65: Looking through the Rear View Mirror

Damn. How did I ever become 65 years old?

I could never imagine crossing the threshold. Back in the 1960s. We were told by our peers, “Never trust anyone over 30!” We thought people were immortal, invincible and fearless.

Boy did we get that wrong.

Looking back over six decades, I attribute whatever success I may have had, in great measure, to luck. Yup, I did have the combination of vision and audacity to make some of that luck work for me. But I realize in retrospect that a lot of people were pretty darn patient with a smart ass kid who thought he knew everything. The cliche that the older we get, the dumber we realize we are is so true.

A milestone like crossing age 65 naturally invites introspection. Here are a few of the many mistakes I’ve made and some of the things I got right, along with a list of the wisdom I hope I’ve gained during the ride.

What I did wrong:

I often gave up on things too easily. It took me many years to understand that obstacles and push-back are nothing more then tests of resolve. There were few things I cared enough about to fight through the resistance to achieve.

I was a mediocre student. I figured out early what fun things came easily to me and avoided the tough stuff. I let one incompetent geometry teacher convince me that I didn’t have a head for math and science. Years later, I discovered that it was the exact opposite. If I didn’t think a class was relevant, I avoided the work and accepted a lower grade. Look at my transcript and you can see what interested me. I got straight 4 points in every one of those classes. I wonder what I might have discovered if I focused with equal intensity on the other stuff.

I’ve always been more inclined to trust others, when a little wariness could have saved me from unnecessary pain and waisted time. I assumed (and still do to an extent) that people’s motives are good. Not all of them are.

I didn’t “punch back” often enough. My desire to find a win-win solution, even when what the other side wanted was unacceptable has burned me on occasion.

I was too eager to please. I built a superhero outfit of a confident extrovert that I wore for many years. On the inside, I am 180 degrees in opposition to that person.

I should have saved more. I have earned and spent three fortunes. While we are comfortable now, things could have been significantly different if I did what I now espouse: live on 50% of what you earn and invest the rest.

What I did right:

I got a college degree. Back then it was more important than it may be today. The value of college now is as much about the relationships you build as it is about the “education” you get. My university experience and the friends I made there opened just about every important door to whatever success I may have achieved.

I got out of radio and into the business end of telecommunications at just the right time. I lucked into an industry that was about to take off and rode the wave. Radio is much more fun when you don’t have to depend on it for a living.

I took care of my health. I did many of the bad things that most kids did. I didn’t always get enough sleep or eat the right stuff. But I had a sixth sense for what my body needed and respected that. I’ll take whatever cards my genes may toss at me, but I try take care of my marvelous machine, so I can enjoy the ride a bit longer.

I married the right girl. This is the single most important thing I did right. Being a rescuer, I was often attracted to troubled women, believing that I could help “fix” them. Even then, I knew this was a recipe for disaster. But I kept taking 2X4s to the side of the head until I finally realized that lessons are repeated until learned. I still don’t know how I lucked into marrying Colleen. Our union remains my most prized ongoing achievement and our children and grandchildren my greatest gifts, “on loan from God”.

I kept swinging the bat. When something didn’t work, I may have given up too easily at times, but I kept thinking about how I could add value, make a difference and leave a legacy. I discovered that there are always dozens of ways to do these things. You just have to open your eyes to see them.

I got help with my clinical depression. It was something I never believed I even had. As the most positive person around, I thought that the darkness was another reality I had to deal with. It took a sharp eyed doc to convince me that I might be “one of those people”. When I realized I was, things began to  change for the better. And what I was feeling at crucial turning points in my life now makes a little more sense. Don’t get me wrong. There are days where it’s a struggle to carry on. Only those of us who walk the depression path know what that feels like and how dangerous they can be. On those days, I pull out the pictures of my grand kids and re-read the supportive notes from the amazing people who’s lives I was able to touch in a small, positive way.

And now that list of “What I’ve Learned”. It’s still as meaningful to me today as it was when I first wrote it six years ago.

  • Life is short, work to discover your purpose and live it.
  • Find the intersection between passion and capability and make it a profession.
  • Start from the premise that all your dreams can come true. Work backwards from there.
  • We become what we think about. So when you think, watch your language.
  • We become who we hang with, so hang with people who inspire and encourage you.
  • Pain becomes suffering if you don’t allow yourself to fully feel it.
  • Attachment is the root of all suffering. Some attachment is inevitable. Be prepared to suffer a little.
  • Take care of your body. You’ll get to keep it longer.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Power and authority should inspire you to higher standards of behavior.
  • Prioritize people who care. In the end, they will be the only ones there.
  • Systematically banish negativity and energy suckers from your life.
  • Some days will be bad days. Face up to your unpleasant current realities. But never lose faith in the ultimate outcome.
  • Some days will be good days. Be grateful for them and remember that all glory is fleeting.
  • Luck is where preparedness meets opportunity. Be prepared.
  • Fail forward. We learn more when things go wrong than when things go right.
  • Lessons are repeated until learned.
  • Work a little harder then you have to. There is very little competition on the extra mile.
  • Learn what nourishes your mind, body and spirit. Create a balanced environment that strengthens them all.
  • Dress a little better, act a little more professional, and be a little kinder than those who surround you.
  • Doing what you think is right will make some people mad. Do right anyway.
  • The brightest people have a dark side. The darkest people have a bright side.
  • Behavior isn’t always driven by what you see. Seek to understand root causes.
  • Treat others as you would want to be treated, whether or not they reciprocate.
  • As Dr. Seuss says, “People who mind don’t matter. People who matter don’t mind.”
  • Never allow others to define you. Being yourself will attract friends and enemies. You can learn from both.
  • Change the changeable. Accept the unchangeable. Remove yourself from the unacceptable.
  • Some people just don’t get it. Let them go.
  • Hatred can only diminish the hater. Intransigence ultimately hurts the intransigent.
  • Champion a few lost causes.
  • Some problems won’t get solved in your lifetime. Contribute to their solutions anyway.
  • Plan for the future but live in the moment. You can only influence the present.
  • Never stop learning. If you do, the world will pass you by.
  • Get help when you need it. Build a network of competent pros to nourish your mind, body and spirit.
  • Love deeply. Laugh loud and often. Cry whenever you need to.
  • The highest form of wisdom is kindness. Be kind.
  • Leave the world better than you found it.
  • Take time to enjoy the view.

That’s a candid reflection on 65 years. My biggest lesson? Victory does not always go to the fastest or strongest competitor. In many cases the winner is the person who can get back up and keep going, when everything and everyone believes otherwise.