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Dear Readers,

I’m pretty sure it’s not a big secret in the tech industry that sometimes we take interviews or accept calls from recruiters just to see what happens. Sometimes I just want to know, what does that company think I’m worth? How is the interview process these days? Could it be better there compared to where I am today? Of course, the grass is always greener so you have to be careful with that question.

Anyway, the point is, I was interviewing for a position. It was the very first interview where the recruiter asks some simple questions to see where you are in your career, make sure you are applying to the right thing, and that you’re not a complete weirdo. This recruiter, though, asked me: “Where do you see yourself in five years?

Mitch Hedburg would have responded, “Celebrating the fifth anniversary of you asking me this question.”

I’m pretty sure I could respond with that and get away with it because the interview process is optional for me since I have a job that I’m reasonably satisfied with but it has been a very long time since I’ve been asked that question.

My five year plan? I can’t envision where I’ll be in five years. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last five. I’m mostly just living my life putting one foot in front of the other, getting on from day to day… my five year plan? I don’t recall what I actually responded with. Probably something about how I have no desire to be in a management role and that ideally, in five years, I would just be doing the same kind of work albeit with new technology and new problems.

Writing this now, I wonder if perhaps the right response should have been: “Well, Mr. Person I’m Talking to Right Now, where do you think the world will be in five years?”

I know we’re supposed to have plans and I do. I want to continue learning guitar, music, and art. I want to learn another language. I want to spend the latter half of my life doing everything I can to enjoy the time I have. The years of striving to give everything to my company, plotting out every move to try to advance my career… well, I think those are behind me.

As I continued to think about that question over the following days, which I absolutely did, I started to think about how incredibly personal that question can be. So why ask it to begin with? For previous generations, perhaps it made more sense since you could honestly expect to work your entire career within a single company. But in the tech industry? Staying in the same place has often been seen as a negative. If you spend too much time in one place, it’s bad. (Not spending enough time in one place is equally bad. You have to spend just the right amount of time which seems to be somewhere between two and three years.)

And there’s the answer – it’s a personal question because my career objectives likely don’t involve staying in the same role or company for very long. In five years, I’ll most likely be in a new job. If I’m really lucky, it’ll be one that I’m passionate about and love. Otherwise, it’ll be another job like this one Dear Recruiter – one that pays the bills, keeps my family fed, and hopefully keeps me interested long enough to stick around for a couple years.

My question to that company should be: where do you see me in five years? It’s a question they can’t honestly answer so why should I?

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. I know I don’t have many followers but should you be a repeat reader of this blog (thanks so much!), you might wonder: “Hey, where’s the tie-in to music or arts?” There isn’t one, really.

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Dear Readers,

Being a writer has been forefront on my mind lately. My lovely partner is a writer, and I watch her struggle with the business side of things – researching literary agents and publishing houses, writing query letters, dealing with rejections, and all that. I’m impressed by her commitment and fortitude, truly, but I also get to think about my past desire to be in the writing game.

There was a time when I wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories as a youth and poems as a teenager (of course I did). Somewhere in my digital archives I’ve managed to keep works from my early adulthood: there are poems, stories, and even a book! I haven’t read them but I can assure you that they are terrible and probably quite embarrassing. I’m not willing to open them and find out.

That unwillingness to open up the archive, refine the work, and pursue the story until it’s finally told and in the world – that’s why I’m not a writer. I’m not a writer because it doesn’t interest me the way other artistic pursuits do. Sure, if I were famous enough where I could just get that book deal – I’d do it. Putting in the time and effort, though, to actually make it happen? No thank you. This blog is the maximum amount of effort I’m willing to put into writing and this basically sums up to being a public journal.

I try harder with music. I research song structures and how other producers make music. I submit to contests in the hopes of getting my name out there. I submit songs to playlists. I release to Bandcamp and successfully submitted to the editorial staff for my last album. I always release my music with a release date that’s 30-60 days in the future – for playlist submission to Spotify mostly. (Fun frustrating fact: you can only have one active pitch to for a single song to Spotify for playlist submission and it’s only available during that pre-release period. You get zero notification if the pitch is even viewed and zero notification when you aren’t put on a playlist.) Every now and again, I remember to get on Twitter and see what other musicians are doing.

