Many potential world changers grow old and become boring. Often before they even took the chance to put their ideas into action. Why is that? How come that most of us loose our passion and get off purpose when we grow older?  And is there a chance that we can prevent this?

The bad news: Chances are high that once you graduate college, you’re going to become average. You’re going to get a high paid job, marry and start a family and somewhere along the way you will “grow up and stop fooling around”. AKA you’ll give up on your dreams.

The good news: There are ways to keep the passion and spark inside you alive and kickin’. I have found two strategies that have a good potential to prevent you from becoming old and average/boring/like your parents.

The fear of growing into an old average person

It is obvious that there’s a difference in the way young adults and grown ups approach the world. Young people tend to be more optimistic, questioning the status quo while they are willing to take risks. They dream big. They want to change things.

However, grown ups are often quite the opposite: Overly realistic, serious and keen to do things the way everybody around them does. They’re not willing to take huge risks and they think dreaming is for morons.

If you ask me, I think the assets of young adults are far more exciting than the assets of grown ups.

Well, here comes the tricky part: When the grown ups were young, they were just like us.

They thought their parents were nuts. They wanted to do things differently. They wanted to change the world too.

If you listen to them now, a lot of them will tell you things like: “Oh I wanted to change the world too when I was younger. I even did xyz. Yeah, and then I grew up you know.”

The crazy thing is, those xyz stories are often quite impressive! Maybe the toured America with their band or wrote a book or went to Africa for a year. But somehow they ended up where they are now, trapped in a life that bores them to death (literally).

Now how on earth could such passionate young adults turn into  stressed and disappointed fiftysomethings without dreams and without purpose?

When those passionate peeps turned into such sad adults, how can you prevent yourself from doing the same? Sometimes it even seems like this a natural evolution, like it has to be this way, because everyone seems to have gone through it. I don’t have any grown up in my immediate surroundings that is still working towards a big dream or making plans to change the world.

And yet I know so many of them have been world changers. They had all the potential to do great things in their life.

And then, suddenly it’s like society caught up with them. It’s like somebody told them “Your efforts to live a passionate life were really sweet. But now it’s time to grow up and get serious. You’ve had your share of fun, no be nice and act like everybody else, will you?” And they went and did just that.

To be honest this scares the crap out of me. 

I have a feeling that most people start to transition into boredom when they graduate college and get “a real job”. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to find and do work I love now so that I won’t have to go into panic mode and pick something at random after college.

I think college is the best time for big life experiments. People don’t expect anything from you. Heck, when they do they often expect you to do crazy things because that’s what they did too. Your title is “college student” and that is something that people can understand, that they can put you into a box and leave it at that. No one expects a college student to have it all figured out. But beware the day you graduate, because then you’re expected to know exactly what you want to do with your life and how you’re going to do it.

So if you’re in college right now I encourage you to make the best out of this time. What they say is true, you’ll never be free to try so many different things again without it having any consequences. This doesn’t mean that you’re all screwed up if you graduate and don’t have it all figured out, but rather that it will never be so easy again to explore and experiment.

I’ve wracked my brain to figure out a way to prevent me and my young peeps from falling into the trap of growing up (i.e. boring). I’ve tried to find a way to protect the spark inside of me from the big bad world.

And here is what I have come up with:

The best strategy to prevent grown up disease (aka boredom)

Let’s recap what we have discovered so far:

  1. Even potential world changers are likely to turn into boring old people one day
  2. The time this is most likely to happen is when you graduate college and get a real job

So what can we do to prevent becoming OB (Old & Boring)?

One way we can go about this is becoming a little serious and grown-up in college already. Don’t start yelling at mean, I don’t mean that kind of grown up. What I mean is using your time in college to explore what it is that you want in life, what meaning we give to it all and what we would love to do for a living.

I know, I know, some of you might not want to have anything to do with grown up stuff and just want to enjoy your time in college. But trust me, if you put in the work now (and who says it can’t be fun?) you’ll have much higher chances to enjoy the rest of your life as well.

But Iris, you say, isn’t there something I can do right now? Like a little quick fix?

The 30 minute action you can take today to prevent becoming average in your fifties

Attention: The strategy we’ve talked about above is far more important and will still be required if you do this exercise. There are certain things you have to figure out in life if you don’t want to walk around zombie style. But I understand if the thought of turning into a depressed employer who does nothing but zone out on the couch after work leaves you scared shitless penguinless.

