Life goes on

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the family in one of the apartments opposite mine had moved out.

When I moved in, the building opposite me was still under construction. I remember watching with interest as it was finally completed, then as people started trickling in.

From my little balcony, I observed people’s movements as they went through their lives — hanging up their washing, moving around their living rooms, watering their plants. To be honest, not a lot of people spent time on their balconies — I guess everyone prefers to be indoors nowadays — so when someone did hang out the same time I was out there, relaxing, I always took special interest.

In one of the top floors was that family — a couple with their small child. I remember when I first noticed them — he would’ve probably just turned one, a little boy dressed only in a nappy, taking a few unsteady steps as mum hung up clothes to dry. Sometimes they had friends over, also with small children. But usually it was just the three of them. Sometimes they would enjoy beers in the afternoon sun, chatting while their son played with his toys.

One time I crossed paths with the father on the street and almost said hi, that’s how familiar they felt.

When I sold my single bed a few years ago, the man who bought it brought along his son, who would be getting my bed. After letting his little man inspect the bed and give it his approval, we took a breather on the balcony. “Look,” the man said, pointing at the opposite apartment balcony, where my unknown neighbours were relaxing, “there’s a little dude.” And with the enthusiasm that children get when they observe other small fry, the son started waving madly and yelled, “Hi little duuuuuude!”

My unknown neighbour growing older has always been my marker of how much time has passed since I first moved in. I remember one day, with a start, that the “baby” was a toddler now.

Then, a few weeks ago, I noticed that their balcony had been seeming a bit empty. I observed the dad enjoying a solitary beer, staring out at the view, seemingly lost in his thoughts. His son strode in — with even, measured steps — he’d outgrown the quick, hurried steps of a toddler who is still making the most of the newfound skill of walking by running in short bursts.

Then they left the balcony.

Then they were gone.

On getting older

On one hand, I do know that every day, everyone’s getting a leetle bit older 😉

However, two things happened lately that made me think about getting older. The first is that I had a birthday. (And yes, I know that technically I didn’t turn a year older then — I turned a day older, which happened to be exactly N years to the day I was born.)

The second is that I renewed my driver licence and realised that I’ll be 40 the next time it’s due. Forty!!!

The thing is, I don’t feel as old as I thought I would at this age.

Energy-wise, I feel around the same as I did when I was in my twenties (unless there’s been a gradual decline that I haven’t noticed). I can still fit into the same clothes and I’m just as active (if not more) than I was a decade ago. But I can tell that my body has started to shift.

I have to take a closer look at my diet, otherwise I seem to gain weight more easily. I can’t take as much alcohol as I used to (though I’m not sure if because I started cutting down on alcohol years ago). I get up earlier now, and can no longer stay awake late at night.

I don’t have any white hairs yet (I’ve told S to be brutally honest if/when he spots any). But I’ve got more wrinkles round my face and spots on my skin.

Mentally, I’m in a much better place than I was 10 years ago. I’m less skittish, less seeking of other people’s approval. I’m more accepting of myself and less accepting of BS from other people. I am happier to spend time myself or in quiet moments. I’m no longer in the rush of always needing to find something to do.

All in all, I’m pretty happy where I am.

But, but, whenever I see my age presented to me, I sometimes have a bit of a shock. Am I really this old?

Obviously, most of my friends are in their 30s now too, and I see some of them posting about how they’ve fully embraced being in their 30s. I’m not going to lie, I’m not quite there yet! I like where I am, but I can’t seem to reconcile it with the number that is my age. The truth is, I usually forget my age and I’m happily plodding along. But when I’m confronted with it, such as filling an online form, I think, whoa, really?!

One of these days, I’ll get over this age thing. 😛

It’s November, it’s springtime

(I wrote this last week.)

It was raining continuously when spring first arrived, so I didn’t really feel it. As I’m writing this, we’re officially in the thick of things (it’s the second month of spring), Daylight Saving Time has kicked in so the days are extra long, and it’s one day before I turn another year older.*

It’s finally warm enough, and light enough, to sit at the balcony sipping my cup of tea. I can smell the different dinners my neighbours are cooking.

It’s only lately that I realised I’ve cultivated a sense of awe at the life I’m living. I mean, sure, I’ve always been grateful at things like the relationships, jobs and experiences that I’ve had. But perhaps, despite my cursory gratitude, I’d taken things for granted.

Whenever I travel, I always marvel the locals going about their daily lives. I remember walking through Paris a few years ago, thinking how awesome it must be to live in one of the beautiful older apartments and have brunches in the cafes along the streets. How lucky Parisiennes were!

But now, it’s struck me that tourists are potentially thinking the same when they see me and my fellow Sydneysiders walking down the street. “What must it be like,” I imagine they wonder, “Living in a city like Sydney?” Getting off at Wynyard station with its beautifully renovated artwork, only a few blocks away from the Opera House? What would it be like to be these workers, taking their lunches out on parks so they can eat whilst sunning on the grass? Having brunches on Sunday mornings? Going on coastal walks and bushwalks on the weekends?