Maybe next year, I’ll figure out how to actually do the marketing part…

Obviously, my past self was naïve. My past self thought that publishing a single book would bring untold riches and allow me to live the most luxurious life. It wouldn’t take any work and everything would be easy, because that’s exactly how the world works. It is nice to dream…

I can’t say I remember exactly where I was trying to get in this post so I’ll just wrap with this. If you’re among the creatives out there struggling to be heard, don’t give up. There is an audience for you, it just might take some time to find them.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

September is here and that means Autumn is right around the corner. In my area, it should remain warm for another month or two but it will still be a marked change from the summer months. It’s time for things to cool off a little – just enough to make you think it’s time to get out winter attire. Then you’ll get it out and it’ll heat up again forcing you to find those summer clothes again.

On the upside: it’s not much of a problem for me since I don’t really have separate wardrobes but I do hear the complaints every year!

Autumn is the time of year when I put away my water shoes and find the hiking boots. It’s time for the mosquitoes to go away and that cool, crisp air to come in. The humidity finally fades and it no longer feels quite like walking through a think water blanket whenever I’m outside. (Admittedly, I like the humidity… until about mid-August. By that point, I’m ready to move on!)

This time of year, you’ll find me dragging my family to the nearest (and safest) mountain trails to go “hiking”. It’s less proper hiking and more a long walk with some trees around and periodically coming across other people out for the same thing. You can’t deny the views are beautiful, though, and combined with that crisp air – it’s a refreshing experience.

One thing that I like about experiencing the changing seasons… No, wait, one thing that I’ll miss the most when climate change takes away our seasons, is the change that comes with every season. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not fond of winter – the thought of it brings a bit of heaviness to my heart. The idea of being home bound because it’s too cold to do anything outside and, even if it were warmer, too dark.

I do like the change though. By the time I’m sick of the summer, it’s gone and I’m left with my happy feelings about all that warmth and sunshine – waiting for it to come back again. With autumn, there will be different activities and experiences coming just in time to save us from the activities we’ve been doing for months – and getting a little bored of doing.

Change is an important force in refreshing our creativity. It’s too easy to get stuck in routine, it’s too easy to get bored. Change can be forced on us from the outside or we can enforce the change ourselves. Whatever the case, though, the most important thing is to not be afraid of the change and embrace it for what it really is – a new opportunity.

I’m looking forward to the new season and starting a new project. I’m looking forward to closing out the project I’ve been working on for months. I’m looking forward to the change that is Autumn.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Maybe I mentioned this before, maybe not, but just in case: I’m a runner. I actually enjoy running and I gather that many people think this is weird, because most don’t find that same enjoyment. Granted, some days are tough and it is a chore but mostly it’s just great to be alive and active. Health and mental benefits aside, one thing I enjoy is imagining the lives of the other people that happen to be out and about.

On most days, I’m time-bound in my runs meaning that I have a set amount of time when I need to be done so that I can get back to my desk and do the work thing. As a result, I tend to run the same route every time I go out because I know exactly how long it takes and there are multiple shortcuts I can take to get back home in the event that I need to cut the run short.

This route takes me through some busier areas in my little city so I’m always seeing people. Sometimes, I see the same people. Sometimes, I don’t see those people but I know they are out because I see their car parked in the usual spot. At least twice, I’m pretty sure I saw the former mayor out for a walk but since he’s not wearing a “I was the mayor” t-shirt, I can’t be sure.

There’s usually at least one person out practicing guitar, a few people experiencing homelessness, the obvious tourists, a couple people on a coffee break, younger moms with their pre-school children, and pretty much always the same people running. I always love seeing the other runners because there’s nearly always a wave and a smile, like, “Yeah, I’m crazy too!”

When I don’t have pressing issues of my own to solve, seeing all of these different people is a fantastic exercise in imagination. I like to imagine what they are doing out and the decisions they made that led to this point. Sometimes I might think about the decisions I’ve made that got me to where I am today, how different decisions may have landed me in their positions. I might imagine an entire alternative life where had I made some series of other decisions, I could be that other person.

