still haunts me today. In some ways, I wonder how different I would have been as a person had I made that leap of faith and invested in that opportunity. But my passion has persisted and grown as the years went on, giving me a place within a world I didn’t always understand.
Third Decade: Community
When it comes to the scale of introversion, you’d find me somewhere on the anti-social hermit end. Well, at least that’s where I’d be if I choose my spot, but mostly out of personal jest. Because if my readers might remember, being social is something that is not a natural skill for me. People both fascinate and frustrate me to no end. In an average social situation, I’m prone to observe rather than interact, even more so if it’s unfamiliar territory or with a large number of strangers. That said, it takes me awhile to “warm up” to people. So while finding a place in society through soccer as the foundation of my social interaction (outside of church and school) during my second decade of life, I struggled greatly to find a foundation during the earlier years of my third decade. College was turbulent, but I managed to find a small group of people who accepted me. But after college, I lost a lot of social motivation and entered my “hermit stage”. It took me a couple years to overcome these tendencies, largely through personal discovery and healing of old wounds. So I tried to put myself into situations that would force me to get to know people and expose myself to social environments. I also struggled to find an identity as a member of society, as a steady job wasn’t forthcoming. After school, I wasn’t sure what I would do and what I thought I wanted to do wasn’t working out at the time. My breakthrough, oddly enough, didn’t come through a social opportunity, but through a personal understanding. Before I could find my place in society, I had to find myself. It might sound cheesy, but I studied mental patterns, cognitive functions, personality theories, and sociology to better understand why I operated the way I did within society. Why I chose to stand in the corner rather than join the circle. Why I would rather be the guy in the background making sure things ran smoothly than the one leading from the front. Perhaps the biggest piece of realization that helped me move forward was to understand that my mind how processes information prioritizes facts and rational data over emotions and personal connections. There was a brief period that I honestly thought I was broken. But once I started to understand myself and my natural patterns of thought and social cognition, I was able to approach people in a way that wasn’t nearly as awkward and blunt as I was before. And I learned to be a friend to people. To put my knowledge and talents to work for others. I became a coach for my old junior high and started reffing again for local recreational and travel leagues. I started serving in my church, putting my natural desire to work in the background towards a noble purpose. And I took steps to realize my dream of becoming a teacher and got back into the classroom as a sub. And last and perhaps the most important, I joined a couple different groups of young adults who desired community just as much as I did. It’s amazing how friendships can start when perfect strangers all wish to have others to do life together with. And while I’m not someone who compulsively feels the need to have many close personal connections with others, I found that deep within these relationships were greatly important to my development and purpose in life. So despite myself and certain sociopath tendencies, I not only wanted to create these relationships but I wanted to make sure others didn’t have to struggle as hard as I did to find them or arrive at a place where they realized how lonely life would be without them. And going forward, I hope that the communities I’ve found will continue to grow and mature and become something truly impactful on the lives of everyone involved.
Three decades, three core components. And looking back, I can see how one decade has helped support those that followed. I can only hope that this trend continues rather than a collapse after an imbalance arises from mismatching interests or pursuits. For now, I’m content to look ahead with anticipation of what the future holds and acceptance of the lessons my past has taught me. And since this new decade might be the best one yet, I invite you, dear readers, to join me as I continue to discover what this journey known as life might entail.