It was not that long ago that I was cleaning out a deep fryer after a long shift in the kitchen. After hearing the printer print order after order, and servers coming by to pick them up in an understandably anxious state, cleaning out the deep fryer was a nice way to relax after the chaos that is the kitchen. I was always the kid too, usually the youngest guy on the team, or at least there was someone much older than me to keep me in place.
Even as I moved away from kitchens to boxing and personal training, I was usually the rookie or the new, young guy on site. As I went a few years into training, my feelings of being a youth were so prominent in me, and that was because I was still learning so much about what it means and what it takes to be a trainer.
My identity was always on the fritz because of who I was as a trainer, along with my outward appearance digging a mound into my real, private life. The façade that I needed to put out there when selling personal training or talking with people was genuinely me, but that version of me had to step it up a bit, be a little more engaging, and little bit happier. When I was at the grocery store, I wasn’t quite as perky, nor was I as happy; I was just me. Hard to believe this was a little over a year ago now.
Now that I am back in school, my feelings of youth are fading away faster than I can keep up. A lot of my classmates are so young and have much to experience in their lives. Whenever I reach into my head to pull out a memory, I find I age myself a bit, almost like for every experience I share I add five years to my life, and that only feels that way because I speak from a time that wasn’t in their minds, or because they simply haven’t experienced it yet.
I was seeing an older woman back when I was about 25-26, and she wanted to break things off with me because there were things I had not experienced yet, and she needed someone that had those experiences. I understood and it was mutual; but deep down, I resented her. I thought she was focused on the number, and it was getting to her that we had a gap in our age.
But now…now I get it.
I find as I share in class, I see that I have about 14 years of life experience over my peers (it’s a weird feeling when you relate more with the teachers than the students). And realizing that terrified me a little, because it reminded me how much closer to the grave I am than them. I’ve had that chance to live a little, to travel a bit, meet people and have interesting conversations, date a little (and fuck up many times), and explore and live in the dirt more or less. But, I also look back and see how much I focused on work and not the connections around me, and the years where I didn’t take a day off because work mattered more than life, at least my employers convinced me otherwise.
My mortality was something I clashed with a couple years ago when I was suicidal, but I wasn’t as open to reflection on my life and what I had done up till that point. Thinking now, I don’t want to die anymore, even though things in my life haven’t been the greatest. I am 32 years old and back in school, while all my peers and former colleagues have kept going with their careers, are having kids, getting married, or have kept boxing up and are pros now, or have their own businesses. I look at myself now as a child, one that is learning everything anew, and yet, that man that has lived for 32 years is still alive, and he ain’t going anywhere as far as I can tell. He kicks at me and reminds me that I already lived, and I should be doing more to fast track my life and to be an “adult.” But of course, maturity isn’t the number of years we have lived, our maturity is based on experiences, and I have been surprised by the maturity of some of my new peers.
There was a woman I was seeing a couple years ago that changed my life forever, and she was all about being in the moment. I would challenge her, whether talking about basketball or in a rhetorical sense, about thinking ahead, thinking about what next. And she always responded the same way, “I don’t look ahead, even if it is five minutes from now.” One thing I used to do a lot was read the last page of a book, and I was inspired by the movie When Harry Met Sally, since Harry does this in case he dies or something like that. And I missed the moral lesson, the point of that movie, and that was things are not planned, because you cannot plan life. And Harry also needed to learn that, but I saw this quirk in a movie and thought “Oh gee, I should do that!”
I think back to that time when she and I sipped cool, spicy, refreshing Caesars; and I think how young I was, even though I was just a smidge older than her.
There are so many things I don’t have a clue about, and there is much that I know that I want to pass on to others. I have learned to not expect anything from life, or from anyone. I have learned to ask questions and listen more than I speak (though I still talk a ton, clearly a work in progress). I have learned that my physical appearance will decay, and I won’t look young forever (I have a slew of white hairs already). I have learned that life is more than the gym, life is more than boxing, life is more than a number, life is more than a grade, and life is more than a diploma. I am getting all philosophical, so before I venture too far into left field, I’ll say this: life is what you make it, and nobody around you can define that for you. Even now, as I attend class at my age, I don’t really need to keep up with anyone, and that’s alright.
We compete, we thrive, and we grow. But we can do those together, not as individuals.