Twenty Three


Last month I turned twenty-three years old, and I am writing this only a mere two or three weeks after returning from a trip to Ireland. Among my first reflections when I turn a year older are, as always: "I wonder what fifteen-year-old Juan would think of me now?"

I think it's a useful question to ask yourself periodically. I consider myself lucky in that I have access to records of fifteen-year-old Juan's aspirations, dreads, fears, anxieties, etc... It's fun to see how I measure up to my expected future and have a laugh about it. Having a laugh about it is important because no one should live their lives by what they dreamed up at age fifteen.

But in my case, I like to think that fifteen-year-old Juan would have thought I was very cool. Especially considering my trip to Ireland. He would have been quite jealous at that — that's right, fifteen-year-old Juan, I've seen a real castle.

I'm not an author, as I had hoped, nor am I a physicist as I (less realistically) day-dreamed about, but in a certain sense I am also everything I could have hoped to be at this age — if not exactly how I envisioned. I am no author, but I do write (sometimes), and I am no inventor, but I do make virtual reality games, which is just as cool by my estimations. I have a great group of friends, my family continues to be lovely, and I have a wonderful girlfriend. What more can one ask? What this leads me to feel is that I am, undoubtedly, on the right path. For the first time, I feel sure of what I want out of my life.

I love new years and birthdays because they offer up a metaphorical threshold we may pass, a threshold for reinvention and new personal beginnings. And so, having crossed this threshold I'm thinking about who I want to be next year, at the border of the next threshold.

A Year in Review

In the process of reading through all my journal entries as twenty-two-year-old Juan, I was able to distill the most recurring elements into a tidy little list. Throughout the year, the things I desired for myself came down to the following:

  • to be kinder
  • to be less prideful
  • to be more focused and principled
  • to learn to embrace challenge
  • to learn not to worry about being liked
  • to achieve what I set out to do

Future Juan

I've been thinking a lot about what I want a thirty or forty-year-old Juan to be like. Juan Prime, if you will. And though it's silly to assume I could project what my life will be like in ten to twenty years, it's slightly less silly than fifteen-year-old Juan doing the same. And it's equally as useful. So, I'll write it down here, so I could look back at it in the future, how I look back at my old aspirations now. Hopefully future Juan'll have a laugh too.

As it is now, I'm a fellow with a non-negligible capacity for frantic, anxious energy. Sometimes that's a boon, especially when I am spurred to passionate (but infrequent) bursts of creativity and self-expression. On the other hand, that same frantic and anxious energy gets in the way of the actual creating part of creativity. Also, while charming now, that's just not how I want to be in ten years' time. I'd like to think I'll have tempered down by then. Because what I want is to be someone who, beyond being jovial (which is an attribute I relish in now and hope to keep), is also more profound and substantial — more tranquil. I want my energies not to be scattered and tumultuous, but rooted, confident, consistent and sure. Patient.

What comes to mind when I imagine this theoretical Juan Prime is some of the tranquility, patient, and humble energy that an older Ged had learned throughout "Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula K. Le Guin.

I think that a lot of my anxiousness comes from my relationship with time. Or rather, all of our relationships with time as humans. In the past I've constantly tried to tackle this anxiety by engaging with streaks of perfect schedules and morning routines. I've achieved Inbox Zero — no emails in my inboxes. But none of it has aided me in my primary problem which is the illusion that if I just organize myself correctly, I can do everything I want. This is folly. And it's one I've subconsciously known but not fully recognized until I read 'Four Thousand Weeks' by Oliver Burkeman. There's a saying I like that I have tactically neglected to actually take the time and internalize. I feel it applies here: you can do anything you want. You just can't do everything you want. That's an important thing. Some things just need to give.


This year I think I want to work on my relationship with time. I don't want to use it as an instrument for my own ends. In truth, what I need is to learn that I can't use it as an instrument at all.

I want to give myself permission to do the things I value in their own time. But first I have to learn to focus, and not let anxiety or fear lead me to being distracted. This is primarily about writing, naturally (when am I not struggling with writing?). But I've been thinking back to high school, and how I used to write for fun (imagine that!). I wrote simply because I wanted to. There was no rush, no pressure. It's been a while since I've felt the drive to do something simply for the sake of doing it. I intend to relearn that. I must.

I got a brief glimpse of that internal freedom during my trip to Ireland, and before that an MFA reading at UF. As I stood among the Cliffs of Mohre and walked on the rocky fields of the Atlantic coast near Doolin in County Clare, I had a wonderful sensation — the realization that most of the things we worry about don't really matter. They're ephemeral and illusionary. Only our physical spaces, our community, our faiths, our health, our people matter. The world is not something apart from us, something that is lying in wait to challenge and confront us. We are part of it. Us. Not our GDP, not our followers, not our incomes, not our accolades. Just our beings. And that's a wonderful, wonderful thing.

This year I want to spend more time participating in the world. Not just a watcher of Shakespeare's proverbial stage, nor a set piece in it. But an actor. A "player" — one who plays, as described in "Finite and Infinite Games".

Part of play is challenge. And as I mentioned, I want to take on more challenges. I want to grow physically and mentally and continue pushing at the boundaries of what I think I'm capable of. And of course, to be kinder.

We'll check back at twenty-four, God willing.


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Ethan Smith

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