Holy crap, I’m 50. Or at least I will be when this publishes. Normally I have a ‘Best Of’ post in the first part of January that highlights the best articles from the prior year. I’ll do that later. Since my birthday is right at the start of the year, I thought maybe this year, I’ll take the occasion to do a different kind of post. When I turned 40 I did a cool little video that talked about the big things going on in my life up to that point. I could try and recreate that, but I don’t think it’ll have the same impact. I tend to always want to move forward. I thought I’d put together a micro-memoir in the form of this post instead.
My thought process is to identify the things that I’ve experienced in life, the lessons I’ve learned and to share them. Here are ten of them. Consider it a top 10 list of truths of life.
- Persistence pay’s off
Persistence generally pays off over time. Sticking to something, even if you’re not succeeding by most measures, typically opens up other opportunities. Now, to be clear, I’m talking about self-driven improvement of some sort. It could be a business you’ve started, or a creative endeavor, or a subject you’ve decided to try and learn. When we start these things we have a goal. Quite often, we learn that we don’t have any talent to achieve that goal or that there are factors we didn’t take into account that make our initial idea of success unobtainable. But if we are on a journey, other paths open themselves up that we didn’t expect. The Podcasting I did for years turned into a few different big events and a paid for podcasting gig. I got a masters with hopes to become a teacher, and it took me a decade before I finally landed the job I was targeting. There are other examples, but the point is, if you start something, you enjoy it, and you aren’t getting where you want with it, you should still stick with it.
- Don’t beat yourself up for who you are
I talk too much. I share too much. I’m emotionally wired to do so. I’m also a bit clueless about the impact my words and actions are having on others, or even truly understanding how to read the emotions of others. Even with the possible upsides, those who are critical of my oversharing are usually correct. Obviously, if you have some sort of personality quirk, you should definitely make sure you cognitively know what it is and continually search for whatever techniques you can adopt to help mitigate that impact. That being said, you are who you are. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if my personality traits are based in my DNA or if they are learned but I do know they are there. If your reading this, you have personality quirks too.
I used to get very upset when I found out after the fact that I had, through my personality quirk, made someone a bit uncomfortable or rubbed them the wrong way to the point where they were keeping their distance. Some of these can be especially devastating if it’s someone you looked up to or had a desire to be close to. At some point in my 40’s, I realized I can’t stop being who I am and I shouldn’t apologize for it. I should try and mitigate the parts of my personality that could have negative consequences, but ultimately I just have to realize that this is who I am. It serves no purpose to beat myself up for who I am.
Another thing you shouldn’t beat yourself over is your physical form. The body you have is the body you have. Often, no matter how hard we try, our bodies decide what they want to be. I want to lose weight and have worked out daily for years and years, watching what i’m eating, and doing everything i’m told to do by every “expert.”. What did I get out of it? High Blood Pressure and a seemingly ever expanding waistline no matter what I throw at my body to try and control it. Honestly, I’m one of the lucky ones. There are people who have all manner of chronic illnesses. They can’t do anything about it and in some cases it’s ultimately going to be fatal. All I can say is that you have what you have, so do what you can to be healthy, but don’t let it bring you down.
- You will change because the world will change you.
In my case there were a few things that changed about me. I went from an introvert to someone who is something of an extravert. Why? Part of it was because of my background in sales, I was forced to learn how to be more extraverted. Overtime effort and practice at it became a habit which in turn became a new personality. In another instance I went from the world’s biggest risk taker willing to always put everything on the line to someone who eschews risk wherever possible. I blame the machinations of Corporate America for this one. When you live in a world where everything is a regular payment, then the ability to make that payment is critical or you lose what you have. In the age where Milton Friedman’s economic theory (the Friedman doctrine) is the basis of nearly all modern business, then no company cares about your needs beyond your ability to drive shareholder value. This is a rabbit hole that I can go on forever. Suffice to say this is a brutally difficult world to work in and over the years It forced me to go from being willing to take a chance on dreams to spending my efforts to just not lose what I have. My co-worker once described me as having Private Sector PTSD, she was right.
In another example, I have a close friend, an old old friend of mine actually who I have watched over the years become more and more secluded and socially alienated. I’m pretty sure it’s because the world she created for herself included a paranoid significant other who was a heavy drug user. For well over a decade she was influenced by all the insanity having that no education and substance abuse brings and she became, by most accounts, socially challenged. I don’t know if my change is for better or worse, but I do know my friend’s change limits her life.
- Cash is King
This is pretty much aligned to the changes I’ve experienced but it’s also sound advice. I’ve never been a huge wage earner, but I’ve always, and I mean always, been better off when I put away two dollars for every dollar I spend. I also get way better deals when I have cash. Bottom line, the more liquid assets you have, the more cash, the better off you are. Short. Simple. Universal truth.
