The Do Over 04: Goals
Is 56 the new 26? It seems that way for me as my current professional and existential quandaries mirror the ones I faced 30 years ago. These posts are a series of ponderings trying parse the difference between now and then.
Most of the things that were easier at 26 than 56 are physical. For instance, my first apartment in the East Village in the ‘80s was a fifth floor walkup. I owned a bicycle and 13th and Avenue B wasn’t the sort of place where you left a bike on the street, not even with a heavy chain or a guard dog or perhaps armed militia (though I never quite went that far), so there were days where I happily lugged the two wheeled creature upstairs and down many times. Nothing to do it!
One mental thing that was substantially easier then than now is maintaining faith in my narrative. When I was a young adult I was ascending the ladders of my chosen professions, journalism and artisan cheese. I expected bumps and bruises along the way. I knew that progress at best was two steps forward and one step back (this was the ‘80s, long before the dotcom concept of 17 steps forward, sell and retire).
At 56, I’m familiar with a more complicated sequence of success: say two steps forward, one step back; two steps forward, six steps back (yes the Gang of 4 knew what they were talking about); two steps forward, hold; two steps forward, one step back; three steps forward two steps back. In other words to travel the same distance entails a much more arduous path and sequence. And of course by this age, I’m keenly aware that this *is* progress. I’ve now spent far too many years where the only options were holding ground or moving backward.
And of course even in the process of a little forward, a little regression, there’s a different feeling. When I was younger, the steps back were part of the game, something to note and be aware of next time. Now, a certain panic sets in. A weary, “oh no, I’m still not doing it right!” set of anxieties flood my body. On the one hand, my businesses, winning over editors then winning assignments is the same, selling food—or rather now, beverages–to New Yorkers is the same, but the stakes are different. When I was 26, I figured I had a decade or so of struggle ahead of me. Now, I’m struggle fatigued after more than a decade of scrambling to survive. I tend to think that there’s no way I can endure another five years like this, but then again, I’m sure I thought the same thing five years ago.
I often regard the survival strategies of my youth as foibles of a younger iteration of Martin. However, I’ve begun thinking that one habit needs revival. When I was younger-not necessarily 26 but maybe 34, young enough still to bound up several flights of steps repeatedly with a bicycle in hand—I used to frequent Starbucks Astor Place by day (at that time it was a nice coffee bar not an emblem of the corporatization of Manhattan) and d.b.a by night (it was the city’s leading beer bar at the time) and gameplan. I’d both plan my time for the coming days, but far more importantly, I’d weigh my short term endeavors against my long term ambitions.
That I reached those ambitions should be a triumph that I celebrate but because they fell apart with alarming speed, first during the media crashes of the ‘00s then during the less well publicized cheese job squeeze of the ‘10s, I tend to regard the successes as failures. It’s made me reluctant to game plan toward an actual goal and rather simply game plan to not be where I don’t want to be. In other words, rather than playing to win, I’m playing not to lose. You don’t have to be a legendary sports coach like Gregg Popovich to recognize the weakness of that strategy.
The revelation occurred to me last week. A customer brought me gifts of beer from Russian River and described a vacation he took that involved driving the PCH from L.A. to Northern California. It was a vacation, I’d thought about in my bike lugging days. I thought it would be a great trip to take in my 40s as some sort of emblem of having made it (I did *make it* but not long enough to plan cross country vacations). That’s when I realized that I no longer think of my life very much in terms of what I want it to be. I have short term goals like resuming yoga and spinning classes by the end of the year, but long term ones seem to have been obscured if not forgotten amid the struggle to avoid ruin. Maybe it’s the PTSD that comes from enduring years and years of personal economic chaos.
As I shared my bottle of Blind Pig with a buddy that evening, I began to think about *what* I want to do and *how* I want to get it done. I can see a difference already, not in a swelling bank account (ah, wouldn’t that be nice) but rather at night, in my dreams. I’m far less prone to have bad dreams about being out on a ledge, and instead I have pleasant ones about doing some of the things that I’ve thought about doing but didn’t regard as attainable goals.
I have no idea if embracing a larger range of possibilities will make them into realities, but I’m pretty clear that not embracing them wasn’t. I think my 26 year old self would have known that, and I’m happy the middle aged iteration is catching on.