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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gut

Last year, I admired wines. This,
I'm wandering inside the red world.
Last year, I gazed at the fire.
This year I'm burnt kabob.

-Rumi
















At 29, you start imagining and believing how old things get. Calendars, planners, and blackberries— they’re all shoddy timescapes because they’ll be marooned at 29 for god knows how long. Your girlfriend loves your nascent crow’s feet. You shake your face in the morning mirror, vain to want to snap your fingers to conjure a full head of George Clooney silver–gray.

Actually, you’re oblivious to getting old. You’re marked more by the passing away of others. This year it was my grandma and her sister and my great grandma, the matriarch who lived well into her 100s, all in a two–month span. I shudder at the thought of entering a phase in the life cycle that’s difficult and trying, when your makers and those ever closest to you could leave. And then there are moral compasses, lions, imagineers, fire breathers, fierce icons. A constant, Andy Rooney, passed on this year. And Elizabeth Taylor, Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchens. And too many brave military men and woman.

Having lunch with friends at the Victoria & Albert cafeteria (highly recommended), we came to the subject of getting older— the sea change from 25 to 29. The former you, four years prior, is barely recognizable. But, maybe we don’t really change all that much and it’s just the world around us that does. But, maybe we do. Irony #1 is that you must make the most important decisions when you’re least prepared to.

Obviously, your sloppy, unmannered, clumsy, and, occasionally, reckless or counterfeit self has been tuned and refined. Of course, you’ve grown into yourself and are more comfortable in your skin. You don’t have a primitive urge to be on the A–list and thrive being off–key, but seasoned. You can take the temperature of a room. You learn how to define yourself and not let others define you. But, what’s really, deep–down different?

It’s your gut. Once shapeless and unreliable, now it’s trustworthy. I would hardly recommend anyone lean solely on his or her gut at 25, much less so at 21. By 29, your gut, your intuition, grasps the geometry of your experience. It’s not impulse. It doesn't just spill over. It tills a million calculations, connections, and calibrations that tilt you in the right direction. It knows what to use from your emotional cupboard. Your emotional currency simply buys more. For big things or when you’re unsteady, make a slow–motion gut decision, let your gut marinate on something for a few days. It’s tracing something ancient and bubbling in the future. The answer reveals itself. New York Times columnist David Brooks recently asked people over 70 to send in grade reports on and learnings from their lives. Life Reports and Life Reports II reaffirmed what we already knew— you regret the risks you don’t take, not the ones you do. Irony #2 is that as you gray, you’re better equipped to make leaps of faith, take have–your–cake–and–eat–it–too routes.

But, the point is not to live a perpetually shampooed life, avoiding regrets and not being wrong. It’s okay to have regrets and it’s okay to be wrong, as long as we can fold it all into our lives in a fruitful, healthy way. As St. Augustine said, “I err, therefore I am.”

Even more profound, as Simon Sinek tells, is the organizing principle behind your gut— people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Martin Luther King gave an “I have a dream” speech, not an “I have a plan” speech. It’s about thinking inside–out, rather than outside–in. It’s why the Wright brothers, broke and uneducated, and not Samuel Pierpont Langley, rich and well connected on the Harvard board, discovered flight. It’s why Alfred Hitchcock believed in technique over content. It’s why Bob Dylan and Jim Henson turned the world. As my colorful professor Scott Galloway said about Henson— “He sat his parents down and said, ‘Mom, Dad, after I graduate, I want to become a puppeteer.’ What!?”   

If you’re 29, ordering French food or making a career move, take a cue from your gut. Intuit things. As you grow older your gut grows sharper and suppler. It grows indispensable.

“I find myself most susceptible to those tuned to an impossible pitch, poets and wild-eyed visionaries who live their lives close to the bone.” –Deborah Baker