Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

On Turning 30: How Have I Spent My Days?

Life is a numbers game. I turn 30 in less than a week and one number got me thinking: 3650 days. That’s the number of days in a decade. Or the amount of time I’d look back on and look forward towards.

To put it in context some,aA recent article got me thinking about the amount of time we get in life. Specifically, the article points out that the average human being day will get around 25,000 mornings during their adult life. While I hope that my generation and I have a chance at scientific immortality, there is no guarantee that we’ll find a “cure” for death before my “time” comes. There is a possibility that we can beat death and aging process, but that doesn’t change the fact that time spent is time you can’t ever buy back.

Let’s assume I do make it to the ripe old age of around 80 (let’s hope for at least 100!), that leaves me about 18,000 days left to live. But for me, it’s hard to conceptualize 18K days. That number seems like a lot, but in other ways, it’s incredibly finite.

I prefer to think about the last decade and the next decade to come. So, what should I do with that time?

Before thinking about the question of those future days, first I’d like to reflect a bit on what I’ve been able to accomplish and do since I started my “adult” life at 20. What have I done in that last 3650 odd days?

My Last 3650 Days: How do you measure a life?

I’ve recently become increasingly obsessed about tracking time, fitness, computer usage and various things in-between. Each week I do an evaluation where I look at where my time went and how I have progressed on my various professional and personal goals. In a way, looking at the weekly picture of my life and my general forward movement is easier than when you compare it to thinking about the last 10 years, the last 520 week, or 3650 days.

I mean really: How do you measure such a time period? How do you chalk up achievements, losses and personal growth over 10 years? What are you to consider the highlights worth mentioning across so many days?

To be fair, I’m not sure how to measure my last 10 years but here are a few scattered “yardsticks.”

How about words? In my main personal blog, I’ve written about 146 posts. I’ve written about topics spanning philosophy, sociology, travel, language, self-discovery and politics as well as recent writings about technology, web development and personal productivity. In my professional blog on Drupal and site building, I’ve posted about 18 articles and a dozen or so case studies and module reviews. It’s difficult to calculate the “random” notes in life but in Evernote, which I started using some in July 2010, I have around 800 or so “notes” spanning idea sketches, blog drafts, personal journalling and tons and tons of study notes. The last 10 years have seen a lot of words.

How about places? Since graduating about 8 or 9 years ago, I’ve spent the majority of each year living abroad–studying and working. If you consider staying in one place more than 6 months “living somewhere,” then besides the US, I’ve lived in three foreign countries: France, Spain and China. In terms of travel, I’ve visited many, many cities and countries. In the last 10 years, I’ve travelled to an additional 18 or so countries. (For the sake of personal documentation, I’ve been to: Taiwan, Morocco, Belgium, Luxembourg, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Hungry, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Thailand, Japan.) My brother introduced me to Hillman’s 100 World Wonders and I can claim to have visited about 30 or so of the gold sites. Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in foreign soils.

How about languages? When I was about 18 or 19 a teacher asked me which countries I would want to go abroad to. My response then was Ireland since I was obsessed with Joyce and since people there speak English and didn’t think I could learn a foreign language, it would be easier. Eventually that same teacher convinced me to study French and study abroad in Paris. This was a fairly life changing choice. Considering I’ve been living abroad for the last 8+ years, I’ve managed to become fluent in French and study my Masters in French there. I also learned basic Italian. I’ve learned to speak Chinese and can digitally read and write in Chinese too. Recently, I’ve been practicing Spanish and can comfortably claim an upper intermediate level in Spanish now. That means in 10 years I’ve learned more or less 3 foreign languages and quite a few words in other tongues too.

How about what I’ve learned? Besides the languages I’ve learned (which is a topic I should write about in itself), I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit about the world around us and people in it. I can’t say I’ll ever be completely beyond the “blinders” of my middle class, middle of America background, but I can say that I’ve had enough conversations, friends and experiences to say I see and think about the world differently than I did 10 years ago. On a more “objective” scale, I spent several years studying philosophy with a focus on ethics and politics in view of how we understand self and community. Outside of formal “school,” I’ve also managed to learn several computer technologies and skills, in particular html/css, mysql, php and javascript. I consider learning to be a lifelong pursuit and by pursuing learning everyday, I’ve learned many skills and read many books, though if you asked me to list them, it’d be hard to be concrete.

