For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived as an expat in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing is a megacity of 30 million people. Often abbreviated as CQ, and pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring, Chongqing is located in south-central China on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way from my small hometown located in (pause for effect) … south-central Missouri on the Little Dry Fork Creek. How long? How about 14 time zones-long? CQ is one of the world’s largest cities but I am on a quest for a simple life. I want to “simplify, simplify”, as Hank Thoreau beautifully stated it. Thus, even in the middle of a huge metropolis, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th Floor Homestead.
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Advice from You-Plus-Twenty
An unknown wag once wrote he had always believed that “old age” was fifteen years more than his current age. Thus, when he was 20 years old, someone 35 was past their prime. At 35, a person who was 50 was definitely on the downhill slope. At 50, he saw a person of 65 as already having one foot in the grave. At 65, he looks at a person of 80 with a mix of amazement and pity. If he reaches 80, he will still feel superior to anyone 95 and older – although the herd will be considerably thinned out.
A comparable (sometimes guilt-producing) thought exercise is to visualize getting advice from an older, more mature, less volatile version of yourself. Yes, imagine a visit from yourself, a future-you who is twenty years older than present-day you. This would be you, with all your prior experiences, talents, and memories… but coming back from twenty years in the future. Since that visitor from the future is you-but-not-you, we will name the older visitor You-Plus-Twenty. or UP20 for short.
What are your weaknesses, character flaws, history, regrets, uncontrolled impulses, and addictions (both harmful and innocent)? UP20 knows. There are no secrets from yourself. What would UP20 say about them? Remember UP20 knows everything about you and has only good intentions in the advice he is about to give. Hell, UP20 is you, only a little older and safely detached from your current messes.
So, now that we have identified the two people in the room, let’s imagine a bit of the conversation that would occur after the initial shock and skepticism subsided. Having accepted that UP20 came back from the future with the honorable intention of counseling you – the younger version, the present-day you – what do you think your older you, UP20, would say?
First, let’s create some house rules for this encounter. UP20 will not offer tips on which stocks to buy that will make you a billionaire in the next few years. UP20 will not tell you where to meet Mr/Ms Right – or how to painlessly, legally, and inexpensively get rid of Mr/Ms Wrong. UP20 cannot tell you how to pass an examination. (You already know that.) What UP20 can do, however, is stop you before you make a stupid decision or blurt out something that you will deeply regret later. UP20 cannot help you break a habit but UP20 can help you recognize that you have veered over the line and let some habit begin to control you.
For example, UP20 cannot tell present-day you if you should be an expat… or become an expat again in a different time zone. However, UP20 will caution present-day you not to make a decision – especially, a life-changing decision – when you were exhausted, depressed, unexpectedly single again, upset with your boss, or had three or four drinkies inside you, stirring up emotions.
And then, just as suddenly, UP20 is gone. No warning, no farewell. Just gone… back to the future. You’re on your own again. Why this departure? Because you didn’t need UP20. Not really. If you take the time to carefully think about all the options and opportunities in front of you currently, present-day you is perfectly capable of making good choices without outside help.
Admit it. Most of the time, a decision is obvious, albeit maybe a little uncomfortable. The tricky part is accepting the price you must pay to implement the decision. Economists call it the opportunity cost, meaning what options you give up when making this particular choice. That’s why we defer making a decision and taking action.
Of course, there are some situations where the right choice is not immediately obvious. Life isn’t always black-and-white. Even in those cases, however, you can still get along without UP20. You just ask yourself which choice you deeply want, even if you don’t have a clearly defined reason. Finally, if you still feel undecided, toss a coin to decide. But, while the coin is in the air, be conscious of which outcome you hope the coin will indicate.
And there are other times when a choice is not easy because you simply don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. For example, when I made the choice to follow the expat’s path, I wasn’t certain it was the right thing for me. I couldn’t be sure; I was walking into a new lifestyle with a new career, new possessions, new time zone, new relationships… and for damn little money. Everything was unknown. But, for situations like that, UP20 would have offered the assurance that there are very, very few decisions in life that are truly irreversible. UP20 would say to make a choice based upon what you know and feel currently, even if you don’t know enough for the solution to be obvious – also known as an “executive decision”.
Then, as an old Texas saying goes, “If nobody’s pregnant and nobody’s going to jail, your problem’s not that serious.” The vast majority of decisions – career, financial, romantic, or geographical – are easy enough to reverse. Why? Because even after you make a choice, you don’t have to keep that car, that job, that computer, or that relationship forever. Admit that you made a bad choice, make corrections, pay the price, then move on. Even without a theoretical UP20 to consult, you can always say, “I tried but it didn’t work out.” Then you set out in a new direction. You don’t need UP20; you just need to think carefully and rationally.
One more thing. Listen to your own answers and pay attention to your feelings – but don’t necessarily trust them. Before making important decisions, there is a critical preliminary step: Acknowledge that, brilliant and logical as you are, it is still possible to be manipulated by skillful marketing campaigns. Try to recognize those outside forces and ignore them when you decide what will make you happy.
Making a decision is simple. But simple doesn’t always mean easy; it just means simple. The important thing is to stop deferring making a decision and taking some action – any action – by claiming you need more data first. Sometimes, you just gotta push the button or close the switch or choose which door… and see what happens. Do you wanna be an expat? Decide then take the first action step.
And another thing…
Those of you already in the TEL subscriber community are receiving a series of emails requesting your preferences and feedback concerning the topic for upcoming articles. One candidate was Torgeir Higraff’s trip reports for his Eat Your Heart Out Spring 2023 World Tour. After reviewing Torgeir’s itinerary, Anton Eine responded with, “I scored 3. I mean 3 locations I have been to: Vienna, Koh Samui and home.” OMG, have I created a competition? Okay, leave a comment with your personal score for the whole community to see. Let the games begin!
2 thoughts on “Advice from You-Plus -Twenty”
Hi,Randy.After reading the advice given by 20+, I feel deeply. I am often afraid to make a decision because I am afraid to bear the consequences of the wrong decision. Therefore, I seem to be indecisive. But I don’t like myself like this. As you said, as long as you do it, you will be more confident if you master a skill. Maybe this switch opens a wonderful world, who knows, but I am looking forward to it.
It is quite thoughtful and helpful for dear Randy to persist in writing blogs. When I first saw the title, I was wondering what is you-plus-twenty. Now I know clearly. To be honest, I dear not to say I have such idea or thought before. Thanks for your sharing and I can consider from a “plus-twenty” perspective.