Learning to Embrace the Chaos & The End of History Illusion

Psychologist Dan Gilbert and his research colleagues once performed a study where they talked to over 19,000 adults aged 18 to 68. They measured this group’s personalities, preferences and values to see how much these attributes would change over the course of a decade.

Subjects young, old and in-between all felt they had changed substantially over the previous decade but few expected themselves to change over the next decade.

People consistently underestimate how much they will change in the future.

For example, subjects were only willing to pay $80 to see a show by their favorite band from 10 years ago but would pay $130 to see their current favorite band 10 years from now. So these people recognized their favorite band from the past had lost some luster but didn’t see how that could possibly happen going forward.

Gilbert termed this the “end of history illusion” where we believe our current selves have it all figured out to the point that this is who we’ll be for the rest of our lives.

It took me a while but I’ve finally come around to this idea of understanding that my preferences are sure to change over time and my future self will likely be different in many ways from my current self in terms of tastes, values, and priorities.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in recent years that are changes from the previous version of myself:

I’ve learned to embrace the chaos. I have 3 young children and in today’s day and age where millennials (I just barely made the cut-off) are waiting longer and having fewer children than their parents, that makes my family an outlier.

I’d venture to guess at least 3-4 times a week I hear some variation of “Wow — looks like you’ve got your hands full there!”1

It’s true, things can be hectic at times but I enjoy it. There’s a constant stream of laughing, yelling, playing, screaming, crying and cajoling of my kids but I love the chaos. I can’t imagine what life would be like without it.

My wife and I often joke that we can’t even remember what we used to do with all our free time before having kids.

I enjoy having my hands full, which is not something younger me would believe.

I’ve learned being a contrarian isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Being a contrarian is one of the most seductive positions to take because it allows you to feel like you’re smarter than everyone else.

The problem is you can’t always be a contrarian because most of the time that’s indistinguishable from being wrong. Being contrarian really only works at the extremes, which are, by definition, rare.

The crowd can go bonkers at times but most of the time following long-term trends is a better strategy than always going against the grain.

I’ve learned to embrace the mundane. Planning out big events or experiences can be rewarding but I’ve found it’s the little things that really matter.

Disney, birthday parties or big vacations are great and all but the Sunday trips to the park or a day at the beach or sitting at home on the couch watching movies can be just as memorable.

Jerry Seinfeld was once asked what a special Father’s Day would look like for him:

I don’t need any special days. I mean they’re all special. We spend a lot of time together and I enjoy every second of it. Again, I’m a believer in the ordinary and the mundane. These guys that talk about “quality time” – I always find that a little sad when they say, “We have quality time.” I don’t want quality time. I want the garbage time. That’s what I like. You just see them in their room reading a comic book and you get to kind of watch that for a minute, or [having] a bowl of Cheerios at 11 o’clock at night when they’re not even supposed to be up. The garbage, that’s what I love.

I love garbage time with my family.

I’ve learned to enjoy a glass of red wine and a good book. I used to hate wine when I was younger. Now red wine is one of my favorite drinks. I basically made it through college without ever once reading for pleasure. Now I love winding down most nights with a book.

Man, am I getting old. Moving on.

I’ve learned you can develop skills later in life. Writing always felt like a chore all through high school and college.

Then I started blogging. The writing was not so great at first. I cringe at some of the early stuff I wrote. But I kept at it, turning writing into part of my daily routine. While I still don’t consider myself a writer or an author, putting in the hours has led to some improvement over time.

The same was true of podcasting. Talking while the record button is on is much harder than it sounds but putting in the reps has made me much more comfortable in that medium.

I used to assume my education was done once I finished college but now it feels like that’s the point where my learning was just beginning.

I’ve learned to appreciate staying home more often. There was a 10 year stretch from age 16-to-25-ish where I basically went out all the time, traveled a ton, went to a lot of bars, partied way too much, created a ton of wonderful memories, and had a lot of fun.

But going out all the time eventually dampens the fun factor because the novelty wears off. Research shows an abundance of something may actually decrease your enjoyment of that activity over time because it loses its luster.

So when we do go out now I appreciate the experience more because it’s fewer and far between.

I’ve learned your anxiety shifts as you get older. One of my favorite parts about having kids is it has completely shifted the burden from caring about myself as much as I used to. It’s quite liberating.

But this shift from caring about myself to caring about them has also meant a transfer in anxiety. Not only is it the constant keeping them alive and well part of the equation, but as parents, we’re tasked with making sure they grow up to be good people.

I’m far more worried about this than any other aspect of my life and it’s a big change from the person I was pre-kids.

I’ve learned my expectations about life are constantly changing. The whole idea of retirement freaks me out. I have plenty of time until I get there but I can’t imagine getting to the point where I don’t have some form of meaningful work to keep me sharp.2

But this will probably change at some point just like other feelings I’ve had in the past.

There are lots of things I used to care about that have fallen by the wayside as I’ve aged. And what I want out of life in terms of family, career, and fulfillment have also changed.

I’m sure they’ll change in the future, as well.

Further Reading:
7 Benefits of Writing

1Part of this stems from the fact we have 2-year-old twins. People love commenting on twins.

2This is why I could never go full-FIRE.

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