I had our annual birthday conference call last month with my two best childhood friends, born five days apart. One is a millionaire who lives in a high-rise in Manhattan when he’s not traveling the country. The other timed the unhinged housing market flawlessly, doubling his equity in L.A. and parlaying that into a 5,000-square-foot Texas home with no mortgage for the rest of his life.
What about me? Oh we don’t need to talk about me. Let’s talk about you, and we can get to me later.
I’m about to move in with my parents in Plano, Texas, shortly after my 38th birthday. You might picture me screaming at my mother for meat loaf, but they don’t have basements in Texas and the closest outcome in this household would be beef lo mein.
My wife and two young children are coming with me and will support negotiations with our landlords to swap Netflix password for Costco privileges. The numbers don’t quite add up, but I don’t know how you put a value on culture.
Same thing with stock portfolios. Can you really put a dollar amount on being a shareholder in a company? Yes, by definition you can. In an exquisite case of greed, hubris and naivete overriding risk aversion, I dropped $200,000 into individual stocks rather than low-cost index funds. I am currently down 85 grand and available to teach return on investment to any aspiring finance MBAs who want to get a leg up on the competition.
Where did it all go wrong for me? My mom would say it’s when I turned down Brown University and later refused to course correct by becoming a pharmacist. Stay in your lane, landlord.
This is maybe a defense mechanism kicking in, but most people probably agree wallowing in the past and what-ifs yields rapidly diminishing returns if any at all. I saw this quote by The Last Psychiatrist in James Clear’s newsletter that almost floored me by how much it made sense:
“The goal of adulthood is to let go of the other possible existences and to make the best of the one. A successful adult is one who understands that it doesn’t matter which life you ultimately pick, only that you live it well.”
I buy it, I really do. There are infinite ways my life could have diverged from this one: different college or dorm, cities or social circles, spouse and kids, career and income. I did not choose the path that resulted in the most money, and neither did you. I did not marry the person resulting in the wildest sex or make the friends resulting in the biggest laughs or embrace the religion (or lack thereof) resulting in the deepest wisdom — although mine score high and I love them very much.
All the variations aren’t so much different outcomes as they are just different packaging that life comes in. They don’t move the needle on happiness as much as how you live your life, whatever it may be. (I know I need to back up the armchair preaching here and apply it to my struggles with parenthood.)
Take this Depp v. Heard monstrosity. My wife told me not to comment on the verdict because I know nothing about it, and yeah I proudly know next to nothing about the case except the clear conclusion Johnny Depp’s life is not perfect.
Now here’s me sitting on the armchair thinking the movie star life seems pretty close to the pinnacle — banging supermodels, partying around the world, ransacking the Whole Foods salad bar without so much as a glance at the scale. I got a kiss on the lips from an African model while studying abroad in Prague in 2005, and I can tell you that life path has its merits.
But without blaming or absolving Depp for whatever happened, I believe the bigger impact on his quality of life is how he lives his movie star life rather than his choice to be a movie star versus something else. In other words, he could be better off living the accountant life well (which would entail no regrets about forgoing other paths) than living the movie star life poorly. You hear these stories of lottery winners ending up miserable and paraplegics living their best life, and they’re not implausible.
The intention is not to use celebrity misfortunes to prop up my self-esteem. I’m trying to reflect on why I feel good most days, even giddy, for a middle-aged man who soon will be asking his parents to extend curfew and waiting until they fall asleep to make out with his wife of six years. MA! MEAT LOAF!
I guess I feel like I’m living my particular life well. Yes the house will be a circus and nuisances unavoidable. But I also see this as a sort of bonus time with my parents. My dad has been looking so old lately on FaceTime. Asians age better than most for a long time, and then it’s like they catch up overnight.
It doesn’t feel quite right your parents put so much into raising you, and then you graduate college and meet up 2-3 times a year. If I were staying in Southern California, I wonder how many more hangouts I’d get with my dad. Thirty? Forty? That’s not a countdown I care to start.
So now comes an atypical bonus round with my parents in which we’re under the same roof again while they’re still in good health, and I have some maturity and experience, plus their precious daughter-in-law and grandkids. I am picturing unfettered dinner dates with my wife, Blue Bell ice cream for the kids after pool time, tennis with my high school friends, bringing a book on shopping trips with my mom, hazing my dad and brother with Shiner Bock, and supercharged summer and winter breaks with the L.A. grandparents.
Meanwhile, we should be able to rapidly accumulate savings in the absence of rent and California cost of living. Our school commute goes from 80 miles a day to 10, from $6.80 per gallon to $4.80.
It’s definitely a scrappier plan than I would have imagined 10 years ago or even 10 months ago, given the yet-unreconciled dual rises in interest rates and housing prices. And I realize many folks aren’t blindly lucky enough to be able to use a cheat code with supportive parents. This is my one life though, and I intend to live it well.
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