Boyhood: On Watching A Life Unfold

This is article #28 to be published on the Get The Guy blog from my brother Stephen. Steve helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.

This week’s article is a reflective piece about growing up. Avoiding hackneyed self-help cliches, Steve lays out 8 honest truths that we all need reminding of from time to time.

Enter Stephen

I’m feeling in a weird mood this week, having just watched Richard Linklater’s incredible new film Boyhood.

If you haven’t heard already, the premise of this movie is pretty amazing, and an astonishing exercise in ambition.

Linklater shot the movie over a period of twelve years in tiny increments, always using the same cast, which means, scene-by-scene, we get to see the young protagonist Mason grow from a child to a teenager, and finally a man, all in the space of a little over two-and-a-half hours.

Check out the trailer here:

The result is a movie that is small in focus and yet seems to be about everything big and important. It’s an American epic in the suburbs, a meditation on the smallness of an individual life, which gently brushes against all the grandest of themes: Ageing, Divorce, Kids, The Struggle For Happiness And Fulfillment, Loss, and Love. The film enables you as an audience member to sit back and drift through the life of one child going through the milestones of adolescence – being a kid and understanding the world, struggles with parents, moving home, meeting and losing girls, going to college, and finally trying to figure out who and what you want to be.

The power of this film, like many great movies, comes from what you bring to it. It reflects your own life back at you. As you watch Mason evolve and shift, as his memories pile on other memories, you remember how you too have gradually drifted moment by moment towards the person you’ve become today. It forces you to experience growing up all over again, and as you do, you realise how you don’t wake up and change one day – you inch towards new perspectives, new views and new versions of yourself.

You also realise that life isn’t one march toward an end result. It’s not a constant homing missile shot towards one goal, or one ultimate purpose with a definitive end. People’s stories just begin and end all the time. You can’t predict anything. People don’t always turn out the way you think they will. Others turn out exactly how you think they will. Some people repeat patterns and others break them. People just move through the world along their own path and occasionally intersect with yours.

Life is a bunch of moments strung together, and whether painful or joyful, every slice you take and examine has its own individual potency; its own richness and beauty.

Here’s a list of things the film made me think about.

Take them as ‘thoughts from watching a life unfold’ (no spoilers at all, incidentally):

1. Everywhere there are choices – Everything takes you in a different direction. There is such a dizzying array of possibilities in front of you all the time, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. All our choices set us on new paths – and the choices are everywhere.

2. You are a unique version of you in this moment, savour it – Life is often spent desperately in hope of transforming into a ‘perfect’ version of ourselves. But every version of you has some beauty to it. There is no finished product version of you. Every single day we hold in our minds a completely unique set of experiences, making us different from any self before that day or after it. Savour every ‘you’ – it’s too easy to waste it all wishing you were someone else.

3. Even people you don’t admire can be the greatest teachers – You don’t have to pick role models – you can learn from anyone around you, if you can stop being so judgmental all the time.

4. People change each other in tiny ways – This is one of those things everyone says: “you never know whose lives you’ve touched”, and it’s one of the few aphorisms that isn’t trite or banal. You can, and do, affect and change people you don’t even remember or will never know in profound ways.

5. Any part of life can be compelling and beautiful if you look at it through the right lense – We tend to see ourselves in stages – teenager, twenties, thirties, married, parent, old…etc. But these stages can be limiting. We get mired in them and tend to think they have to mean the same thing to everyone. Some of us even see these as just stages to be gotten through, as though there is some special destination waiting if we just go through enough of the right desired steps. But there isn’t. There’s richness everywhere if we’re willing to see it. No part is wasted, and no part is a ‘test’ for the next one. Let go of the ‘stages’ idea and make your own milestones.

6. Memories come from shared experiences with people – Experience is the opposite of numbness. Experience is being a part of the game. It’s deciding to take part and swim in the current, instead of sitting on the side of the pool wondering whether you should get in. Things happen to you when you’re in the race. And you want things to happen to you. Lots of things.