Going through this imaginative process often leaves me feeling pretty good about where I’ve ended up. Have I made choices in my life that were bad? Yes. Some of them were likely downright terrible. There are things that are cringeworthy and just stupid. (One upside to being a little older: none of my bad decisions are recorded on the internet!) But that’s life, and sometimes making a wrong turn can lead you to something unexpected and fantastic.

Going through that imaginative process also leaves me feeling creatively refreshed. It’s not that I’m going to capture those lives in my music – it’s just that I’m reminded that I wouldn’t be pursuing any art if not for the decisions that I’ve made in life. Some were good, some were bad, but they all led me to the place I am today.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

I think I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m fortunate enough to have a day job. A day job completely different from music and art, but I get the bills paid and am happy for that. Thing is – making music is a job too. It’s a job that takes up a lot of time. Probably a little blood, sweat, and tears too. I see it as two lives contrasting from each other with very little overlap.

How do you keep those lives separate? Depending on your generation, you probably have a different approach. It seems the older generation would keep these as separated as possible while the younger generation would take every opportunity they could to tell you all about their side hustle and why you should support it. You can probably tell which side of the generational gap I’m siding with on this topic. (To be clear: it’s the side that keeps things separate.)

I don’t announce anything at my day job about my artistic pursuits. Sure, there are a few people that are more friends and less work associates these days, so I tell them a little bit. Sometimes, people will ask when we’re on video calls about the paintings in the background and I might give them a quick tour around my office – beyond that, it’s all professional.

One thing I’ve noted over the years and through a number of jobs is that it’s becoming more normal for people to share about their personal lives. And now, when so many people out there are using video conferencing for the first time ever, things seem to be getting even more personal. I don’t approve. I won’t drag this out but the next time your company leadership goes on about how “we’re all Company family” – you should think about that.

I know this much: I’m not allowed to fire my family members for not making money.

Anyway… separation. It can be incredibly difficult to enforce separation between your job (day) and your job (night). Everyone’s circumstance is different so let me explain mine a bit.

I’ve been a remote worker for about eight years. I have an office. The office has one main desk that houses my music equipment, personal computer, some art supplies, and work supplies. In another corner are the art supplies. Somewhere in the middle of this room, right now, are guitars. During the colder months, I also bring exercise equipment (small weights, mats, etc.) into this room. I pretty much live in this room. (Inside the Red Room. Get it?)

Keeping these lives separate becomes a real balancing act. I have to place things in my office just right to ensure they are out of camera view so I don’t have to deal with questions. I can’t make too much of a mess when I’m painting because I need a clean space to work in and, when it’s colder, I need room to exercise. This also limits just how much gear I can acquire since there’s a limited space in which to put the kit.

The main problem, though, is that all around are the various temptations of things I’d rather be doing than my actual job. And when I’m actually doing the things I want to do, I’m right next to my work computer where if I only spent 30 more minutes on that project, I could get it done… (Which almost always spirals to hours because there’s never enough time to do all the work.)

How do I handle it? Well… there’s a Chris Rock stand-up comedy special where he makes a few jokes where the main punchline is, “A mortgage makes you act right.” I can’t argue with that! But what does it mean to act right?

In my case, I keep a consistent schedule. I work the same hours throughout the day and I unplug at a predefined time. Sleep gets, more-or-less, the same priority with a set number of hours and timing every day. The remaining hours are split for all the other things where I try to keep some flexibility. On some days, I’ll work on music for hours while on other days, I spend all that time with my family instead.

And I’m sure you’ll love this circular logic: the most important thing to keeping things separate is to keep them separate. You know, setting boundaries. If I were to sit around talking about my artistic pursuits all day, I would feel a stronger desire to work on it during that time. Even if I were to refrain, I would still be watching the clock waiting for the exact minute I could be done with work in order to get on with the better pursuit.

Many years ago, that’s exactly how it was with my coworkers. We would play video games together in the evening, show up late to work, and then sit around and talk about those games all day along with strategies for that evening. With all that talk and planning, we were all itching to get out work, often trying to find ways to leave a few minutes early so we could get started on the all important game.