This is how my day went today:
– I woke up early in the morning and took a ~30 minute train ride to the city.

– I walked for a few minutes to my new office building. There is a cafe on the ground floor, which is delicious. We had breakfast there before, when we were previously on a kick to try out the cafes hidden in office buildings. I remember it was one of the better breakfasts.

– In the office, I had a bagel with cream cheese and chives and smoked salmon.

– We had a team lunch where we went to the Bavarian Bier cafe where they were selling massive $15 schnitzel specials. I was trying to be good, so I had a salad with grilled chicken. It was huge. Could’ve been spread over two meals, easy. It was worth it.

– Took the train home. Passed by the supermarket. Fortunately, there’s one nearby. Picked up a few essentials — canned vegetables. Cling wrap. White vinegar.

– Went home and had the last of my homemade cookies. (I should do some more baking soon.) The Internet was down, so I’ve been writing. And now, typing.

– It’s time for dinner.

– And I have to do some housework before I go to sleep — putting laundered clothes away, taking out the trash and taking out the recycling.

It’s a pretty quiet night today. I’ve got nothing going on. But at least I had time to sit and write.

* Though I don’t know when I’ll actually be able to post this, because the Internet is down. Isn’t it crazy how big a part of our lives the Internet is?

On believing you can do anything

While I don’t mind a genuinely inspiring quote, I can’t help but roll my eyes with the Pollyannaism of some of ’em. (I’d previously written about my qualms with “The best is yet to come”.) Another thing I question is the persist belief in “If you can dream it, you can achieve it”-type quotes (that quote is by Walt Disney, by the way.).

I’m all for self-confidence, having large goals, and coming up with ideas. However. I believe that there has to be an element of reality in it.

For one, self-confidence in a domain has to be rooted in actual skills in that domain. My friends and I used to watch “American Idol” auditions. I’d be incredulous seeing people proudly proclaim about how they were amazing singers, but when they started singing they were ridiculously off-tune. When faced with the harsh reality that they weren’t advancing to the next round, they would protest that their friends and family said they were the best singers ever and the judges were clueless. These people had obviously been fed with too much, “you’re an amazing singer, you should totally audition, you can do it!” even when they were clearly were sub-par.

I believe in having confidence about my abilities and my capabilities to grow and learn, but there also needs to be self-awareness about the things that I’m good at and I’m not. Covering everything with a blanket “I’m great, I can totally do anything!” is not helpful.

Secondly, I’m all for setting big dreams. But there has to be a way to get there, and the person has to be willing to put the work in. There has to be the flexibility to pivot and acknowledge that goalposts may need to shift, not a stubborn attachment to the vision whilst saying, “I have this vision, so I know it must come true, I just need to stay positive and believe.”

I was reminded of all of this whilst reading John Carreyrou’s brilliant book, “Bad Blood“, about the startup company Theranos. For the unaware, Elizabeth Holmes started a blood testing company to make low-cost, less invasive blood tests that could run a large number of tests on a small amount of blood. Unfortunately, her technology didn’t work. This didn’t stop her from making deals with companies to use her technology. She was unwavering in her original vision and wouldn’t listen to her teams when they told her they needed more time to test and develop. Instead, she pressured them to deliver. This resulted in the development of faulty technology and techniques that put patients’ lives at risk and contributed to the suicide of her former chief scientist, Ian Gibbons.

Apparently, she was a fan of those kinds of quotes — the ones that told her that as long as she believed, she could achieve. It’s also evident in her quotes, some of which take an eerie quality now, reading them after all this has happened:

“I wasn’t weighted by influences that I couldn’t do it or that I shouldn’t do it.”

“I think that being able to communicate to young children that there is nothing they can’t do and to treat them like that at a very young age is incredibly powerful. I think I was very blessed to grow up in a family that always encouraged me to believe that there was nothing that I couldn’t do.”

“I think that the minute that you have a backup plan, you’ve admitted that you’re not going to succeed.”

“I think a lot of young people have incredible ideas and incredible insights, but sometimes they wait before they go give their life to something. What I did was just to start a little earlier.”

Her last quote reminds me of a conversation with my friend T, a game developer. She told me that people came up to her all the time, telling her they had a great idea for a game. But what they actually had was just a basic storyline for a game. There were so many other things to consider — of which the narrative was just a small part.

I’m a big fan of ideas, but I think merely having one isn’t the solution. Usually a lot of people have similar ones, but it’s the devil in the details, the implementation, that actually makes the difference.

In short, I believe that having confidence, a vision, and an idea are necessary, but insufficient, to actually make stuff happen. I guess there are people who get genuinely inspired by quotes that tell people that all they have to do is to believe in their vision, but I’m not going to rush out and buy a poster or a mug with a cheery platitude on it.