7. Everyone has their own pain – People face their own battles every single day. People who broke your heart, or let you down, or rejected you, face a daily battle of their own as great and as difficult as your own. Just knowing that puts you in a position of better understanding than anyone else.

8. Don’t chase endings, they rarely happen – Life doesn’t stop because you achieved a goal, or met the love of your life, or got a dream job. Every ending is a ‘to be continued…’ and every story keeps unfolding. There is never a point, until death, as far as we know, when things stop happening to you. Endings are maybe, in the end, only for the movies.

Oh, one more thing.

As you may know, Matt and I are obsessed with movie soundtracks. And this one has a host of evocative pop and indie songs spanning the last decade – it’s like the jukebox to a noughties childhood.

Here’s a track from the movie (and the trailer above) to play whenever you find yourself riding a bike on a mild summer evening, or sitting out on the porch on a lazy warm afternoon this July, wondering where you came from and how you got to this moment right now. Thank me later:

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *

If you’re yet to check out Steve’s *free* guide “The First Five Minutes” – a secret project of his on having more Impact and how to own the start of an interaction, click here.

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45 Responses to Boyhood: On Watching A Life Unfold

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  1. Doris says:

    I love your insights drawn from the movie. I also firmly believe there are many choices in our hands and often people do not quite believe they can make changes and make their lives better in so many different ways. I believe that there are no right choice of path in life, just experiences, and with each new experience, we learn and we grow, and meet different people in our life.
    I have not watch the movie and will do so now. It’s amazing someone has got some vision to make a movie over 12 years with the same group of actors and watching how people grow and change.

  2. Emily Shepard says:

    How has no one commented on this since awards season? (Oh yeah, I guess this is not technically a film blog, eh? And I realize that probably no one will ever read this comment. No matter!)

    I LOVED this movie. I remember before I saw it, I heard a discussion on the Guardian Film Show; when he was asked whether Boyhood was too long, Peter Bradshaw said something along the lines of “I wish it were still going on now.” Definitely, when I came out of the cinema, I felt like I’d had some kind of Narnia experience, where much more of a life had actually passed than was possible in one afternoon.

    I found it difficult to say goodbye to each successive era in the movie, as I got attached to each as it came, and I knew there would be no going back. Like a little rehearsal for real life passing—tough but true! And it was moving to see how the characters in the movie suffered disappointments and broken hearts, but, as you say, there were no endings; instead, we saw them move on to a new chance, another love, a wide open vista.

    There’s so much more I could say about what the movie provoked for me, but I’ll hold back and just say that I really like the lessons you drew from it, and the way you broke them down (without giving anything away; nicely done!) into clear points, and ones very applicable to developing perspective on relationships and life in general. I particularly like the idea to “savour every ‘you’” (as I see many others here did as well). I think it’s easy to be so focused on becoming something we want to be that we don’t appreciate the unique selves we are as we pass through them.

    I’ll suggest one more point—not from the narrative but from the story behind the movie (as I’ve heard it). Linklater had no idea when he started the project whether it had any chance of being completed. (As you said, an exercise in ambition.) Everyone involved had to go into it with a giant leap of faith, and without binding commitment, since no legal contract would last that many years. Linklater didn’t know whether the kid would turn out to be any good in the lead role as he grew up, or whether someone might die, or how the world would change; and his daughter decided partway through that she wasn’t into it, so he had to scale down her character. So the fact that the end result was even finished, let alone successful, was due to a mixture of persistence, flexibility, creativity, passion, trust, and luck. Luck was no doubt important, but would not have won out on its own; all the other stuff was necessary to make the possible real.

