There’s a film called Youth that crescendos with a scene between our elderly hero Fred (played by Michael Caine) and his doctor. After getting a clean bill of health, Fred tells his doctor, “I’ve grown old without realizing how I got here.”

Doctor says, “Do you know what awaits you outside of here?”

“No, what?”

And the doctor says, “Youth.”

This line reminds me of the younger version of myself that lives in a dusty room towards the back corner of my brain.

This younger self and I have a difficult relationship. He gets mad at me when I develop an ego or fill my mind with depressing thoughts. He’ll whisper, {Remember that time you peed your pants on the playground in front of all the girls?}. And I’ll say: Scram. And he’ll react by making me take a few extra breaths when I reach the top of the stairs or putting a knot in my back or just making it really hard for me to get up in the morning.

But mostly, that younger version reminds me that I’ve grown out of touch with my youth, and if I live to see eighty, we might just lose track of each other entirely.

{Remember that time the pediatrician asked your mom if you were allergic to anything and you chimed in with “ants” because you said just seeing them makes you itchy?}

• • •

Being thirty, I recognize it’s awkward for me to discuss the pain and pleasure of aging. Most would say I have no idea what I’m talking about, and I’d agree. The truth is that aging takes different forms for everyone. The elder can say it’s naive to think that thirty is old. And the teenager can say thirty is ancient. Both are wrong.

Little of our youthful taste survives our twenties.

The real issues come when the elder says: thirty is naive and I’m wise; and the younger says: thirty is ancient and therefore ignorant. The elder forgets that the younger starts life having to gather a millennia of knowledge in less than eighteen years. But the younger doesn’t know that when they’re thirty, they’ll probably think they were pretty lame in their teenage years. Little of our youthful taste survives our twenties.

My issues in aging come when considering when and how my mid-life crisis will strike. But then I remember: I have no glory days to pine over. My high school years were miserable and boring and forgettable. It was only after I went far out into the world at 27 that I realized that small-town Mississippi perhaps wasn’t a clear picture of the world. I found who I was meant to be when there was no one around telling me who I should be.

{Remember when you got bullied by that guy who was smaller than you? And he made you cry, like, a lot?}

• • •

It was stagnation after college that made me realize that if I didn’t do something, I’d die in an office chair in an office park one hour away from my childhood home, drowning in student loans, and unable to fulfill a promise I made to my wife before we married: that we would move away from home. For a sad majority, life can be described as: the downhill after age 18.

So, after three years out of college in a dead-end job, I spent my evenings learning how to write code. College soured me to learning hard things, but this, too, revealed an important lesson: no one is going to come to my apartment and force me to improve. It would be easy to end life having never learned anything else after graduation day.

I was right about learning to code. After making a move to a web development career, my life trajectory took a sharp upward turn. It opened up new options, and my wife and I were given opportunities to move around the country as we hoped.

Deep down, I know I was, for the most part, in the right place at the right time at multiple, converging points. But my dad always taught me the power of choices. His advice to me was: the choices we make dictate the lives we lead. When I was young, I made small choices that had little consequence. My life was small and my worries were small. But then I became a man and my choices were powerful and full of possibility. A choice to live a simple life led to a cure of endless wants; a choice of where my time is spent and who it’s spent with led to a small group of lasting friendships and a joyful marriage; a choice to leave home led to a good job and a new perspective on what it means to have a home.

So, when I reflect on what my twenties really were, it was a long list of paths that were happily abandoned. There’s a version of me out there who did everything differently and maybe feels pretty good about himself. But to be living in a one-bedroom apartment in California with a lovely wife and snugly cat, to be driving a paid-off car with 150,000 miles and worn-out tires, to have three true friends, to have a rewarding job that pays beyond what I need, and to truly know myself—that is enough. But the question remains: what comes next, and how exactly will I go about screwing it up?

{Remember when you asked for a Batwing for Christmas, and you were disappointed when your parents got you a toy version? You really believed you’d get a real-life replica of Batman’s airplane.}

• • •

In my mid-twenties, I fell in love the idea of “adulting”. And at 30, I’m really, really good at it. Budgets are great. Insurance is a must. Credit card debt is a no-no. Being selective with one’s time is a skill. Being married is for the cool kids.

“It’s okay to have fun every now and then, but at the end of the day, do the right thing.”

I remember some of the good advice given to me years ago that helped me along the way. One notable bit of advice came at a conference where I was paired with a seasoned businessman who could teach me the ways of success and networking. But he spent the entire evening networking with other businessmen at our table. I sat quietly and poked at my food. After dinner, I shook his hand and offered a half-hearted thank you for sharing his knowledge with me that evening. He gripped my hand, looked me in the eye and said simply, “It’s okay to have fun every now and then, but at the end of the day, do the right thing.” I realized it’s better to say one good thing than fill an evening with useless chatter.

{Speaking of dinner, remember when you got mono, lost 30 pounds in two weeks, then gained it all back from eating Taco Bell?}

• • •

It’s good to be young, but it’s better to relax and let time do its thing. There’s joy in trading years, days, moments for something meaningful in return. Trade four minutes for a good song; trade a weekend for something memorable (but unspeakable) in Vegas; trade a decade towards work worth doing; trade a lifetime to spend it with someone naked and beautiful. And the cycle continues, until you’ve given all that time away to a series of events that might overshadow even the most wonderful childhood.

{All I’m trying to say is, don’t forget where you came from, and take care of yourself.}

Like the doctor tells Fred, out in the world is where we might just rediscover our youth and learn to make peace with that younger version of ourselves.