As the New Year starts it was propitious to find an article titled “The End of History Illusion“. While this may sound like something that Francis Fukuyama would write, it is actually an article written in the current Science Magazine by Jordi Quoidbach et. al.
“At every stage of life, people make decisions that profoundly influence the lives of the people they will become— and when they finally become those people, they aren’t always thrilled about it. Young adults pay to remove the tattoos that teenagers paid to get, middle-aged adults rush to divorce the people whom young adults rushed to marry, and older adults visit health spas to lose what middle-aged adults visited restaurants to gain. Why do people so often make decisions that their future selves regret?”
Those of us who exercise or those of us who plan on optimizing our exercise program may look forward to greater physical and perhaps intellectual possibilities than those who do not. At each age exercise or not, many think they have reached a peak physically, emotionally or intellectually. This is rarely true, but ultimately it may become true in some sense. The question of “visualizing the positive possibilities of change” wasn’t addressed in this study. But professional athletes do it all the time. I’ve met athletes who are doing excellent and have great current possibilities. One athlete I know in particular, is planning for events that are 3 years off and will not squander his talent by testing it all too soon. The Olympic trials are years off, the athlete is young and he knows where he wants to go, what he wants to do and when.
We all can make 1, 3, 5 and even 10 and 15 year plans. We should never approach life as having peaked. The future holds reams of possibilities. The possibilities morph and change as you go through life, but don’t think you’ve reached your full potential at age 15, 18, 20, 25, 35 or even 40, 50 or 60. Many people have found careers in areas they would not have dreamed of. Many found new sports and events to compete in or hobbies to learn and improve at. Some have found novels to write, operas to compose, and paintings to paint. Verdi wrote what are considered by some to be two best operas after the age of 74: Othello and Falstaff. (Personally, I’d take La Traviata, Rigoletto or Ballo in Maschera over Falstaff). Picasso was creative into his 90’s forever changing his style. Beethoven’s famous 9th Symphony was certainly not his first. Bruce Springsteen still composes award winning albums, Keith Richards is still alive. Even Bob Dylan is singing after a fashion and Paul McCartney is still making music. Jay-Z is still hot and Kanye is getting better. Drake still has a ways to go, but Frank Ocean is getting it on. I’m hoping to see Florence (of Flo & The Machine) recover her voice and have a long career. Poets usually start out fast and then fade but there are many exceptions. Novelists often start late and improve. But, there is no hard and fast rule for every individual, only possibilities. Psy may do it now Gangnum Style, and hopefully he has a plan for the future, although he may very well be a one hit wonder. (At least he is enjoying the gift of popularity which he says was quite a surprise to him).
The motto Carpe Diem should mean more than seize the day, how about Carpe Lustrum (grab for 5 years) or Carpe Decas (get a grip on a decade). Think long, make short term, intermediate term and long term plans. While I wouldn’t recommend that most of us plan a physical peak for 10 years out, you can certainly think in 1, 2 or 3 year time frames. And for intellectual development you may plan out 5 to 10 or more years in advance. For those 10 and 20 year time frames or when starting to plan later in life, you can plan to stay active and minimize your losses. If you are starting off out of shape – you can certainly look for improvements in strength and endurance at virtually any age.
It is not the end of history it is the beginning. Just as a high school or college graduation is called a commencement, you can look at the possibilities of the future as the commencement of the first days of the rest of your life. Make it out to be the best it can be, keep your eyes wide open, work at it and recalibrate as often as needed. Staying the wrong course is never a good option. Not in life, not in politics, not in policy. Get started now on planning for this year and the next 10.
The End of History Illusion
Jordi Quoidbach et al.
Science 339, 96 (2013);
The End of History and the Last Man – Fukuyama
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution – ( A better book by Fukuyama)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (More than a Feeling)