Gettin' Grown

Today is my 31st birthday.

I've learned a lot of things in my nearly 1/3 a century on this planet, and I've written a book and a half about many of those lessons (actually, if you counted just the number of stories I've written as chapters, there's enough now to make about 6 books... They'd suck, but there'd be 6 of them).

As one ages, one tends to regard oneself in the third person, especially near or on their birthdays. And one of the things that tends to bear itself out is a reflection upon what kind of person they are (or might be, or wish they were). For Joe, the answer has been less than clear.

I'm a football playing software developer who reads comic books, writes books on the internet, reads books on string theory and market-driven economics on the toilet, and has a black belt in judo. I still play dungeons and dragons, I am learning to play the drums, and I snowboard. I like huge bowls of kids cereals in the morning and routinely eat my dessert before my meal. I am married to the love of my life, have a house and a car, and still find money to buy the newest video games when they come out - to which I dedicate about 5 hours a week during busy weeks, 20 hours during time off. I can recite every (not "just about every" - EVERY) line of dialogue from every Star Wars movie, and I know how to build shelves from unfinished planks of wood and lay flooring and replace a bad alternator in my truck (and no, it's not because I also know how to call a mechanic on the cellphone).

This is who I am. There is no reason for it, except that I am me, and I like what I like and do what I do. The one thing I've learned above all other things is that society likes to build these neat little labeled buckets and put people in them. Nerd, Geek, Jock, Businessman, Secretary, Salesperson, Retail Associate, Barista.

Man. Woman. Child. Adult. Old Man. Juvenile.

The labels fit because we choose not to grow out of them... Or outright stretch them out until they no longer sit where they're placed without considerable effort (or stupidity).

Despite what my parents and teachers and aunts and uncles and society have told me, there isn't been a point at which you just stop playing video games or start caring about sports or have to buy a house. There's no clear line delineating the difference between "childhood" and "adulthood"; or dreams and reality for that matter. There's no enforcement of rules stating that you must do, say, like, think or be anything you don't want to - or that you can't do them if your label says you shouldn't. You can be and do anything you want. The thing that we have instilled in us from the earliest parts of our life, about there being rules? It's wrong.

There are no rules.

There are only consequences for actions taken... Good and bad. There's no rule saying you can't make a movie with a handheld camera and some free editing software - there's only the consequence that it won't look like a big budget Hollywood dealy (whether that's good or bad remains to be seen). Same with learning to sew or riding your mountain bike down a steep hill... If you prick your finger, you bleed; if you fall off the thing, you get bumps and bruises and broken body parts. If you don't, you end up with a nice pillow or a thrilling sensation that reminds you how alive you are.

I have so much more to learn... It's daunting to think about the things I just know NOTHING about, and it's downright scary to think about all the stuff I once thought I knew everything about and got completely wrong. But one thing I do know - and I know I'm 100% right about - is that life is what YOU make it. Everyone says that, and it's cliche, but it's completely true.

You don't have a high school education and you want to be a successful stock trader? The only thing you have to do is make wise choices on which stocks to buy and sell at whatever given moment. The stock doesn't care what tattoos you have or where your diploma is from or that you're on your seventh playthrough of Mass Effect just to see what happens when you're a female and pursue the female-on-female romantic storyline (ok, fine, that happened on the first playthrough... But give me some leeway, I'm illustrating a point here). The stock doesn't even know, nor can it. The only thing that matters is that you were wise enough to buy low and wise enough to sell high. Everything else is irrelevant.

It's the exact same thing with writing software, playing drums, reading comic books, learning judo, playing football... It simply does not matter what else you do, have done, will do, like, don't like... All that matters is that you commit yourself to learning whatever it is you are doing, learn the way you like to do it, and do it the best you can. Pass or fail, you're doing it. Worst case scenario, you don't succeed at it, and you learn a how not to fail at it that way ever again. Absolute worst case: you go learn how to do something else.

And other peoples' opinions of what you do and how you do it? Well... While it's absolutely wonderful to get glowing praise over work you create and do, and it hurts to hear negative opinion or trolling when you've spent days and weeks and months working on learning to do something, the only thing that really affects is how you feel at the moment. Does it actually physically restrain you from doing it? No. Not at all. It feels good or feels yucky, but it doesn't stop you from doing anything (or help you along in doing it, either). If you want to do something - TRULY want to do it, and not just want the praise that goes along with holding the title of "thingmaker" - other peoples' opinion of what you do will simply be cheering or jeering on the sidelines. You're the one on the playing field, and you're the one who has to live your life

As my friend Jeremy is fond of quoting Dr. Seuss as saying, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”

It's worked for me thus far, anyway.