On the other end of the spectrum, in more recent years, I was so attached to work that I was never able to more forward on any artistic pursuit. I’d work all day and sometimes in the evening to wrap up sometimes and then I’d communicate to work contacts through all the waking hours – I never unplugged. So every time I went into my office, I felt pulled to my work device… because there’s always work to be done.

Ultimately, blurring the boundaries between things that should have stayed separate was a terrible idea.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Yes, you could say that I have one job and one hobby because I could walk away from music. I consider it a second job because of the amount of time I put into it and the effort spent on things like this blog. For as long as I continue to do this, I’ll continue to think of it as my second job.

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Dear Readers,

In art, there’s a term “negative space” which refers to all the space in and around your actual subject. So if you were drawing a picture on paper, the ink or pencil defines your subject and all that blank space around it? That’s the negative space.

Negative space is important because it’s through this space that you guide your viewer to the thing that matters. It’s in this space that your viewer gets to take a break – their mind gets to relax from processing the visual and the overall picture becomes easier to look at.

In music, there is still a negative space. There’s a time to stop playing, to take a rest, to skip a beat. Sometimes, the melody stops. Others, the harmony might cut out. In the most extreme, everything will stop for a moment but this is all done for the effect of guiding the listener on a journey.

There are lots of stylistic options that contribute to the negative space in a song but the most comparable for me is the bridge of your song because it’s a construct specifically designed to wake up the listener and prepare them for a final hurrah before the song ends.

In common song formats, you generally have a structure where the verse sort of sets up a story and the chorus is the climactic, super-catchy part that you are humming all day. It’s the part that repeats in all those songs that you sing along with but if all you do is the verse-chorus parts, you’re missing out on a lot of your story. Where’s the intro? Outro? The transition between all the parts? There’s just so much more.

When the music is repetitive, it’s easy to tune out, so we have to have a way to guide the listener and wake up those senses. If we think of the verse-chorus as our artistic subject, we can’t just add blank space around it and have a complete picture. Something needs to go in that void and that’s where you end up with the turnaround, the bridge, and some other things. These seemingly minor parts transition the listener between the major parts or wake the listener up to let them know another section is coming soon.

So what’s the point? Those minor parts are important – those parts are filling the gaps to make the major parts memorable. No matter your choice of art form, the subject is only one part of the overall composition. Spend time working on the minor parts too because, honestly, the chorus is only catchy when there’s a bunch of stuff around it that you enjoyed too!

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. I like making connections between different art forms because it makes it easier for me to retain the information. I’ve been drawing a lot longer than I’ve been making music and anytime I can connect the two, well, that’s a win in my book.

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Dear Readers,

The seasonal change means something different to everyone. Some people love spring because it brings new life and a sort of reawakening after a long winter. Others love autumn because of the changing colors and the cooler weather. And, crazy people love winter. I love summer.

I love getting tan and being on the water. I love how running become less of a chore and more about just being outside or how yoga moves outside with the fresh air and sunshine. If we’re being totally honest with each other, I just love walking out my door and immediately breaking out in a sweat because it’s hot and humid!

This time of year is my favorite but it happens to be my least productive, creatively.

As the weather warms, I fill my time with as much outdoor activity as I can stand, and there are more chores to get done: the grass needs to be cut, plants need to be watered, and so on. It all adds up and next thing you know, it’s time to go to bed and I haven’t gotten anything done. This isn’t to say that I’m not hard at work on new music – I am!

For the most part, I fit in work while I drink a cup of coffee before I have the motivation to get out the door for some activity or another. I might do a little at night before bed when I have a few minutes of quiet to myself. I’ll work more when it’s stormy and being outside isn’t much of an option. I just fit it in wherever I can knowing that, sure, I’m not getting a lot done at this moment but the nice weather doesn’t last forever.

So when I’m out on the water, I don’t let myself feel bad that I didn’t spend that time on my creative pursuits wishing that I were back home instead. Not at all. I’m enjoying the nice weather with full awareness that in a few short months, it’ll be too cold for me to be out and I’ll have plenty of time to fill making more music. Most importantly, I’ll have lots of happy memories to draw from to make that music better.