- The world wants to take everything from you.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Sometimes we want the world to take everything from us. There are fancy gadgets, expensive toys, cool experiences and all sorts of status symbols that are packaged, positioned, and presented in ways that help meet our emotional needs or get us to spend more resources on them than we should. The businesses of the world get better and better at being on the winning side of most transactions with the people they engage with. This happens in uncounted ways, many small and almost unnoticed. The classic example is the minor upcharge for the big increase in food at the local restaurant. Another classic example is the nicer ‘can’t live without’ feature if you go one model up in the line. The most insidious ones are where they play on your emotions. As a parent I’ve seen many variants of the classic “Your child will get this extra help at school with the bigger tutoring package and you don’t want them left behind”. You can get better deals if you live the aforementioned Cash is King lifestyle and you can also try and out-earn this reality with financial offense. I know many who are high enough earners where they just accept the enhanced costs of life and target their incomes to be able to meet all the stuff that life throws at them.
Another one is the “Be your own boss” and “unlimited income” lies propagated by any multi-level or independent franchise type company. In any situation where a company is promising you the world, don’t forget they are getting something out of the deal at your expense that they almost always aren’t telling you about. Be very wary of these types of situations, but I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands of ex Amway, Mary Kay and “insert hot new MLM Brand here” who can describe this reality better than I can.
With wants, it’s worth asking the question again and again “Do I need it, or do I want it?” It’s ok for the occasional exorbitant want. In my case the most recent ones were a television that cost half a month’s take home pay and a comparably priced computer monitor. I guess I’m a sucker for video screens. I didn’t splurge lightly, I waited years to take the dive. I think it’s important that the needs come first and we define our needs carefully. That being said, look at what the world offers, and be very judicious, but make sure you take part in some of the bounty that you find especially interesting.
Some other tricks I’ve learned over the years that help me decide if I want to do something big include: Waiting twenty four hours before purchasing something I see that I really want. If I’m still thinking about it the next day, then I go get it. If I hold out on a deal and lose it, I try not to be upset with myself. It’s hard sometimes, but I do know that eventually there is always another deal. Also, if there is something big I want, I’ve found that if I can rent/lease/try it out for an extended period of time it will either satiate that desire, or cement that it’s the right thing for me to purchase. A good example of this last one was when I traded my sensible car for my dream car, an early 90’s classic Mazda Miata, for three months. In the end I decided that I still want the car minus the classic part. I didn’t realize how much I prefer the comforts included with cars made in the last ten years. If I went out and spent thousands on the original dream car, I would have been a little bit disappointed with my purchase.
- Emotions are a double edged sword
I think the world is emotionally insane. All it takes is to look at nearly anything in the public consciousness and you can see it in the news streams. There are riots, never ending political conversations arguing that it’s the worst it’s ever been and every other kind of ad-hoc emotional social movement that has almost nothing to do with reason. Of course it’s not just the group concosinous. Groups are made of individuals and you can see poor emotional decision making by people with consequences that last decades. I’ve witnessed friends make horrible purchasing decisions, poor relationship decisions, and so many others I could write a whole book chronicling them called “Don’t do that!” On the face of this it is very understandable as the human animal is an emotionally driven creature. Much of this is due to our biochemistry. We see and do things and it has an impact on how we feel about things.
Alternative to reality, my gut feeling is that Mr. Spock was right, life without emotions leads to a better existence. If you have no idea what i’m talking about, Mr. Spock is the character from the Star Trek franchise who is an alien whose culture is based upon eliminating emotions and having all decision making through pure logic. As I said, the older I get the more I see that emotional decision making is generally bad. With time and practice you can become less emotional. The problem is that this alienates you from much of the world, going back to what I said earlier about the human condition and emotions. If you let emotions guide your decision making, then you make bad decisions, if you let logic drive all decisions making your perceived as just a machine with no heart and people can’t relate to you. In fact it goes so far as that people will actively shun you if you say something with a negative emotional impact even if what your saying makes perfect logical sense.
I don’t have a magic answer to this one, other than to say that the line between logic and emotions in what you say and what you do has to be tread carefully. I still haven’t gotten it completely right.
- Politics: The other side is right
This was a hard one for me to swallow. In part because I was more emotional when I was younger and accepted as fact everything that I listen to in my ideological news silo. As I had some life experiences that exposed me to the other side of the political spectrum, I moderated my views. When I say moderated, I don’t mean that I want a watered down solution to the political problems of our day. I’m still extreme in that I’m all in on something. What I mean is that I’ve learned that if half of the country is supporting a candidate who is championing something, there’s a reason why they are doing it. We can look at socialized healthcare. It’s a great example in that it’s so polarizing. Half the country wants to keep our existing health care system based upon employer provided healthcare unchanged. The other half wants universal care. If I’m on the side of not changing anything because I’m fearful of massive taxes or degraded service, I have to ask myself why do people want universal care run by the government? Won’t they see some of the negative impact as well? The knee jerk reaction for those on the right is that people want something for nothing. The reality is the system is broken for many, if not most, people. Nobody is asking us to socialize fast food restaurants and I would love some free bojangles’ biscuits everyday. That breakdown means something needs to happen, and if you get rid of right-leaning propaganda, you realize a universal government system is about as effective and costly as the private system we have only provides more even service for everyone as opposed to groups of haves and have nots.