You want to do something right now.

Okay, I hear ya.

Let’s pretend for a minute that you actually did become an average joe living a mediocre life. I know it’s scary, but stay with me for a minute.

What’s one thing that could get you back on track now?

It’s probably hard for you to even remember what it felt like living a passionate life of the top of your head. How the hell are you going to get back on track if you don’t even know what the track looks like?

Here’s where the passionate young college student you are right now comes in: Remind your old self what it feels like to be alive.

How? Through a letter. A letter you’ll write today and that you will give your mom or some other trusted relative whom you inspect to still be around you in a decade or so. When the time has arrived that trusted person will send the letter to you. This does two things:

If you haven’t fallen of the wagon it’s going to be an enjoyable read, you’re going to dwelve in memories and realize that your reality is even better than what you had expected back then.

But if you have turned into that dreaded boring grown up this letter is going to shake you up. It’s going to remind you of the passion and spirit you had when you were young, about the dreams you had and the plans you made. You will realize that you have failed. And there is a good chance that you will be able to look at your current situation and really see it. You will see what you have turned into and maybe you will say “no more”. This is what we aim for.

You think this is total BS? Then listen to wise Mr. Aaron Myrs who has introduced me to this concept.

The story of a man who wrote letters to himself

Aaron Myrs is a pretty incredible man. He has written a total of six letters to himself to be received between the ages of 25 and 50. He’s just turned 40 this Monday (happy birthday, Aaron!) and that was when he received his latest letter.

Aaron wrote all these letters when he was 21 years old. He wanted to make sure that his older selves would remember the things that were important to him right now as he was young. The thought of turning into a frustrated and apathetic man scared him. So much that he did what, in his words, “every reasonable English major would do”. He grabbed a pen and some paper and wrote said letters to himself.

This is what Aaron says about the experience:

 These exhortations [letters] and others greet me as a forced reflection on life, causing me to stop and take stock and reconsider what it means to live from the  passionate core of who I have been called to be. [...] Writing letters to our future selves can be for us the immunization we need against this plague of mediocrity. That is what it has been for me. Each time I have received one, it has been a transforming experience of remembering what is important, of reflecting on where I’m at and of thinking about the years to come.

This is exactly what we want. We want to stop and think and remember and imagine.We want these letters to make it hard for us to stay in mediocrity if we have slipped into it, and if we haven’t, to reflect on our life and the direction we’re heading into.

The experiment

Being the experimental blogger that I am, I decided to join Aaron and write my first letter to “dear old Iris”. I will receive this letter when I’m 30.

If you’re willing to join me, here are a couple things that might be helpful for you:

  • Have a can of tea ready. This might take a while so it’s better to get comfy.
  • Imagine what you imagine your life to be like at the age you choose. What will be different? What would be the best-case, what the worst-case scenario?
  • If you could tell your older self only one thing, what would it be?

As I wrote this letter I tried my very best to convey my passion for life, my hopes and my dreams to Ms. 30 -year-old-Iris. I also shared my fears with her, to make it easy for her to recognize whether she has fallen off track or not.

I’ve put the letter in an envelope and sealed it. I will give it to my mom (hi mom!) and ask her to send it to me on my 30th birthday.

I have no idea what my life will look like in 10 years. I have goals and plans and hopes and dreams, but I don’t know what will happen along the way. But I’m sure that this letter will have some kind of an impact on myself when I read it again.

I can’t promise that it will change my life if I have gotten of course, but I hope so. And even more so I hope that this letter will find me in a place in my life where I’m living my dreams and enjoying life to the fullest.

If you too want to prevent becoming a stressed out, depressed, boring, average old person I suggest that you do two things:

  1. Take the time (right now) to consciously decide which direction you want your life to take. Then take daily action to make sure you get there.
  2. Take some time and write yourself a letter. If everything else fails, this might get you back on track.

Before you go on and you do that, please let me know in the comments:

What are you doing right now to make sure you don’t fade into a miserable purposeless adult? Will you try out one of the strategies?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here’s to fighting mediocrity,

Iris

***

PS: If you’re curious about writing letters as a tool for reflection on the past and where you are now, letters to your younger self are a great way to do that. Awesome Ms. Therese Schwenkler got me to try this out (yes, I try everything that has to do with letters). She’s a big fan of writing letters to younger versions of herself and has contributed one of her letters to the amazing book Letters To Me: Conversations with a younger self . I’ve read it, it made me laugh, cry and most importantly; reflect on my life. Plus it got me to write a letter to my 12 year old self. Umm yeah. :) If you’re curious, you can read excerpts of her and other’s contributions here.