How about jobs? On my LinkedIn CV, I list 5 main jobs I’ve had in the last 10 years. This skips over an additional 5 or so jobs I’ve had while studying at university or language school. Most of that time, I’ve worked as a English teacher in France and Spain. I really enjoy teaching and helping students learn in fun and engaging ways. Recently I’ve gotten more into web development and design, but that actually only grew when I was trying to improve my interaction with Chinese students by building Language-Corner.org. For the last several years, I’ve been running my own web development shop with a focus on Drupal. I’ve helped build and modify several major websites. As you can see from my Drupal profile, I’ve become a decently active contributor to Drupal and built and shared about 40 Drupal modules. If you look at the trajectory of my last 10 years, every job I’ve had has been both better paying and more interesting than the last.

How about people? friends? love? I’ve met a ton of incredible and interesting people over the last several years. And yet this is a hard question. I can’t exactly go through my contact list or Facebook friends and provide a number on how many friends I have made. For some encounters, there is no digital trace. For some, it was a single meeting or brief encounter that I’ll never forget. For others, it was a special friendship across places and times, which I hope will continue into the future. Some friends have been lost by time and distance. I’ve made some incredible friends these last few years. Unfortunately, when you live abroad and move around fairly regularly like me, it’s hard to say goodbye so many times. There have been many hard farewells. And yet, I hope that these good-byes are just pauses in a conversations that will one day continue someday somewhere else.

Looking at these above “measurements” of words, places, languages, lessons learned, jobs and friendships, I cannot help but feel like the calculations are inaccurate. How can you count and measure up yourself? Somehow you can’t quite put numbers and figures on a span of time. Even though I’ve got a lot to “show” and “tell” about this time, my life over the last few years was never exactly a race. I have at times felt pressure and pain. But rarely was I rushed or stressed. I took my time, planned ahead and yet I wasn’t afraid to take chances.

My Next 3650 Days: What Will the Next 10 Years Bring?

When I look back at my last 10 years, I’m quite happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish and I think the next 10 years will be equally fruitful. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life so far.

So, what’s next? What about the next 3650 days? What will the next 10 years bring?

Quite a few of my “slightly” older friends told me about how they handled turning 30. Some took trips or did some kind crazy adventure (marathon or skydiving) or others made lifestyle changes (going vegetarian, measuring body fat). I don’t really think I’ll do anything major when I turn 30. I suppose like many when you get older your body becomes more of an object you need to work on as you age, so I’ll be watching myself.

In terms of my lifestyle, like I said, I don’t really have any major regrets about the last 10 years. Even though, if given a second chance, I might have done things differently, I wouldn’t change much about this time in my life. I’ve travelled, learned and lived many unique experiences with incredible people all over the world.

So, for the time being, I don’t really see my life changing much. I’ll continue to travel and learn. I’ll meet new and interesting people. And I’ll explore.

My next destination is Colombia for awhile. My Spanish isn’t great, but neither was my French or Chinese when I started in those countries. After that, I hope to return to Asia someday. I love learning and speaking foreign languages and my goal is to continue this habit into the future. I’d like to find time and energy to start doing more volunteer work again and ideally I’d like to combine this with language learning and teaching abroad.

While the last 10 years have seen lots of growth and change, I think the last few years I’ve become more and more conscious of what I am doing and who I am becoming. I make choices, establish habits and pursue my goals more methodically. I establish things I want, then establish plans to accomplish them and move forward in steps to make it a reality.

Hopefully in next three thousand, six hundred and fifty-odd days, I’ll have more to share, more to learn, more to see and travel and more to tell and write about. Hopefully there is a more me to become of me. Until then I’ll see ya when I see ya.

NOTE: The photo above is from my recent trip to Corfu, Greece.

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