On the other end of the political spectrum, many right-leaning folks want reduced taxes and reduced legislation. In effect they want to get the government out of their lives. There is no question that government can be bureaucratic and ineffective and that once legislation passes it can have negative unintended consequences that last for decades. The Jones act is a great example of this. It’s legislation that was designed to protect a shipping industry that no longer exists in America. Now it’s having a huge negative impact on the cruise industry. We have a pretty good system for adding rules, but we have a poor system for removing them when they are no longer needed and so government just becomes a bigger and more expensive part of our life.
My solution was to stop caring about the whole thing. If everybody’s kinda right and you live in an environment where the big trends always win out in the end, then realistically there’s nothing you can do about it. That means the little political wars in the news of the day are meaningless and not worth getting upset over.
- Close Friendships Come and Go
I think this aligns to some of my points about how you will change over the course of your life. The idea of lifelong friendships was something I always aspired to when I was younger because I didn’t have a lot of friends. As I got older, and started to develop some longer term friendships, I realized that friendships really align to seasonality in your life. Sometimes that’s age, sometimes that’s relationship status, sometimes that’s career status, and sometimes that’s related to having kids. Often we think of others as a friend for life, but really they’re not. It’s something we say to comfort ourselves when people fade away and you call them every few months or years to say hi. The important point is not that friendships come and go, the underlying point is not to develop expectations of others when things run their natural course. Don’t get upset when a friend isn’t hanging out with you or is mad to the point of ejecting you from their life because they don’t like your decisions. The alternative side to this reality is that you should always be fostering close friendships with folks you’re not that close with. Be considerate, be supportive, and always do what you can for them to the best of your ability. You never know when they’re going to be your next best friend for a season.
- Don’t ever burn bridges
When we are wronged in life, it’s really tempting to burn a bridge. To say screw you and I never want to see you again. Going back to my earlier point about how we all change over time, sometimes our situations change unexpectedly. You may never go back to that old company or that old crappy boss, but they may be an influencer in your life at some point in the future. You may never want to see that ex again, but you never know where they will pop up.
Yes, you can draw a line and walk away from something forever, but there’s no point in doing it in a way that potentially could harm you in the future.
I have ex-girlfriends I’m friends with, ex-bosses who fired me that I’m friends with, and all manner of other relationships which soured. I have honestly tried not to burn a bridge and in nearly every case there was some positive that came out of it. Now sometimes you can’t control the situation and the bridge is burned for you. Accept those situations, try to learn from them and move on. Ultimately though, a best practice is to always be polite, always try and engage in a way that is positive and always try to continue to connect wherever possible and it makes sense.
- Keep appropriate boundaries with everyone, especially with family.
I live in North Carolina where there’s an inordinate amount of rural families who share land that includes several households adjacent to each other. On the positive side, in these situations everybody is a support structure for everybody else. Unfortunately, the negative is everybody is in everybody else’s business. There is always family chaos and drama. This is an extreme example, but I see it everywhere. This idea that people maintain inappropriate boundaries. Usually it takes the form of money but it could be other things. In the case of the momma’s boy, it’s the mother-in-law who’s always over and has an opinion on how his wife is raising the grands. It could be the long-term friend who tells you how you need to behave or feels entitled to your attentions and deference. The key word there is being entitled.
This is a slippery slope as life is generally difficult. It’s in our nature to want emotional and practical support and engagement from those we are closest to. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to draw the line. When somebody around you starts pushing a boundary you have to call them on it even if they don’t like it. This is contrary to our natural tendency to want to placate others we are close to. Unfortunately, entitlement or codependency, or however you want to look at it, usually has at least as many negatives as it does positives.
I think the biggest negative of this type of interdependency or entitlement is that both parties are stunted from growing as individuals. It’s hard to learn independence if mommy or daddy is always riding into the rescue. In the most extreme example I’ve ever seen, I had a friend in his 50s whose parents made all of his major decisions. He had no mental issues other than his inability to set appropriate boundaries so he could be independent. Of course when he chose a spouse he chose one who made all the decisions for him. Naturally, she didn’t get along with his parents.
This is another balancing act, where you want to be close with somebody, but never too close where entitlement starts to creep into the relationship. It’s really hard to manage if that entitlement was there from the start, ie, it was part of a family dynamic. Then you have to cut it off at the knees and that creates a lot of family drama.
I’m sure I could go on and on about other things I’ve come to understand as truths over the decades. Ultimately, my entire blog could be renamed “things I’ve learned in 50 years of life.” That being said, I think these 10 truths are a good start and should give anybody reading or listening to this some fodder for reflection. I don’t know that I’ll have another five decades to learn more but I do think there’s some time yet to better my understanding of work, life, and the universe. I know that, One way or another, I will continue to share what I learn so that others may benefit. After all, if there’s one thing that I think is an absolute truth, it’s always a good idea to try and leave the world a little bit better than when you found it. This is my way of doing just that. I hope you will continue on this ride with me. If the next few decades are as interesting as the last five, there will be a lot to share.