29 Thoughts for 29 Years

Reminisces of an Old Youth

n.b. Welcome to the one hundred and sixty-three people who have tuned into White Noise since my last note! If you have yet to do so, I invite you to visit my about page to understand the purpose of these writings.

n.n.b. This issue of White Noise is brought to you by Wynter — a customer research company built with the modern consumer in mind. I invite all readers to join Wynter's asynchronous research panels, make extra income, and get a behind the scenes look at what the best companies in the world are testing. Surveys take 10-15 minutes and offer $90-$200 an hour for your feedback.


Above: Wisdom amidst a Wasteland.


At the middling age of twenty-nine (well, twenty-nine and a half, for the persnickety subscribers out there), I stand at the precipice of youth. Now, it feels silly to type—let alone share—that previous sentence. I can already hear the groans from the peanut gallery and see the email replies from those who have had many more trips around the sun than I. Stay with me!

To be explicit, I know that I am young, but feel as though I am getting old.1

Per my previous piece, Verbal Portrait No. 1:

[I feel both the burden and] the freedom of young old age.

Silly though it may be, this thought looms largely in my brain. Thirty threatens like an inevitable Sword of Damocles perched over my slowly-greying head. That said, maybe this is not so much the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.

I suppose such is the struggle of life and mortality. It isn’t always summer in June or winter in January, after all. Perspective is what both defines our experience and imbues it with meaning.

As they are wont to do, these restless thoughts led to reading, this reading led to reflection, this reflection to these very words that you have just sounded aloud in your mind, dear reader.

Inevitably, as it does without fail, this process and the writing it produced brought clarity and solace. It never ceases to amaze me that black, digital ink spilt on a white, pixelated page can bring a bit more translucency to the who, what, when, where, and why of any situation. To quote a newfound, favorite writer of mine, Frederik Neckar:

That is why I write and share. I can’t hide from the truth when writing. I can tell immediately when I start shaping the story. When I turn the mess into an arc where I can be the hero. Stronger, bolder, less vulnerable. It’s fairly easy to tell myself a soothing delusion. But it’s near impossible to put it on paper. The page stares back at me like a teacher. It berates me. “This is a temple of truth. If you cannot be honest here, you will not find honesty anywhere in life.”

In seeking this capital-T Truth, I did a great deal of questioning and contemplating about my life, my values, my brief stint on this place we call Earth.

It involved grappling with the big questions and brushing aside the small ones.

Less “What’s for dinner?” and more “What’s my destiny, my desired life, my duty, my telos?”

I found myself asking:

  • Who am I?

  • Why am I?

  • What are my guiding principles?

  • What are the guiding principles of the people with whom I interact on a regular basis?

  • What would I sacrifice my life for?

  • What would the people I am closest with sacrifice their lives for?

  • What is the most important thing for them?

  • How about for me?

  • Are my answers to the above questions honest or mere bullshit—dishonest balm to soothe my soul?

In former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, I sought further maturity by pinning down and articulating my values:

To be mature you have to realize what you value most.

It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family.

Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.

I find it criminal that we are often blissfully unaware, or only faintly aware, of the habits of thought and behavior that profoundly shape the course of our lives.

We are not living life, we are sleepwalking through it.

In order to live more deliberately, I turned to too many books, articles, prayers, and truisms from which I had derived inspiration and strength. As these things began forming a cogent piece, I wondered, Why play a convoluted game of telephone?

Instead, why not let Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Gertrude Stein, and so many others have the floor. The stakes are too high and their words too carefully crafted. To avoid this multimodal, temporal game of telephone I cede the digital pulpit to minds greater than mine. Happy am I to admit my words are the least sage you will read in this piece!

What follows is an inexhaustive, top of mind compilation of quotes I have been pondering during my twenty-ninth revolution around the sun. Through these quotes, I found not a framework, but a scaffolding. Each has unique power because it strikes a psychological chord, imbues a philosophical truth, or sates an existential urge.


  1. Unexpected intrusions of beauty. This is what life is. —Saul Bellow

  2. Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ―Rainer Maria Rilke

  3. If you aren't going all the way, why go at all? —Joe Namath

  4. Technique and ability alone do not get you to the top; it is the willpower that is most important. —Junko Tabei

  5. The things that we love tell us what we are. —Thomas Aquinas

  6. You don't have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you're holding. —Cheryl Strayed

  7. When friendships are real, they are not glass threads or frost work, but the solidest things we can know. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

  8. You never know what worse luck your bad luck saved you from. —Cormac McCarthy

  9. All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it. —Samuel Butler

  10. My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened. —Michel de Montaigne

  11. What punishments of God are not gifts? —J.R.R. Tolkien

  12. Education is the lightest burden that you will ever carry. —My grandfather, John T. Landers

  13. Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity. —C. S. Lewis

  14. Growth and comfort do not coexist. —Ginni Rometty

  15. How we spend our time is how we spend our days. How we spend our days is how our life goes. How our life goes determines whether we thought it was worth living. —Keith Yamashita

  16. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. —Rabbi Tarfon

  17. What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to make of what happened. —Vivian Gornick

  18. A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. —Rainer Maria Rilke

  19. If life teaches anything at all, it teaches that there are so many happy endings that the man who believes there is no God needs his rationality called into serious question. —Stephen King

  20. God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful. —St. Teresa of Calcutta

  21. There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. —Albert Einstein

  22. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. —Albus Dumbledore by way of J.K. Rowling

  23. A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man. —Mario Puzo

  24. If you want new ideas, read old books. —Ivan Pavlov

  25. Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

  26. Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. —E.L. Doctorow

  27. The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. —Steven Pressfield

  28. What's terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do, or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better. —Doris Lessing

  29. Many of us wrongly jump to the conclusion that our purpose can be measured by our productivity, even though in our own lives many of our most wonderful moments do not seem to “produce” anything but love, awe, or enlightenment. —Ellen Wilson Fielding

  30. Always go above and beyond; strive to deliver the Baker’s Dozen. Like the cherry atop a dessert, the well-placed, unexpected detail is often the sweetest part. —Yours Truly (See what I did there?)


You are what you put into the world. It brings within that which you put without. 

In the timeless words of Longfellow:

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Years from now (very many, God willing), when we are at the end of our days, we will all still have regrets.

At that moment, what would we trade then to be back here—here, in this moment—for the one chance to be true to ourselves?

On that day, what will we hope that we decided to do on this one?

No matter the answer, pause more, reflect often, and act accordingly.


Two Tweets to Take Along

As I have spent a good amount of time reading and quipping on Twitter as of late (read as: scrolling and procrastinating over the past few weeks), I share some fruit of my dopamine-ridden labor.



Per my about pageWhite Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.

If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email or following me on Twitter.

With sincere gratitude,

Tom

1

I don’t think it a coincidence that this piece has come about while I am in the middle of Atul Gawande’s masterful book, Being Mortal.