Vague Footpaths

I’ve been thinking a lot about aging, of late, and the way we perceive it, deal with it, and respond to it.

It’s been interesting working through the concerns and considerations of growing older because while most of us have a general sense of what to expect as we age, the specific, lived experience of being an older version of ourselves is impossible to concretely and accurately imagine because we’re attempting to do so from the perspective of someone who’s never experienced the variables that will influence our lives at that distant moment, and we will not experience them until we have reached that more mature age (at which point preparations will be impossible).

There’s an element of what’s sometimes called The Vampire Problem in this line of thinking, this concept referring to the impossibility of understanding what it will be like to exist as something entirely different from what we are now.

Someone who’s already been converted into a vampire can tell us, from their now-a-vampire perspective what it’s like to be a vampire. But because they’re no longer human we can’t really trust that they’re giving us information that’s relevant to our still-human feelings, needs, morals, and everything else.

There’s an invisible line that we may someday cross, in other words, and it’s impossible to accurately pre-assess who we will be on the other side of that line because crossing over represents a fundamental change to who we are as people (and thus a change to the metrics by which we perceive and assess things).

This concept is often used when gesturing at the difficulty we might have understanding what it’s like to have a kid and be a parent before we do so, because the process of kid-having and of recalibrating toward kid-rearing alters so many of our base-level assumptions and priorities that we’re (in some cases, at least) fundamentally different people when we reach that other side.

My sense of what it will be like to be an older version of myself, then—while based in part on my prior experience aging to a wizened 38—is insufficient to understand what it will be like to turn 40- or 60- or 90-years old; I don’t have the context necessary to grok any but the most universal aspects of being these more advanced ages, and I probably won’t until I’ve reached each of these milestones.

All of which gestures at the trickiness of preparing for one’s later years because although we can make general assessments about things (I’ll probably want to have good people in my life, the resources necessary to do the things I want to do, and to be healthy enough to not be constantly suffering), anything beyond such cookie-cutter presumptions is prone to change between now and whenever my plans would come to productive fruition.

One thing I believe I can do, though, is spend more time working on lifestyle infrastructure that will present me with more options as I get older, in the sense that I’ll be able to choose any number of paths that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible (or as easily accessible) lacking that preparation.

Investing in my health, in my relationships, in my financial stability, in my capacity for curiosity and awe—really broad-based, basic stuff, but also the most versatile in terms of giving future-me what he’s most likely to want and need, whatever changes occur in the interim.

It’s less satisfying in a sense, preparing for a slew of vague generalities that are made even more vague by the fact that the world around me will change in the coming decades, as well (so some or all of even my most generic and hand-wavy suppositions may prove to be inaccurate or pointless by the time they fully vest).

This is what I’m capable of doing from my current chronological standpoint, though, and I tend to think that carving and paving paths is useful even if our directionality changes at some point, because bare-minimum it’ll help us become better trail-makers for a future moment in which we need to blaze an unexpected footpath in an unfamiliar direction, pronto.

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