The Paradox of You

Some people just are who they are and know it at a very young age. Others take longer to develop into the person they’re going to become. I was in this latter group.

A few weeks ago I looked at this through the lens of a question that’s become very popular lately: “What do you know now that you wish you knew twenty years ago?” I argued that what you know now wouldn’t have helped your younger self because who you are today isn’t who you were yesterday.

This one hurt my head a little because on the one hand I feel like I’m the same person I’ve always been, and on the other hand I don’t recognize the person I was ten years ago. This is the paradox of you.

I was pleased to see affirmation of my thoughts in Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. One of the chapters, called Flirting With Your Possible Selves, does a great job of explaining this phenomenon.

  • “Our work preferences and our life preferences do not stay the same, because we do not stay the same.”
  • “From teenagers to senior citizens, we recognize that our desires and motivations sure changed a lot in the past, but believe they will not change much in the future…We are works in progress claiming to be finished.”
  • “The precise person you are now is fleeting, just like all the other people you’ve been”
  • “The most momentous personality changes occur between age eighteen and one’s late twenties, so specializing early is a task of predicting match quality for a person who does not yet exist.”

This idea that we’re constantly changing had massive implications for everyone. People get divorced and change careers not necessarily because they made a colossal mistake, but because they are not the same person who set them down their current path.

So what do we do with this? It’s a gigantic question that doesn’t have a universal key which unlocks the right answer for everyone. A lot of this is situationally dependent.

Epstein did, however, have one idea for how people can find their best match quality, which he revealed in an excellent conversation with Patrick O’Shaughnessy: Dive into high risk high reward careers where you get lots of feedback quickly and early. This is particularly useful for younger people who have the luxury to fail with relatively little on the line.

For myself, the implications of this are pretty clear. If I know that I’m not the same person I was twenty years ago, why do I think I should make plans for the person I’ll be 20 years from now? Of course it’s important to plan for tomorrow, but it’s even more important to live for today.