PPS: If you’d like to see said letter to my 12 year old self, let me know. I might publish it. But I talk about boobs in it, so I’m not sure if you’d want to read that. Ok, bye.

***

This post was inspired by an article on Benny Hsu’s blog Get Busy Living.

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16 Responses to How to Prevent Going from Young World Changer to Boring Fifty Something

  1. Kate says:

    Iris, this is awesome! I love this because it is something I put into practice… oftentimes surrounding my birthday or a new year. Last year I wrote a letter to my present, 23-year old self from my 13-year old self, and it was really surprising what came up. I have written a letter to myself every year for the following year as well, but maybe this year I will try one for age 30! Seriously love this… what a great way to hold yourself accountable. I’m in! :)

    • Iris says:

      Awesome, Kate. I think you’ve talked about that concept in on of your blog posts as well, right? Let me know when you’ve written your letter! It’s quite a fun experience, especially when you don’t have a clue what your 30 year old self will be like. Just imagine writing one to your 50 year old self. That must be crazy! But I plan to do it anyways :)

  2. Aaron says:

    Iris,
    I am so glad you took the time to write those letters. You won’t regret it. Great post and great site!

    -Aaron

    • Iris says:

      Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, Aaron. Without it I wouldn’t have written this article. I’m curious to see how it’ll feel to get this letter when I’m 30. Maybe I’ll let you know in 10 years? Who knows :)

      -Iris

  3. Therese says:

    I want to read your letter about boobs! :-P

  4. Jessica says:

    I was just having a conversation with someone about this very subject the other day… I said: “Look at how older people return home from work, turn on the television and just sit there like zombies.” It scared me too. This post was serendipitous for me because I really didn’t know what I could do to prevent turning into one of those old, boring people. And then you give the answer!! I am excited to write a letter to myself and wish I would have done this years ago. There’s no time like the present!! I never want to be a boring zombie…

    • Iris says:

      Hey Jessica,
      I know what you feel like, I’ve experienced some of these panic “i never won’t to be a zombie” moments too.

      If you decide to write the letter, please let me know it would totally make my day!

      Plus, Bright Little Socks is here to help you stay a human being and become the most awesome version of yourself possible, so I’m gonna do my best to protect you from the zombies :)

  5. Nadja says:

    Yeah Yeah, Iris…I want to read about your boobs, too. ;D

    But no without a smily: I love this post. Sounds strange but it motivates me right NOW to work. Thanks for this. Juhuuu!

    • Iris says:

      I hope so, Nadja! I hope you’ve done the workbook. If you won’t do it until New Year’s Eve or whenever we’ll get to see each other I’ll have you write a French essay or something. You better take action now :)

      LOVE!

  6. Awesome post, Iris!

    Amazing idea… I’m heading overseas this weekend and I think one of my things to do on the plane is to do just that! Write myself a letter!

  7. Sally Wilke says:

    Your ideas for keeping the passion (or reminding yourself of the passion) are just great. I also want to add one encouraging note for you.
    I was a passionate world-changer at 17, 21, 29, 37, well, you get the picture.
    After a 30+ year career in social work administration, I quit my job, went to seminary for four years and was ordained as a pastor at age 62.
    Boring, old fogey….guess again. Love, live, stay curious!
    Blessings.

  8. Lindy says:

    Iris, please share your letter! Would love to read it!

  9. Izzy says:

    Iris this is freaking awesome!

    I have so many thoughts :) . (but I’ll keep it within reason).

    First off I love the letter writing idea.

    I’m a tad bit impatient – so I’m going to write 3 months letters. I will write them to myself in the future in 3 months :) .

    I think we are all capable of doing amazing things in short periods of time if focused.

    Really good post Iris.

    • Naomi says:

      I think you and I read the same blog from Benny Hsu!
      I just wrote a post, that I hope you would check out!

      http://www.consciencewow.com/letter-to-myself

      I think I will go ahead and write a letter to my 40, 50, 60 year old self…although a scary thought to see myself past 50!

      I also like Izzy’s impatient letter to your 3 month self as well ;) Amazing how many changes can occur in 3 months!!

      Cheers to you both.

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