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Who are you, Really ! Vol 32

January 3, 2014

If you remember Ronald Reagan as an actor, you must be a Boomer!


Self perception can be a curious thing. Psychologists who study our life changes believe that we lack the wisdom to look convincingly into the future, and see how we, as individuals, will grow.

Its like Robert McNamara, the US Defence Secretary, who spouted on once about known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, trying to explain a failure to win a war. Essentially, known knowns are things that you know, like how to turn on a car, or that the earth revolves around the sun. These are things that we are taught or learn in our lifetime, are visible and verifiable, and constitute our base of knowledge. This is the smallest of the three areas.

Known unknowns are things we know we do not know, like how to pilot an airplane, or perform surgery. We have heard about these unknowns, and thankfully trust someone else to know them. This group is larger than our knowns, and is only limited by the amount of education or reading we do.

The last group, the largest, are the unknown unknowns, stuff we do not have a clue exist or how they work. How do you split an atom, or that the atom exists, or know that the shift in the red spectrum means that there is a planet circling around a far away sun. These are some of my known unknowns, as be definition, I really can’t write about my unknowns, right ?

Thankfully, there are people who specialize, and they help increase our overall understanding of the galaxy. Its a little unnerving to think that I could not even fix a car engine if I had to, considering how simple it must be compared to much of the environment around us.

The point ? The psychologists talk to our current knowledge base, and compare it to who we will become, say ten years from now, by looking at the range of outcomes versus who you thought you would become. At 58, I can make predictions as to who and what I will be at 68, but chances are I will be way off, as life happens and I am pulled in many directions.

My real point ? Don’t think that just because you are you today, that you will be you +10 tomorrow ! Yes, I think most Boomers fell into the salary trap, worked hard, had families, and did some type of activity for the social enjoyment, or as compensation for having to spend a lot of time in a passion-lite job. This is what was expected of us, and to a large extend, we succeeded brilliantly. We stopped war, we increased human rights, we eradicated many types of disease, and we worked to give our kids a better life.

This discrepancy in our future view does not seems to be because of a lack of memory. Look back on yourself as a teenager, and try to reconcile the path that got you here. Fun, isn’t it ?  If only you knew then what you know now ! Look at your tattoo, and ponder who you were then. Think of the journey you started on, and compare that to today’s destination ! Its a truism that we plan a straight path, and wind up with a crooked line of accomplishments / achievements.

This discrepancy could also be a defensive mechanism, as realizing how changeable our preferences are might lead us to doubt every decision we make, seeding doubt and generating anxiety unnecessarily. Its easier to only consider fewer or safer outcomes.

Lastly, perhaps its a lack of mental energy. Predicting the future takes a lot more work than simply recalling the past, and in our busy lives who has time to be so creative ?  You do now ! In fact, now is the perfect time to use your creative skills.

So, take out a piece of paper, and write some regular, some scary, and some off the wall goals you would like to accomplish over the next few decades. This is not a one-time bucket list. Although there may be “once only” type goals you may have, this list is being made with the express intent of being reviewed and updated later in life.

One of my off the wall goals of 20 years ago was to have a private chat with the President of the United States. I was in private industry at the time, so I can only categorize this goal as one of pure ego. I had no subject in mind, except my perceived self importance at the time.

My wife’s main goal, from that time, was to swim with dolphins. Its not the importance of the goal that counts, its having some.

Its time for Boomers to look ahead, and plan for the unknowns. In a prior blog, I talked about  planning for failure. Our goals have been modest in the past, and now, having accomplished many of the standard ones, we are free to dream. This means we can start playing the saxophone, and fail at it. Or start learning a language and then stopping. Or volunteer in our community and be unappreciated. Its the trying Boomers must see as the goal, at least to start. Don’t we learn more when we fail ?

Boomers have had a lifetime of success. We deserve, nay need, a little failure in our lives right now. How else will we discover our next passion if we do not extend ourselves a little.

Next time on Boomers – wtf !, lets consider how we can fail together.

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