The Idiots Guide to the Universe It's a big weird world, best to be snarky!

16Jul/13Off

The Idiocy of Getting Older

back pain at workI am not old. Not yet. But I can certainly see old coming up on the horizon. A few of the people I went to school with  have been posting pleasantries about their grandchildren. I have had colleagues and friends lose spouses to horrible things like cancer. My own parents are enjoying their retirement. The oldest of my three kids, my daughter, is entering her sophomore year of high school. She will be an adult in a few days over 3 years. In the next year she will be itching to get her drivers permit. My oldest son is getting collection of peach fuzz on his upper lip, and a boost of testosterone to go along with it. I wake up many mornings with a sore back. I get a sore back when I sit at my desk for too long. I am now much more likely to just set the cruise control and get there when I get there instead of jockeying for position in traffic. All of these little things add up to a realization that, give or take ten or so years, I'm about half-way done with my existence. It's a deeply sobering thought.

So as I contemplate these things, I sit back and I think... what would I tell my 18 year old self. What would I do differently. Well here they are in no specific order:

1. Don't be afraid to fail, or be broke. Sometimes a little risk is worth it. On a handful separate occasions throughout my life I have had job or opportunity offers that, at the time, came with great risk. They also had a slim potential for reward. But fear of that reward not happening kept me from taking those risks. A few of which would have had multi-million dollar payouts. It's okay to be a bit uncomfortable and take risks.

2. Build a nest egg early, and keep feeding it. The older you get, the harder this is to start. If you have a nest egg, taking those risks becomes much easier, because it can cushion your landing. It also offers a much larger degree of freedom in many situations. The better your nest egg is, the more freedom you have to make a decision. The lack of a nest egg can hinder those decisions. If you can't afford to pay your bills by missing one or two months of salary, that certainly changes the way you view an opportunity or decision.

3. Travel, a lot. It is an awesome world. The differences in cultures while sometimes stark, and even shocking, doesn't take away one simple truth. It is a world full of human beings. For the most part, these human beings are awesome, endearing, loving folk. Smile at them. Talk with them. Learn from them. One of the most profound things I have learned in my life came from a bicycle rickshaw driver in Singapore when I said "It is hot today." He said, and I am paraphrasing here as my aging memory permits, "The pedals go up and down, every day. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it is beautiful, like today. Every day I get meet new people, this makes my heart beat. Every night I go home to my wife, and that makes me smile." There also some beautiful sites to behold. From Yosemite Valley, to Bryce Canyon, to lovers embracing along the Seine. Each one of them will make your heart skip a beat, and that is one more tick you get later in life. That's one more moment you can draw from to put a smile on your face.

4. Hold Your Tongue. Those who have spent time with me, know that I have a sarcastic wit. Those who've been with me after a few pints know that the sarcastic wit can have a bit of teeth to it. Many of the big regrets that I have in my life, don't come from the missed opportunities, or things I didn't do. They come from hurtful things I have said to people. Even if today I can tell the story of those situations in a mirthful manner, making the subject light-hearted. The fact remains that I can, and have, said things that can cut deeply. Don't do that, while you may win the moment, all you really take with you is the lifetime of regret that comes from hurting another person.

5. Music and nature are the two things that center you, commune with them often. I have been a musician since I was a young child. I was taught to play the trumpet. That has extrapolated itself into bad piano and keyboard playing, guitar, bass guitar and the ability to pick up any instrument and, in a few moments, play that instrument. It may not be the way a virtuoso would play, but it would pass as music. Today, after a long work day, I can pick up a guitar, or get out a trumpet and play for 30 minutes or so and get lost in it. This is something that, I am happy to say, I have passed onto my kids. My daughter more than anyone. She now plays trumpet, clarinet (a woodwind her only downfall), guitar, ukelele, and piano. She's not an expert in any of them. But they each bring her a joy.

Nature is a completely different thing. While driving down the road in a beautiful place, and getting out to take a picture is an awesome experience. It is getting out there, putting on a backpack and getting away from the cell phone signals, and the traffic and all of the trappings of modern life and just being a raw human being in the face of nature. With only your breath and the sounds around you. That is a time that forces me to think. There is no escape from my thoughts in those moments. There is no way to distract yourself by "checking email."

6. Don't let fear of death dictate your relationships with people you love. This one is tough, and it isn't something you can go back and apologize for. In several instances in my life I have had family member get old, and die. In each and every case I can see a defined pattern where I saw that person far less often. I still haven't gotten my head completely wrapped around this one. It wasn't a conscious decision, it is something that just happened. As my own parents age, this is something that won't happen. For two reasons, first I am much closer to my parents than any of the other people. Second, I don't think either of my parents would allow that to happen.

7. Kids will change you for the better. Of all the life events I have been through, having kids was the one that changed my life the most. It is something that defines everything. There is a new inherent process inserted into your life. Every decision revolves around the impact on the kids. I spent my entire life traipsing around town on foot, skateboard, bicycle or eventually by car. There is still a minor fear that I feel when my teenaged kids are out on their own, in the gated community I live in. But on the flip side, you instantly gain an unconditional love that is like no other. You know at the first moment you hold your child, that you would give everything to protect that child.

8. Mysticism isn't real. There are no psychics, ghosts, spirits, or any other intangible conscious beings. Sure it can be comforting to think these things, but you are much better off going with your gut. What you know and understand about this universe, what makes sense to you, what you can logically accept by the power of your brain, that's what's real. Don't waste your time, thought or money on anything that doesn't stand to logic.

9. It's okay to be right. There will be several times in your life where it will be uncomfortable to be right. Stand your ground. People may not like it, they may even be offended. That's okay. Better to be honest to them, and above all to yourself than to compromise your intellect and integrity.

10. Some people don't like success, avoid them. There are people that look at the success of others and rather than being happy for them, they will instantly try to tear those people down. They will use words like selfish and greedy. Some of them will be successful themselves, and will prey upon others to maintain their success. Some will have never tasted success. In either case, all they want is to take from you both physically and emotionally.

11. Your wife is going to be incredible. The person that I have spent the last 16 years with is at the center of everything I enjoy about my life. When I succeed she is there to celebrate with me. When I fail she is there to encourage me to take the next step. She is an awesome mother that is loved by her children. Most of all, she is the best partner that you could have at your side at any time.

12. Stay in shape. One of life's hardest lessons has been this one. It is easy to stay in shape. It is extremely easy to get out of shape. It can often seem an insurmountable task to get back in shape. Better to handle it early before the task becomes daunting.

13. Treat the people you work with like volunteers. This one is fairly new for me, and I can't claim it as my own. A great friend, Eric Lundbohm, blogged about this recently and it is something I have spent some time thinking about. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I worked for him, and I considered it one of the best times of personal career growth that I experienced. I was able to significantly grow (50% year over year) a product line that was under my control. I was given creative freedom, and I was excited to do my job. There have been times in my career that felt like a job. During this time I felt like I was doing what I wanted to do, and someone was paying me to do it.

14. Reassess and revise. It is very easy to get comfortable, don't. Take some time to reassess where you are in life. If there is something about your life that you do not like, or that you feel could be better. Make a plan. Don't let things stagnate. The times in your life, or your career, that you dislike most will come because you didn't take time to assess and revise things in your life.

So, now I put it in your hands. What would you tell your 18 year-old self?

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