11/04/2014 12:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do We Really Change As We Get Older?

Reunions can be wonderful time travel exercises. Just had my 30th business school reunion, and other than the shock of seeing wrinkled faces and gray hair -- my own included -- it was a great time.

There's something comforting about getting together with people who knew you in the old days, especially now, many years out, when we are more concerned about impressing each other with pictures of grandkids than with career accomplishments or net worth (thank God, as I was in no position to compete in the latter category.)


The reunion had a couple of faux work sessions -- something to make us all feel "academic" amid rivers of alcohol and cascades of food -- where we all got to ask questions, shout out comments and show off, and what struck a chord was just how little these people had changed over the course of 30 years, at least in this setting.

So there was Ralph, lovable but still speechifying as he "asked" a very long question. There was Ralph's wife Jane -- they met when we were all in business school -- arguably the most successful member of our reasonably successful class, being quiet (probably a key reason for her success). There was me, making up for my academic shortcomings by trying to make the cleverest remarks. Trying.

I'm sure we have changed over the years. Kids, grandkids, triumphs and traumas, and just time must have changed us. It did me.

But we all know that feeling of going back home for a family dinner years after we've been on our own only to find we revert back to our previous roles. My older brother is a physicist and I am whatever I am -- writer, producer -- yet sitting down at the dinner table with him I am the kid brother. Always have been, always will be.

My son -- my fiercest defender -- would ask me after these family gatherings why I would take the (friendly) crap from my brother. My answer is always, because that's the nature of our relationship. It doesn't matter how much time has passed. Besides, if I stood up to him, whatever that means, what would be gained other than fewer family gatherings, and awkward ones at that.

So do we really change as we get older? Or are we who we have always been? Or both?

My college application essay, at age 17, was about wanting to be a writer because I wanted to be so many things -- athlete, politician, adventurer, interviewer -- that the best way I could achieve that was by getting a dose of them all through writing. That was true then and true now, even though I took diversionary paths along the way (including business school.)

When I was a teenager, I loved playing touch football. Loved it. I was always the one telling the other guys, "It's not that dark. We can keep playing."

Cut to 45 years later, and every Sunday between Labor Day and the Super Bowl, I still put on my beaten up cleats and head to a local field to play touch football with a bunch of other old guys. (I tell people we play every week until we get tired or until someone pulls a hamstring. The smart money is always on hamstring.)


Yet, of course, I've changed, and not merely in the obvious physical ways.

Life has made me much more interested in listening than talking. I'm more patient. I'm more appreciative of small pleasures. I'm less tolerant of bias and prejudice, not that I ever was tolerant of it. I'm infinity less tolerant of self-promoters and people who tell you how wonderful they are.

But at the family gatherings, I'm the little brother. At the business school reunion, I'm the funny guy who sat mystified in finance class as others seemed to nod with understanding.

People are capable of significant changes over time. That's a good thing. Change is constant, and those who resist it always come out on the short end.

But parts of us are still what we were in our youth. That has its comforts, too