End of the year reflections are predicable parts of December, but it’s amplified this year because it’s also the end of the decade. When you start to look at how you’re cruising through life in 10-year chunks, it can be at the same time fun, and terrifying. There’s where you thought you were going, where you actually went, and whether the inevitable difference matters.
Some treat their path like the blue dot on a map app, incessantly looking, charting, gauging and worrying. Others just use The Force. I’ve used both metaphors over the last decade and here’s what I’ve found.
Education never stops.
I spent 40% of the previous decade earning a bachelor’s degree and 25% of this past decade earning a master’s degree. I’m probably finished working toward pieces of paper with fancy writing, but my desire to know stuff has never been stronger. (Except maybe when I was trying to figure out how to cast my fly farther than 15 feet.) The more I teach Science Fiction Literature, the more I am exposed to the results of an uneducated population. The more I know, the more I might feel we are destined to be endlessly mired in social unrest, political posturing and ominous pollution projections, but that doesn’t mean I have to be miserable and doesn’t mean everyone is unhappy. Social media can be a digital Two-Minutes Hate. But that’s not reality. Knowing that is a key to sanity.
Education doesn’t have to happen in the classroom either. Ten years ago, I didn’t hunt and had just started my freelance writing side-hustle. Writing about my outdoor education, particularly with hunting, has been a productive way to vent frustrations, share stupidity and maybe encourage someone else who knows what it feels like to not be one of those expert types.
Words of the decade: Tantrum, personal-growth
Throwing tantrums didn’t make people want to be your friend in third grade, and it doesn’t work as a 30-year-old. I found as an adult I don’t want to spend my energy throwing obstacles in my own way — life provides enough of those — or go out of my way to worry about how others spend their freedom. A couple of my high-octane, entrepreneurial friends showed me the excitement of living with a reflective, personal-growth mindset. They are producers, not simple consumers. They handled failure, almost sought it, because without some level of failure, what are you doing, right? Additionally, posting motivational material does absolutely nothing toward achieving a goal, and cutting people down because they have different beliefs only outsources control of your mood to someone who doesn’t care. That’s stupid. So is believing that you don’t need positive people in your life.
Decision of the decade
No place is perfect, but the best places are the places in which the brochure is easily accessible. But even then, it comes down to attitude. I can explain to a Lower 48er how wonderful life is in Southeast Alaska, but all that means is I have memorized my lines. What matters is whether or not I am living it. When I moved back to Alaska I was old enough to understand the importance of living on purpose and with a sense of urgency. That doesn’t mean I always do, but I feel that attitude has kicked me outside when I might otherwise have stayed in due to weather. Of all the memories I have of the last 10 years, none include me inside watching Netflix or games. I have watched plenty of shows and sporting events, but those are memories, not highlights.
Highlights involve numb toes, slime, blood, velvet, heavy packs, and unzipping tents above clouds.
To paraphrase my favorite fly fishing writer John Gierach: age is half biology, half attitude. Here’s to keeping the right one for the next 10.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.