The Maturity Dilemma


More and more I’ve run into a particular dilemma in life, and I think it’s worth exploring a bit. As I get older, my friends are becoming increasingly “mature”, which is to say that they are buying houses, having babies, going to bed earlier, etc. I find that there are some major benefits to this sort of development; the attraction of “settling down”, saving 10-15% of my income, working in my own yard, or doing work on my own home is not lost on me by any means. In fact, I feel like I’m behind the curve because I haven’t yet started doing these things myself.

The financial benefits of moving into this mode of thought are what interest me most. At my age I’m starting to consider alien terms like “upside down”, “equity”, and “total net worth”. The notion that I’m simply carrying on my reckless, youth-oriented lifestyle from 10 years ago (only on a larger scale) is quite frightening. I’m renting, paying exorbitant amounts per month for a new car, and spending what’s left on eating out. I’m one of those guys who buy a brand new hard drive from CompUSA or Circuit CIty and never turns in the rebate. My company is even offering to pay for my broadband access here at home, but I haven’t got off my ass to fill out the expense form. It’s a very wasteful lifestyle. I’d much rather be preparing my own meals using organic foods, getting regular exercise, taking advantage of every financial advantage available, etc. — it’s a whole package – a paradigm of efficiency.

So that’s the one side of it – I want the mentioned benefits of “growing up”. On the other hand, I also fear this lifestyle like the plague.

The dilemma is that I tend to feel more alive while living like this. I like the idea of being able to take a job in Canada or Arizona if I wanted to. Living this lifestyle I can give two weeks of notice and simply drive away. I can’t stand the notion of being bound to a certain set of options based on a self-imposed lifestyle. And I firmly believe that once a person gets locked into the mode of thought mentioned above, it becomes quite easy to lose the appreciation of spontaneity and adventure that I’d like to at least think I have now.

In short, I don’t want to plan vacations a year in advance. I don’t want to stick to itineraries. I want to be able to drift as I’m taken with a desire to do so. Let’s go to Seattle. Let’s go ice fishing. Let’s spend 6 weeks straight learning LISP. I hate the idea of any of these events interfering with a well-established, self-imposed system that I’m reluctant to break. I want to be able to eat pizza 4 days in a row if I’m in the middle of implementing something new on my network, writing something, reading an important book, etc.

The dilemma is that I know the path of conservative maturity is healthier and ultimately safer for me long-term. My current diet and lack of exercise is nothing short of horrific, and doing this for 10 more years is bound to cause problems, yet the lifestyle changes required to “settle down” and get into the right frame of mind are, to me, at least as dangerous in their own right.

I almost feel like discovery, creativity, and exploration are all directly stifled by the forces that bring about the safe, healthy, efficient lifestyle mentioned above. In my mind, ones best work comes when no external forces are limiting random bursts of thought and motivation. The requirement to be in bed every night at 10:00 p.m. is one such force, as is the quite logical rule that one should not consume pizza and mountain dew for 7 days in a row and get 3 hours sleep before going into work the next day – all on account of some interesting project going on at home.

So, in other words, the very lifestyle that I think is unhealthy and unsustainable is the one that makes me feel alive. It’s freedom. The alternative is quite attractive in its own right, but I fear it’s a curse in disguise. Ultimately, my goal in life is to think, consume the thoughts of others, and discuss those thoughts with those who are interested in learning about the world and finding ways to improve it. My fear is that moving into a stable, predictable lifestyle will quell both my desire and ability to carry out this goal.

Ideally, as in countless other cases, the best system would an eclectic one that combines the strengths of the two approaches into a single, hybrid lifestyle. This is actually what I’m looking to try and pull off, but thus far it’s proven difficult. The two systems seem to be the proverbial oil and water, and I just don’t see how to combine them in a long-term, sustainable way. Being able to exercise every night when I just heard about a new security tool earlier that day is an utter impossibility for me. I’m either conservative and working out every night after a quality, home-cooked meal, or I’m reinstalling my honeypot for the 15th time, updating IDS signatures, while writing an essay.

I can’t find the balance.

Oh well, I’m not giving up yet; I just wanted to try and articulate the struggle. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

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