My message to you is this: whatever your seasonal preference, take the time to enjoy being alive. Your enjoyment and happiness will shine through in your work.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Other things I love about summer aside from being on the water: walking with my family to get ice cream in the evening, having windows open when driving, longer days, laying in a hammock, and finally not being cold.

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Dear Readers,

Anyone reading this has heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” I’m a subscriber to this and it’s a firm part of every aspect of my life. I can freely admit that some things come easier to me than perhaps they do for others. Most technology, for example, is easier for me than for my partner. The joke around our house is that all I need to do is walk in the room, breathe on whatever tech was broken, and it’ll just magically work.

The reality is often different. There’s occasionally a time or two when things just magically worked, but most of the time, it’s directly related to my years and years of practice.

The truth is that I’ve spent over two decades practicing these skills and learning from observation. While I may have some natural skill for learning technology, that talent isn’t the same as the wisdom and accumulated knowledge I’ve built up over decades. That’s why when I walk into a room and fix a problem, it seems so easy – I’ve either seen the exact problem before, I’ve seen a similar problem, or I know enough about the underlying technology that I can make a pretty good guess at where the problem would be.

Thus, my position: practice is more important than raw talent. No matter what it is, I’d rather work with the person that put in the time to practice over someone that just happens to be good.

Part of my argument is probably rooted in jealousy. I’ve had to beat my head against the wall for years now to get anywhere with drawing, painting, music, or just anything creative. It’s taken consistent effort, every single day, to get anywhere. Drawing has been the most consistent point of practice as I’ve been sketching nearly every day now for some time – even when I don’t spend a lot of time on it, I spend at least 10 minutes every night before bed sketching.

And you know what I see? Improvements. Consistent improvements over time. The drawings I have now are better than what I had last year and vastly improved over the drawings from years before. The topics I choose to research more in-depth stick with me for longer and I’m apply to apply what I learn easier because I practiced those things every day. Music is the same. I practice every day and I’ve gotten better every day.

So when it comes to practice being more important than raw talent, I think the other part of my argument is this: If you’re putting in the time to practice every day to get better, you’ve got the right attitude. You already know that you’ll have to work hard and put in time to get the results you want. You already know that this is something you want badly enough to put in that time and effort. And, probably, you’re humble enough to accept that you don’t know everything about the subject – that’s why you were practicing.

Practice builds talent – talent that is repeatable and reliable.

That’s it. No advice, just respect. If you’re one of those people out there working hard every day to hone your craft, I respect you for that, and I hope you keep it up!

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Another thing about practicing… Raw talent eventually fades when you don’t put in the time because no one is born with knowledge, you have to work at that.

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Dear Readers,

No matter where you are in life or what you’re doing with your time, you probably have a goal. Maybe you want to lose five pounds or learn a new language. Perhaps, the goal is broader: try something new. Whatever the case, you probably have something you’re striving to get to and that’s great! It’s important. It’s a reason to get up and keep working at something every day.

I’m pretty sure anytime I’ve read, watched, or heard something about being successful it typically involves not accepting defeat and having defined goals. One problem that I’ve had in the past, though, is that sometimes I don’t know where to go after reaching a goal.

A long time ago, I had this goal: learn the piano. To learn the piano, I would take some lessons and I would play my favorite classical pieces. I practiced as much as I could as often as I could and eventually, I could play those songs wonderfully… but then, I didn’t know what to do. I had met my initial goals and I didn’t have anywhere to go at the time. I wasn’t interested in playing the same songs but there weren’t any other songs that really inspired me the same way.

So, I stopped playing for a long time.

This didn’t last forever as you may have noticed in previous posts on this site. Now, arguably, I’m a worse piano player than I was back then. My hands have a hard time working independently, sight-reading is a chore if I can even read the music at all anymore, and freestyle play is full of accidentals – not the good kind either.

This happened because I had goals. I had very specific goals and a very specific end point and when I got there, I was bored with no where to go. Was I particularly great? Nope, not really, but it didn’t matter because my goal wasn’t to “be great.” My goals were built around learning the instrument and playing specific scores because I grew up loving those songs and just wanted to replicate the sound myself.

