1000 Days

Our everyday lives may, in fact, be a series of miracles.

Picture this: A summer evening in downtown Palo Alto, CA. Early July, 2018. It's a little dark outside, so somewhere around 8PM. I'm sitting outside a Starbucks with my Thinkpad, hacking away at personal projects of mine after work. For me, at least, it's familiar scenery - I've made this my after-work hangout over the past several months. It's a comfortable place to get stuff done, and I'm quite familiar with the baristas at this point; they know my name and I know theirs, I ask how their day has been and they respond in kind - you know the old routine.

Although, the whole reason I started coming had nothing to do with coffee nor companionship. I was staying at an AirBnB a short ways away, and the internet was frustratingly unreliable. Some days it would work, some days saw unacceptably large latency and packet loss, and some days I couldn't see the SSID of the router. So what was I to do? Hang out at Starbucks like I'm some kind of faux-hipster1.

And that became a pattern for me most weekdays. Wake up, go to work, backtrack to my place to get my personal laptop, walk to Starbucks, hack away for a couple hours, go grab dinner, wash rinse & repeat. And far as I knew, this particular evening would be like all the others I had sat through thus far.

An old man, one whom I had not seen prior and have not seen since, had other ideas.

I think it must be one of those subtle tricks of body language that indicates when someone near wants to talk to you2. I definitely sensed it in him that day. Despite living most of my life below the Mason-Dixon line - Southeners are notorious for striking up conversations no matter the time and place - I am not usually the type to talk with randoms, especially not in urban California. So why did I do it that day?

We talked for hours, and I still regret not writing down more of what he said. Would've made a nice book. I remember the main points of his story well enough, though; he had come to the US with his daughter from China some time ago, and frequented this particular Starbucks to find people to talk to. He gave me a lot of good advice, and I'm thankful for what I did remember - one of the bits that stuck with me the most was how he had observed that, while it's still possible to change one's course later on in life, it gets harder the older you get.

The most inspiring of the wisdoms he had to offer, though, is what I derived the title of this post from - the concept of 1000 days.

People change over time, whether they're aware of it or not. It's not noticeable over short periods, he said. But give it a bit longer, say, 1000 days, and you can easily see changes in their outlook, their standing, their countenance, and so forth. 1000 days prior to our meeting, I wasn't even in college. I didn't even know what college I wanted to go to. Things like where I wanted to work weren't a matter on my mind. I hadn't yet picked up writing as a hobby yet. He was right.

As we parted ways, and I handed him my business card, he told me that we would call me 1000 days from then, and ask me how things were.

I remember walking home that night, and thinking for a long while on what was going to happen in the 1000-day interim. Having that deadline looming over my head made me much more keenly aware, especially over the next few days, of the choices I made and how they shaped me. I started keeping a journal of what I did right that day, what I needed to change, and what I needed to focus on the following day.

It's been about 425 days since that summer evening. By the time 1000 days pass, I'll have been out of undergrad for about a year. Hopefully, I'll have been employed for quite some time by that point. Or maybe I'll still be in school for some reason, working on a master's degree or something. Hard to say. Either way, I'll be happy as long as I'm that many steps ahead of where I was 1000 days before.

When I originally started writing this post, I wasn't quite sure whether I wanted to focus on the chance circumstances behind the meeting (hence the quote at the top of the page), or on the rationale and concepts behind the 1000-days idea, so I feel this post is a little bit unfocused. Hopefully it's still of some value to those who happen across it.

Footnotes

[1] - There was a Subway open 24/7 with WiFi available, but it was about 15 minutes further away by foot, and I wasn't too keen on the image of me and my laptop chilling at a Subway for a couple hours, either.

[2] - This sounded a lot cooler in my head.