Birthdays are a funny thing, aren’t they? Let’s look at this tweet for example,

It’s @haacked’s birthday. Give him crap about getting old.

No gifts, please. Especially not what Charlie suggests.

Of course I’m getting older. We’re all getting older. Every second of every day and twice on Monday. Every femtosecond even. Perhaps the only time we’re not getting older is the moment within a Planck time interval. But once that interval is up, yep, you’re older.

Yet people apparently live their lives completely oblivious to this fact until they’re next birthday comes along. As the chronometer slides the next number into place, the realization dawns, “Damn! I’m older!” What? You didn’t know this?!

Feeling Older

The odd thing to me is that I don’t really feel older, mentally. I mean, I consciously know I’m older, but I feel like there’s this smooth continuum from my first memory to now. While the things I spend time thinking about have changed, the way I think about others and about myself feels like it hasn’t changed. I’m the same person then as I am now, and that kind of blows my mind.

For example, I still think fart jokes are funny.

In my mind, old people tell you how they used to walk miles uphill both ways to get to school. But I realize that these days, old people tell you about how they used to have to use their phone to connect online at 1200 baud. And there was no internet!!! OMG! What the hell were we connecting to?

Rather than feeling older, I am observing the evidence that I’m older. For example, I used the word “baud” in this blog post. Another example is how injuries now take much longer to heal. I have two kids, a four year old and a two year old and I’m pretty sure that if I were to slice them clean in half, that’d only put them out of commission for a week. They’d heal up and have no scars! Meanwhile, if I get a paper cut on a finger I can pretty much kiss that finger goodbye. Write it off as a loss and start practicing typing with two bloody stumps for hands.

Getting Experienced

But it’s not just physical. I do notice that while I don’t feel older, I do have the benefit of many more years of experience to draw upon. But more importantly, I’m finally actually paying attention to that. Go figure.

Last week, we had our GitHub summit and Friday was our field trip day to a distillery then a bar. This was the night set aside to party hard. Which is amazing to me because the night before I’m pretty sure we as a company consumed enough alcohol to bring elephants to extinction.

But I drew upon my experience and took it easy because I had a flight early the next morning and I did not want to be sick on an airplane. Contrast this to a few years before at Tech-Ed Hong Kong when I was out with some local friends and at 5:00 AM I had to leave the bar early to catch a flight. For the first time in my life, I contemplated suicide.

Some might call that getting wiser. I call it pain avoidance.

Knowing Less

The other evidence of my getting older is that I know a lot less now than I did when I was younger. Certainly that can’t be true in the absolute sense since I don’t have alzheimer’s (that I’m aware of anyways). But I remember as a young programmer I knew everything!

I knew the right way to do all things in all situations with absolute conviction. But these days, I’m not so sure. About anything. All I have is the breadth of my experience and pattern matching at my disposal. Each new situation is simply a pattern matching exercise against my database of experience followed by an experiment to see if what I thought I knew produces good results.

The great thing about this approach is when you know everything, you have nothing to learn. But now, I’m constantly learning. Many of my experiments fail because many of my experiences are no longer relevant today. The world changes. Quickly. But each experiment is an opportunity to learn.

Staying Young

So yeah, I’m getting older, but I’ve found a loophole. Remember the kids I mentioned slicing in half? I’m not going to do that because I’m worried I’d end up with four of them then and two are already a handful.

These two do a great job of making me feel young because they will laugh at every fart joke I can come up with.

So thanks for all the birthday wishes on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. Here’s to getting older!