Matt McHugh

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End of a Year, Decade, Era (We hope)


December 31, 2009

There isn't an article, editorial, feature, commentary, blog, or tweet I've seen on the topic of the end of 2009 that hasn't in some fashion branded it an abysmal year. I quite agree. Worst ever? That's open to debate. But, in any macro, measurable way, this past year was pretty wretched all around.

More than that, though, I have to say this past decade -- the Aughts, as it should properly be known -- was a time of history-spinning revolution that's left this planet more than a little dazed and confused. Let's look back at its start:

In 2000:

  • the Web was still kind of novel
  • few people had heard of Google
  • the dot-com boom was at its peak
  • cell phones were just starting to get popular
  • the iPod did not exist
  • the U.S. economy was stable, with no deficit and low foreign debt
  • 9/11 had not happened

Now, we carry Chinese-manufactured web-enabled multi-media gadgets in our pockets constantly, Googling everything from driving directions to medical research, while we contend with 14% unemployment, 1 out of 6 mortgages underwater, debt approaching the quadrillion range, active wars in two countries, incessant threat of terrorist attack, and a pervasive belief that our way of life is unsustainable. Pitch it any way you like, but things in aggregate are worse than a decade ago. I'd be curious to find anyone who would argue otherwise.

For a little personal perspective, I think about myself in 2000:

  • I was 35 years old, recently married, first-time homeowner
  • I was in excellent athletic shape, training 6 hours a week
  • I was optimistic about my career and income
  • I was not yet a father

I sincerely look back at those years -- the late 90's through 2000 -- as the best of my life. I felt strong and confident and enthusiastic and, dare I say it, happy. The birth of my son (January 10, 2001) was almost certainly the peak. Ah, but soon after, the practical demands of fatherhood and home ownership began to take a toll on me as my time, money, energy, and patience were stretched. 9/11 happened. About a year later, I herniated 3 disks in my back (I think of that as my little personal 9/11) and lived with crippling daily pain for three years. When I finally began to emerge from it, I found myself weaker, fearful, bitter, and feeling I had missed opportunities that would never come again. I realized I had become something I vowed I would never be: a middle-aged wage slave taking out my frustrations on my family. And, if I have fought against that with willed self-awareness, at 44 now, I am struggling day-by-day with the dark sense that I am only a hair's breadth from failure.

If that seems too much doom and gloom for you, let me say there are moments I swing the other way. Sometimes, I look around at my home and family and prospects and accomplishments and feel very blessed, particularly in relation to the degree of misfortune I know is very real for many. Yes, I am a lucky man. But that does not mean I am at ease. I know I have neither the money nor wisdom to prevent the collapse of all this if things turn bad. I am walking an unknown road in the dark, hoping the ground won't give way beneath me. Honestly, that's the nature of existence we all must contend with. However, over the last decade, I lost my inability to recognize that.

Well, like all the pundits and prophets, I pause to note the close of this worst-of-times era, and hope for better days ahead. I make no predictions or resolutions. I will simply keep walking in the dark, feeling the ground beneath me gratefully moment-by-moment.

-- mm

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