What makes you, you?
Is it who you perceive yourself to be now? Or is it defined by who others perceive you to be? Is it your past that defines you? Or, what you strive to be in your future?
Is it your genetics? Or your upbringing and influencers? Or your own individual experiences?
Is it where you live? Perhaps, it’s where you work. Whose company you keep? What you’ve learned? Maybe, it’s what you believe?
Some have said, it’s not what you’re like by what you like? Movies, books, music and more that you consume that makes you you.
It’s all of these things, and more, all at once.
No one individual idea defines who you are. You are a complex almagamation and many of the aspects that affect who you “are” are not fixed in time, but change as you adapt and change in a big beautiful web that is life.
My forties are not unlike the previous decades of my life in that I am constantly experiencing a newness to the world around me. I am in just as much awe now as I was in my tween years, as a teenager, as a twenty-something and in the last decade of so-called maturity. However, I get the distinct impression that this attitude is a bit of a rare trait in the world around me.
The majority, meaning about 80%, of adults, meaning those 25 or older, in the US have attained at least a High School diploma or their GED while barely 40% have completed any type of tertiary education beyond HS (meaning associates, bachelors or a formal trade program) and only about 10% go on to any type of continuing education after the age of 25 according to the Census Bureau’s 2014 report. It’s not just the age of American Anti-Intellectualism, or the inequality of socio-economic underpinnings, or the lack of time to spend learning, or even the sky-high costs associated with education that are encapsulated in these numbers.
While all of those are legitimate reasons, one underlying and often missed aspect is that as young students our goals are dictated by the completion of certain milestones in such that education becomes a means to an end. Elementary school leads to middle school. Middle school leads to high school. High school leads to — well, you get the picture. For many, if not most, it isn’t about learning as a path to self-fulfillment or self-enlightenment, it’s about completing the task to advance to the next stage. Thus, when the perception that all the so-called tasks are completed there’s nothing left to continue learning.
This is reflected in how much, or more appropriately little, America ‘reads’ as well as when American’s do read the type of texts they seek out. According to Pew Research nearly 76% of American adults ages 18 and older said that they read at least one book in in 2014, which is down from over 80% in the late aughts. Pew pointed out a similar trend when it came to non-book consumption. While the select few might seek out the anthemic nature of completing Infinite Jest or a Sunday long read in the New Yorker or the Atlantic, the masses who actually feel compelled to read at all consider themselves enlightened by embracing adolescent-fiction as adults, or worse, consume tabloids almost exclusively for their version of reading.
There’s plenty of research that suggests the average person’s range of musical exposure deteriorates as they age, though different studies have come to different conclusions about just what age it is and where one’s musical interests become “locked.” While some of the data goes back over 60 years, more recently analysis by Rhapsody in 2010, EMI in 2011, Brian Whitman in 2012, Paul Lamere in 2014, ajaymkalia using EchoNest data in 2015, among many others that have all come to the same basic conclusion, with the exception of consistently specific outliers, the average person stops participating in their own music growth somewhere between their very late teens and very early thirties (so, basically as twenty-somethings).
It’s not just nostalgia-happy, past-worshipping, anti-modern mom’s and pop’s doing it to music either. It happens across the entertainment consumption spectrum. That might explain why there are so many stations dedicated to replaying classic TV and movies as well as how many reboots, remakes and film franchises fast approaching double-digit episodes.
It’s not to be judgemental, per se, as much as it is to point out the social reality. At my age, I have substantially less in common with the average American of my age than even the above numbers point out.
I’m not any better than anyone because I continue to ‘go to school’ or that I read more ‘intellectually aspiring literature,’ or consume more ‘new music,’ or discover more new aspects of viewable culture than the average of my age group. I’m just different. And, it’s that difference that I continue to embrace.
As I age, I become much more aware of the processes I have to go through in order to maintain my path of constant discovery. Trust me, being this inquisitive isn’t so easy. It’s work. Fulfilling work. But, work nonetheless.
Now, more than ever before, it’s also something I feel almost an obligation in continuing as I now have someone to both learn from and teach in this aspiration to always discover. Experiencing life with the Padawan represents a new opportunity.
Not only to challenge what I believe I know about myself and the world around me, but to both be empathetic enough to “see” these all these things through the eyes of my youngling and to prove to myself I know them as well as I think I do by being able to effectively educate my youngling about what I am have learned, or that we are learning together, too.
As my birth year flips on the calendar and I look back at the time we’ve spent together so far, the desire to learn and discover definitely felt amplified over the past year. Perhaps not in the typical ways, of course, since not everything I am gaining knowledge of is necessarily new as in recently gifted to present day society, but it’s new to me nonetheless.
The idea of experiencing the world through a different set of eyes, that of my Padawan, is pretty cliche in that many parents talk about similar experiences and yet are still encapsulated in their pre-parental world view. The new things they learn are primarily derived from the process of being a parent themselves (and, as noted above, thus represented by some of those consistent outliers in the generalized data). My goal, not only for the next year but moving forward through the next decades, will be to embrace the opportunity to broaden my horizons even further not just in ways that are directly applicable to interacting with Padawan as a parent but inspired by their own inherent curiosity about the world itself.
I haven’t quit gotten to the point of defining what some of these challenges might be but I know if I am to fulfill this it will have to be more than just embracing new music, new reading, new classroom studies, new visual programming, new foods, and more — it will have to be substantive in such a way that it creates the new version of me. Otherwise, I will stagnate in my growth and simply recycle the same “new things” over and over, so while the individual elements are “new” the culmination of how it influences me is predictable and lacks the enlightenment that supposedly got me this far.