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  • Tom Birchard

Better With Age

Tomorrow is my 38th birthday…yikes I’m getting old! Hard to believe 40 is just a couple years away. I just read a post from Ryan Holiday on 5 Stoic Lessons from Seneca. They are 1) We suffer more in imagination than in reality 2) Associate only with people who improve you 3) The greatest remedy for anger is delay 4) Value your time more than your possessions and 5) Death is not in the distant future, we are dying every day.

I’m a fan of stoicism and this got me thinking what are some lessons I continue to learn as I grow older? I was sitting down to write my weekly personal journal entry and thought I’d turn it into a blog post. I hope that like a fine wine, I’m getting “better with age.” In some areas I probably am, and in others not so much. Here are some general reflections on aging from the soon to be birthday boy (or I guess old man)…

· Health – at the risk of stating the obvious, as you age it becomes more and more clear how important your personal health is. Like in many areas, daily decisions in areas like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management compound and have a major impact of your quality of life over a long period of time. Like many of you I remember in many younger years how I could pound an entire frozen pizza as a snack after eating dinner, or drink way too many beers and not feel the ill effects of it. Needless to say, that is not the case anymore. I’m currently reading How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams and he talks about his “energy metric”. Even if you’re having a hard time making health a priority for the future rewards, I think focusing on day-to-day energy and clarity of mind is enough motivation in itself

· Hoka Hey – this was Crazy Horse’s battle cry at Little Big Horn. To the Indians it meant “this is a great day to die”. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly hope I don’t die anytime soon. That said, I want to live life to the fullest each day, and without regrets, so that if something unfortunate did happen I could look myself in the mirror and believe I’d done my best. Fear of death can consume a lot of mental/emotional energy. If you “peel the onion” back on yourself, I suspect you’ll find it at the root of some of the ways you respond and perceive things…I know I did and still do. Religion and faith can also support “hoka hey” with the realization that this earth is temporary, and there’s an eternal afterlife to look forward to

· FOMO – I’m a naturally curious person. You can tell from the recommendations I send with these blog posts (which are just a fraction of what I consume) that I enjoy reading, watching, and listening to new and interesting things. There’s a fine line between that curiosity and it turning into a fear of missing out (FOMO) where it becomes compulsive and addicting. I worry that if I’m not learning something new that I’m falling behind or missing something, and that impacts my ability to be present and enjoy the moment. I’m becoming more aware of this dynamic as I age, and trying to take steps to mitigate it. Something as simple as leaving my phone in the bedroom after putting Rory down to have undistracted one-on-one time with Ashley. This one is still very much a work in progress

· Other People’s Opinions – I used to be much more worried about what other people thought of me. Not just those family/friends/coworkers closest to me, but anyone I’d come into contact with. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve not only come to realize that most of those opinions don’t even matter, but also little things I might be worried about go completely unnoticed. Most people are stuck in their own heads and far more concerned with themselves than what clothes you wore that day or that your voice happened to crack. There’s a reason fear of public speaking ranks even higher than fear of death or major illness. Now I’m not saying that impressions don’t matter, they do. But I’d suspect for most of us other people’s opinions are far less of a factor than we make them out be

· Can’t Rely on Willpower – I used to think I could rely exclusively on willpower to make the right decisions and focus on the correct areas. I no longer consider that to be true. Friends used to refer to me as “the machine” because it seemed like I could commit to doing something and always follow through with it and not be impacted by emotions and distractions. As we get busier and are trying to juggle more things, willpower becomes less and less effective, and that’s certainly been the case for me. Systems, habits, and processes become critical if we want to continue making progress in whatever direction, be in relationships, health, business, etc. Atomic Habits by James Clear explains this well and lays out an effective framework for building good habits. He talks about 4 critical phases of cue, craving, response, and reward. I’m not sure if my willpower is decreasing as I age or if I’m just becoming more aware of it. In any case I now focus more on habits and systems

· Living for Others vs. Self – I wrote previously about the concept of making your eulogy better than your résumé (Link). This is another one I wrestle with. On one hand, I can read a book like Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand that glorifies the “selfish” protagonist who makes a positive impact on the world and feel inspired. Rand’s belief in individualism over collectivism is ingrained in capitalism, something I’m generally very supportive of. On the flip side, having a wife and son as well as a team at work, I consider the majority of my purpose to be to do what’s best for them and much of the time, to put my own interests on the backburner. All I can say is that it’s a balancing act. Back to Scott Adams’ energy metric, I need to focus on myself to some extent to have the energy and means to give back to others. This is a tradeoff and dynamic I think more about the older I get

I realize those are somewhat random and disjointed thoughts, but they are what’s currently on my mind as I turn 38. I’m sure a few birthdays from now that list will be different, and that’s fine and a big part of what makes life interesting. Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are several recommendations of interesting things I’ve read, watched, or listened to in the last month:

· Article - Dad Life by Packy McCormick – As a new father, this article really resonated with me. The part about juggling family, career, and social life is very real and I agree with Packy that you have to pick 2 to prioritize. I’m also grateful for traveling less and working from home more during this first year of Rory’s life and getting to see more of his milestones firsthand than I would have otherwise

· Podcast Episode - Chris Dixon and Naval Ravikant with Tim Ferriss – For anyone curious about Web3, Crypto, Defi, etc. this is well worth the listen. Both Naval and Chris Dixon are super smart but are also excellent communicators that can break down something really complex into simple language

· TV Show - Bosch – This is a crime drama available on Amazon Prime that Ashley and I have really enjoyed. We’re a few seasons in and while I usually lose steam on long-running shows, I think we’ll eventually make it through all 7 seasons of Bosch. Great character development and intriguing storylines

· Article - The New Fear and Greed by Josh Brown – I thought this was a really good take, with the fear of losing money and the green for making more being replaced by insecurity and envy

· Twitter Thread - Andrew Wilkinson on Dopamine Addiction – This thread is “heavy” but worth the read. Wilkinson makes the point that dopamine addiction has the same underpinnings as more discussed addictions like alcohol, porn, or drugs. Reading this prompted me to reconfigure my email, phone, and social media notifications and how I structure my day to try and reduce those dopamine hits. Still very much a work in progress but something I’m confident will pay dividends both now and in the future

· Article - The Broken Clock by Nick Maggiulli – Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I think Maggiulli nails it when he says people crave predictions. This pairs well with The Seduction of Pessimism and is an important aspect of human nature to understand as we try and make better decisions

· QuoteA hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving. Albert Einstein

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