Life is lived in seasons.
Long stretches of time, book-ended by milestones.
Milestones like graduation, getting married, having a child and sending that same child off to college.
One of the most beautiful seasons of life is the DINK season. (For the uninitiated, DINK stands for dual income, no kids.)
It begins right when you are married and ends when your first child is born.
As newlyweds, the world is your oyster.
The passion is hot like a Weeknd video. Every weekend turns into a romantic getaway. Long dinners with friends are made ok by the fact that you can sleep in on a Saturday.
(Heck, you can work out whenever the f*ck you want.)
I was reminiscing about this season of life when I stumbled on the Biebs’ Instagram.
After all, him and his lovely wife Haley, are smack in the middle of DINK SZN.
(And with private yachts, Paris Fashion Week and backstage Coachella access — these two can DINK way harder than us mere mortals.)
Yet I just learned that the Biebs is suffering from a virus that temporarily paralyzes half of his face. (Meanwhile, Haley also suffered from a mini-stroke.)
This got me thinking. Is the seasons of life concept a healthy one? Or is it a trap?
An overview of seasons
The seasons analogy is a compelling one. After all, it makes sense to divide your life up into discrete buckets. Each season punctuated by its unique characteristics, such as your health, the status of your dependents, your finances and your relationships.
At 42 years old, here are some of my life seasons:
The first summer after freshman year of college
You return home to live rent-free and drink Coors Light with your high-school buddies. There’s zero pressure to get “the internship” and so you leisurely return to your high school job of mowing lawns, baby sitting or life guarding completely guilt free.
Junior semester abroad
Not going abroad is a big regret of mine. I mean, think about it – your parents are likely still bankrolling (part) of your living expenses, you’re still on their health insurance and you’re not falling behind with any of your credits. Instead, you get to travel around the world, make new friends in youth hostels, and of course drink without a fake ID. (I didn’t go aboard because I was scared the US Corporate Employment Train would leave me behind.)
New job, who dis?
This the season when you start your first job. Business travel still excites you. You have disposable income, yet minimal responsibility. (And you’re still on your parents’ phone plan). Most importantly, you can stay up until 3 am on a Thursday and still be fully functional on a Friday.
Next, we covered DINK SZN above. That’s often followed by the Puppy Dog Years of Parenting. In the post, One Day You’re No Longer Their Favorite Person I described this phase as follows:
“There’s a magical window – 8 to 12 years – during which you and your wife are their absolute favorite people in the world. They wait by the door for you to come home like a puppy. There’s no one on earth they’d rather be with. And then it’s gone. Now it doesn’t mean that they don’t love you as much. They still need you just as much. But the magical window is gone.”
This realization led me to walk away from a soulless corporate job and stop living the deferred life plan.
What are my upcoming seasons?
Using my rational brain, here’s how my future seasons of life may play out:
- Teenage kids who want to experience the world with us (late 40s, early 50s)
- Empty nesters, still healthy and working (50s and plus?)
- Retirees with our health, friends and possibly grandkids (60s?)
- Retirees with declining health and losing friends and loved ones (???)
The romanticism of seasons seems to quickly disintegrate into a harsh memento mori. Adding insult to injury, as your health declines, your ability to buy experiences also declines. In the post Should You Die with Zero, I quote Bill Perkins describing his 90 year old grandmother:
Her days are simple. She reads. Plays card games with her friends. And hosts an occasional visitor. She doesn’t want to “buy anything,” nor is it possible for her to “go out and have experiences.”
There’s a central assumption here
That central assumption is that life is linear. And it may be flawed.
Baked into that assumption is that we and our loved ones will all live to our actuarial life expectancies. It also presupposes that cultural narratives dictate the meaning of a good life.
And as the Biebs’ paralysis shows, there’s a lot of curveballs that can be thrown our way.
I want to believe in the seasons of life. They have informed many of my life decisions. And my life is better because of these decisions. But I’m wary of ascribing too much weight to such a linear framework.
I asked my friend and teacher Andrew Taggart for his thoughts on this proposition. Andrew highlighted the arbitrary nature of the seasons (emphasis mine):
It soon becomes clear that this conception can’t get beyond a combination of (i) subjectivism and (ii) social conventionalism. The former says, “Whatever you feel is whatever goes.” But that is just sentimentality–and sentimentality is not an argument. Worse, sentimentality quickly devolves into insular, stubborn, wholly irrational narcissism. Meanwhile, the latter says, “Well, these are the seasons or milestones because they’re readily agreed upon in this social order.” But that is no solution to the challenge of arbitrariness because whose to say that this social order has a clue when it comes to whether one is really leading a good life?
Next, let’s return to the Biebs.
My daughter and I are Beliebers and we want nothing more than a speedy recovery for him. (We were trying to get tickets for his Justice tour.) A quick Google search shows that the Ramsay Hunt syndrome can take up to a year to heal. Hopefully the Biebs and Haley will be back on their yachts (and at the Staples Center) in the near future.
But what about now? What about the present moment? Is it no less valid, no less beautiful because of his paralysis? Don’t they still have each others’ smiles’, cuddles and loved ones around them? That shouldn’t take away from the fact that he’s probably terrified of an uncertain future and bummed to not be touring.
But in another sense, everything the Biebs needs, he has. Right in front of him.
Might the seasons of life be nothing more than a mere distraction of what we have in front of us. In that moment.
I recalled a choice quote from Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier. It starts with his panic attacks, but quickly escalates into a book about appreciating what we have in the present moment. Harris says:
With one foot in the future and one foot in the past, you’re pissing on the present moment.
Sure, the seasons of life model is a useful guide. But if you’re always looking at what could be and what has been – are you pissing on the present?
Are you missing the beauty right under your nose?
PS I’ll be moderating a private conversation called “Should you die with Zero” as part the $10K Accelerator, our invitation-only community. The community features 6 live trainings a month (yup, you read that right) plus access to Supercharge Your Productivity cohort 11 in October. It’s a one-time payment of $1,794, here’s the application to the $10K Accelerator.