  3. ordinary girl ;) says:

    I am at the best version of me,i love that ;)
    Be involved more in the game, shared memories,life with no ending,swim in the current…these are really good good as in soooo good stuff ( life lessons). Enjoying the life i have now is the best gift i ever gave to myself that others too benefit more from it.hmmm..such a finger-licking good kind of life.lol let them crucify me.
    Why thank you later?when i can be giving you invisible kisses…but not as deep as i did imagine with your brother.hahaha

    i am considering watching that film :)see you soon
    Sister’s kiss,
    Ordinary girl ;)

  4. Ronda says:

    I just watched this film last weekend. I didn’t notice the three hours at all. It’s really enjoyable and I think it deserves the Oscar win for the sheer dedication of the project alone! It was so seamless to watch and fun to watch the kids change over the years. You’re article gave me much to ponder that I wasn’t necessarily thinking of when I watched it. I like that you pulled so much from it. I loved points 2, 4, 5 and 8 in particular. Perhaps a film should be made of your beautiful mind one day! ;)

    XO
    Ronda

    Speaking of movie soundtracks – a fave of mind is still The Lost Boys. What do you think?

  5. X-la says:

    Thank you, Steve :)
    I had a great time watching it, and the soundtrack you chose resonates in my heart I feel like dancing

  6. Noemie says:

    Just went to the cinema tonight to watch Boyhood! Thanks a lot for advising it Stephen!!!! I spent 3 lovely hours. I have this bittersweet feeling now. Don’t know how to explain. The movie made me think, feel like enjoying life even more, focus on what really matters and keep meeting new people&growing. Thank you for changing our lives through your articles. Looking forward to reading your next articles! ;-)
    kisses from Dublin!
    Noemie

  7. jj says:

    I’ve only now noticed this article and there is much i can take away from it regarding chasing endings and making choices.
    My life has not so long taken one of those unexpected turns. My friend since high school, and partner who made plans for us to be together (we lived on different continents) suddenly decided to break off our five year relationship. ( To clarify, we are in our 30s)
    This has come as a shock because the reason i had been sitting here waiting (so to speak) was because he told me he was not financially stable as yet for us to be together. And in a most inconsiderate way he just broke plans off and when i finally got a response he said he is down in life and he doesn’t want to hear what he didn’t and shouldn’t
    do. I respect that but at some point he must understand its been five years of waiting with no conversation of a plan at least.
    Now he has a new girl and seemingly has money to do much more than he couldn’t before and wants to be friends.

    Should i be friends? A part of me feels if i am such a terrible person then why do you want to be friends, while the other part feels his new girl should handle him, the good and the bad. Because as much as i may have pressured him, he know i am always there when it matters and perhaps wants to still lean on me.

    What do you think Stephen…do i leave well alone and find my other path, or become the cliche and remain “friends.”

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Hey jj,

      I have to be honest, I think friendships with your ex are mostly not a good idea at all. It may seem like the mature thing to do to be friends and put it behind you, but the truth is, after that long of being together you’re not going to be able separate your romantic feelings with your ‘friend’ feelings. Moreover, you’ll probably feel judgmental of them and their new partner and it may just bring up old feelings of resentment. It can be a form of self-torture.

      It sounds like this wasn’t long ago, which suggests to me you still need a fair bit of time until you feel truly over your ex. If you stay buddies with him now that’s only going to make it harder for you to focus on the more important task for your growth and future happiness, which is to go and meet new people and rediscover your social life without him again. Feels hard at first, I know, but it’s the best way out of the ‘staying friends’ trap.

      By all means be civil and nice IF you see him, but don’t arrange lunches or hang out or console him when he’s having problems. It will only confuse you and make you think about the relationship. Two people can only be friends when they truly have ZERO desire to be together anymore (which can take a LONG time).

      Take care JJ,

      Stephen

  8. A. says:

    I remember something Matt said in a GTG seminar once. You’re as beautiful as you are right now. You’re going to look back and wonder how you didn’t see it.

    Guess what? I see it! I think I look better now than I did in my teens and early 20s. Much of it is just practice with hair and makeup. More confidence and something intense about the eyes. I really like how I look now. I always did like how I looked, but I *really* like it now.