Fast forward all of these years and I’m on a different journey. I’m practicing my playing (albeit on a keyboard which is good but doesn’t have that full piano feel) regularly and I’ve started learning a new instrument: guitar. It’s another one of those things I’ve always wanted to do and kept putting off until I had the time. Life never just hands you time, so a few months ago, I finally made the plunge. This time around, I set some goals and am working towards those, but more importantly, my outlook is different.

What seems obvious to me now is that it needs to be less about reaching some arbitrary goal and more about enjoyment of the music. Enjoying the sound of a guitar or piano and wanting to have it make those sounds is a much better reason to show up every day and put in the practice to get better rather than learning how to play a handful of favorite songs. Realizing that practicing these this music is an art and something that brings calm into my life – turns out, that’s more important to me than being able to play any one song.

I know I can’t see the future, but I think this time I’m on a better track. I believe that a few years from now, I’ll be better at playing piano and guitar and I can look back on this year in my life as the turning point – because this is the time when I finally figured out that goals aren’t everything. Sometimes, you need to do a thing just because it makes you happy. And this is my advice to you: set goals but remember to smile and enjoy the thing you are doing.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Another thing that has helped me is understanding my own limitations. I accept the limited amount of time I can put into learning something new and I accept that it will be years before I’m any good. Accepting that makes everything more enjoyable because I’m not rushing – if I want to spend today just working chord progressions for the dozen chords I’ve learned, then that’s what I do. I get better while just having fun.

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Dear Readers,

Why do you make music? It’s a question I see sometimes in the Twitter-verse and the answers, I think, are exactly what you might expect. My favorites are the “Why not?” responses. Because, really, why not make music? Why not put that art into the world?

As to why I make music, I’ve got a bunch of reasons that I’ve partially written about before, but maybe the more important question is who am I making this music for? Sure, it’s for me, but it’s also for my kids. Maybe, anyways, I’m still figuring it out.

It can be incredibly soul-crushing to work in a job where there is no tangible output. By that I mean, when you finish your day of work, there’s nothing to point out saying, “I helped build that,” or, “That’s my design.” There’s just nothing that comes out of it and leaves you a feeling of satisfaction like a job well done.

In some ways, it reminds me of the movie Office Space. At the end of the movie when (spoiler alert!) Peter decides to work on the road crew instead of going back to software development? I totally sympathize. He’s outside doing a hard job that leaves him feeling satisfied in a way that fulfills his life which development never could. Stressful? Sure. Underpaid? Probably. Honest work that’s making him happy? 100%.

I don’t want to get into a massive debate over it. Satisfaction in any activity will vary for each person or personality. Someone working hard labor might see a cushy office job as their ideal future while I look at someone building a house and think – that’s satisfying. It probably also varies based on age. I used to derive a lot of satisfaction in my work but as I’ve gotten older, I just feel like I’ve done nothing to leave my mark on the world and that means more to me right now.

Anyway, back to the arts. The paintings I have on my wall, the drawings I post online, the music I produce – these are all tangible things that I can see, hear, touch, or whatever. When I get into the car and put on a song I’ve created and the kids like it, “Your dad made that.” Or when I make little drawings for their birthdays or special occasions, it’s a little memory they can hold. Selfishly, it’s great that I don’t have to spend time trying to explain why the thing is important or good – they can just look at it or hear it and make their own decision.

Why does it matter? Honestly, it’s just something I think about every now and again. What will I leave behind for my children when I’m gone? What will they remember about me? I want them to remember more about me than I remember about my childhood but beyond that, I just want them to have something they can hold on to. They can listen to the music and maybe remember the person that I am in this moment. They can listen to the music and wonder what I was thinking about when I made it or what I was feeling in that melody. They can listen to the music and be with the person I am today, even after this time has passed.

It’s important because we all grow over time and things change. We change. I’m not the same person I was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. And in twenty years time, I expect to be a different person with a different outlook. Creating something that will live on for the decades to come is basically my version of a time capsule that we can unwrap someday and relive the feelings of today.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. On reading through this, I could see the nicer audience out there thinking that I need a pep talk but I assure you that’s not the case! My life is pretty great and I’ve still got a lot of life left!