    I wish I could bottle the feeling of being content. This moment. Hot laptop, hot night, music playing outside, full of good food (BBQ tofu, it’s good!), typing on to Steven Hussey about this moment. I wonder if in ten years, I’d be able to come here and find this comment and remember today?

    Whoa. :-)

    • A. says:

      Wow, I wrote this in July? No wonder I couldn’t find the post. And I thought I could find it ten years from now?! LOL. Just saw the movie and agree that you get a lot from it what you bring to it. It was just dizzying how much the boy (and his sister) changed in twelve years.

      Now, I’m still full of good food. Snow on the ground, on the verge of breaking up with someone I care about and knowing (as per your above post about not staying friends which I agree with) I’ll never see him again.

      But I’m still content. :-) I realized today that I can always make myself happy and don’t have to rely on anyone for that. And that’s good to know. :-)

      Thanks, Stephen.

  9. Wave says:

    Steve Steve Steve, once again you’ve exceeded my expectations. I love the way you write and frankly reading your articles just makes my day

    Some of the things you brought up today actually took me by surprise because that is what i’ve been philosophy about this week !

    I’ve been so strung up about autumn as i’ve graduated and got life ahead of me and what you say “Everything takes you in a different direction” is so true. Instead of walking in a routine-ish way i actually jump… bubble! around and its a fantastic way to release good energy!

    “You are a unique version of you in this moment, savour it” This is s-p-o-t o-n! Just before i read this here it made sense earlier today and i solemnly swear i will savour it ! ;D

    Point 5 was a great one however do you have any suggestions on how to let go of this idea? I’m in the early “twenties” and i’d love to hear about how to change this :)

    Since you were so kind and shared a great late afternoon July song i have a great summer song for you! A gift from me to you :D

    Chawki – Time Of Our Lives (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8_QrWfnGCo)

    Keep rocking ! :D
    Wave x

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Thanks Wave – loved reading your comment. I’m thrilled the piece resonated with you. As for point 5, I think it just requires you to not always be looking ahead and be mindful of all the good things about where you are now. Also not to be too obsessed with comparing yourself with people’s expectations and get stuck doing things just out of a false sense of duty.

      All the best, and congratulations on graduating!

      Steve x

  10. Aiysha says:

    That was such an uplifting article, thanks Steve! =)

  11. Mandy says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I am truly impressed with your article this week. Your quote “You are an unique version of you in this moment, savour it,” was a light bulb moment for me. Your quote stood out to me, and made me realize that I am not currently savouring my unique version of myself. Lately I been wanting to hit the fast forward button on the remote control of life, where I want to skip the present and get straight to the future where everything make sense.

    I think we put our expectations of our current situation up on a pedestal, and if we don’t achieve that perfect vision, and we feel like we have disappointed ourselves. For example: relationships, love, career, wealth. and etc. I’m not saying it is bad to dream about the future, we just need to embrace this moment in the present and try not to lose ourselves thinking about what the future will be like.

    Thank you Stephen and I hope you have a wonderful week.

    Mandy

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      That was such a wonderful comment Mandy. I was hoping the piece would communicate that exact idea, so thank you! I think people would be so much more content if they were able to not constantly dream of a happier future and savour themselves now.

      Thanks, have a lovely week.

      Stephen x

  12. Heather says:

    This is beautiful post, well written. It’s even better if, when rereading (and rereading), you have the soundtrack playing. Bliss.

    Thank you.

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      I was hoping people would use that as a soundtrack :) Thank you Heather, I appreciate your lovely comments.

      All best,

      Steve x

  13. Kathryn says:

    Qu’est-ce que vous avez ecrit est si beau c’est poetique.

    Kathryn x

  14. marwa says:

    SO TRUE , we tend to pressure ourselves to reach that unreachable end, have a perfect life and be the best version of ourselves … and many times that pressure end up cracking us and we get lost in our unsatisfied mentality
    wise words Stephen =)

    p.s.: i don’t think this has anything to do with the article but i got hooked on the song it’s on repeat :) can’t wait to checkout the rest of the sound track

    Marwa :) as usual a huge shout out from sudan

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Thank you Marwa. Always appreciate your comments on here. Glad the piece resonated with you – I wanted to show that perfection is overrated and often it’s better to see every moment for how great it can be, which is what the film made me feel.

      Thanks,

      Steve

  15. Agnes says:

    Hi Stephen,

    This particular article of yours is very dear to me, not because we share the same thoughts on life.
    You simply reminded me that Life is a very precious gift.
    We all get on this journey, we all have a choices to make.
    We can complain and blame… or create and celebrate.
    I choose to be happy no matter what.. I choose to learn to dance in the rain. I choose to keep attracting wonderful people in my life and when rough times come along I choose to learn and grow…

    P.S.
    Music makes life 10 times better, so thank you for new track.

  16. Shev says:

    Hi Stephen:
    I loved the points in the article! It made me realize how often I would be chasing other phases in my life rather than enjoying the here and now. Same with endings, rather than thinking about what happens once you achieve your goal, what are the next steps.
    Over the last week I had the point on how people change you in different ways brought to my attention when attending a workshop. I met a former professor who remembered me from over 13 years ago, and I would use her teaching style with students and interns in all of my previous workplaces, because her style was so engaging but not hovering. I loved that I got an opportunity to mention that to her.
    I met another former colleague who remembered me as a lowly first year intern, and was thrilled that I had not lost the passion I brought to the job 15 years ago, when talking about my current position. Said that she remembered a difficult case I worked with and how I kept my warmth despite everything that was going on. Was embarrassed but pleasantly surprised by the feedback! :)
    Thanks once again for the fantastic article!
    Best regards,
    Shev x

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Teachers in my life have always had strong influences on my passion for learning. They never realise how important they are to students. Thanks for sharing Shev!

      Steve x

  17. D says:

    I wanna go see the film now! Love the music too!

  18. Elisa says:

    Hi Steve,
    Sounds like you are very introspective today! I just love this stuff!
    I mean we could talk about these insights for hours, I can see that happening on a summer afternoon with a bunch of friends and then suddenly someone just raises one of these points you mention in the article and the conversation gets incredible!
    You free for a coffee? ;)

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Haha I drink endless coffee so always. Enjoy the sunshine Elisa! Thanks for the lovely comments.

      Steve x

  19. Anita D says:

    Excellent writing skills Stephen!

    Thank you so much for this article!

    Bisous across the English Channel

  20. Vanessa says:

    A really well-written and thought-provoking article Stephen… made me think a lot and reflect on my own life stages which have already/are happening …. which I’m sure, and hope…, is what your intention was when writing this. Keep these articles coming…. I really love and look forward to them each week ;):D x

  21. serah says:

    Thank you Steven,just letting you and Matt know that I’m loving your insights and they have made me view life differently. I have shared all of this helpful information with my friends in Africa and they all love it.
    Matt if one day you would want to visit Nairobi,Kenya let me know.

  22. Theresa says:

    Stephen, you are one profound and insightful guy. That’s all I can say.

  23. carla says:

    Stephen, can you post the artist and song title to the video you linked, please?

    I think that, when it comes to viewing the world on a daily basis, its very easy to get so caught up in things that you miss 90 percent of the beauty. It’s my 5 year old that recently reminded me of the beauty and wonder that life surrounds me with. To him, the world is magical, wondrous, and an adventure. More amazing than that, is that he has autism but still sees it that way. That inspires me to look at things around me differently….. Except when he’s running to me excited at the beautiful new friend in his hand and it has 8 legs. I hav you draw the line somewhere! ;)

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Sure. The artist is “Family of the Year” and the song is “Hero”.

      Haha Your son sounds beautiful. That’s why children are amazing to be around.

      Thanks,

      Steve x

  24. Lauren Elliott says:

    Thank you for your article, Stephen. Enlightening as always. ;)

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