I am 40 today (in about 15 minutes actually). I had a dream about zombies last night, the slow, shambling, Shaun of the Dead kind. Does that mean anything? Likely not.
Part of me thinks I should have something profound to say, but I don’t really. All I have is a few basic lessons that it’s taken me a life time of bumps, bruises, successes, failures, missed opportunities, and luck to accrue. They aren’t much, but they’re what I’ve got.
1) I am not special. Except that I am.
When I was younger, my biggest fear was that I would grow up to be average. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary. Just…average. Not surprising given that I grew up on the cusp of the self-esteem movement that has spent the last 30 years convincing kids that yes, they are special. Specialness brings up some interesting quandaries.
If everyone is special, then no one is special. Conversely, everyone has, until they prove otherwise, the potential to be special. But what about the idea that yes, we are all special, but in a very micro way?
We are special to the people who love us. We are special because we make a great blueberry buckle or a fabulous hamburger or know just the right thing to say to a friend who is in emotional pain. No, we aren’t all special on the winning awards, walking the red carpet, getting the girl and the millions kind of scale but most of us matter to at least one person, and, in my opinion, if we’re living our lives correctly we matter to at least one person a day for no other reason than because we have the opportunity to perform a random act of kindness.
2) Saying no and saying yes are of equal importance. The key is to know when to say which.
Nothing can get you in trouble faster than saying no when you should say yes and saying yes when you should say no. The hard part of life is knowing when to say which.
There is no harm in pausing, in taking that few seconds or minutes or days to figure out what it is you really want before you make your answer. If the person asking the question can’t wait or pressures you to decide quickly back away until you have achieved maximum blast distance and then some. You will be better off in the long run.
3) The past can not be changed. The only thing you can do is learn from your mistakes and better in the future.
Never let yesterday use up too much of today.
I have made mistakes. Little ones, big ones, and a couple of whoppers. With some of them, I am the only one who had to pay a price for my bad decisions. With a few, others have been along for the ride with me. It is unfortunate, then, that I am prone to regret, a useless emotion that serves no purpose but to eat up energy that could be better put to moving on, to making myself better and the world a better place in general and specifically for those I love.
The only thing they have in common is that every single one of them contained a lesson either about my behavior or about other people. If you can not let go of the past you have not yet learned its lesson. And sometimes the lesson isn’t what you might first think. Unpack the mistake, unpack the circumstances that led to it. Figure out what the actual lesson is. Then let go and move on. It is the only way life can proceed.
4) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Nothing, save promiscuously trusting people who have not earned that privilege, can get you in trouble faster than taking yourself too seriously. It sets you up for pranks and it inflates your ego to the point where you think that you are invaluable (you are not except on micro level (see point #1)).
It is possible to be earnest, which I am, without taking yourself too seriously but in our culture which encourages that “serious as cancer” mentality through brutish machismo, the difficulty of achieving that balance is immeasurable. But the struggle really is worth it.
5) Do not underestimate the importance of both fun and play.
“In a hundred years, who is going to care?” is a question I ask myself on a daily basis. Part and parcel of the brutal machismo of seriousness that pervades our culture is the idea that you have to take everything seriously. No, you don’t.
Some things can be blown off. Some things can be ignored altogether. True, some things must be attended to with all due haste but if everything in your life supplants fun and play, why are you bothering?
6) Don’t look at the dogs. Work the lock.
I’ve gotten distracted in the past few years. And while getting distracted can sometimes lead to new, fun, experiences, it’s kept me from paying attention to what is important.
Figure out what’s important to you – which won’t necessarily be what society or anyone else says is important. Pay attention to that.
7) Life is a system. Some rules can be bent. Others can be broken. Some can be ignored completely. And no one is going to tell you when the rules change.
It’s taken me a long time to perceive that fact that life is just a series of systems and that it is up to me to figure out which rules I want to follow.
Accepting systems whole is no longer, nor was it ever really, sufficient. It is my job if I am to live a happy, fulfilled life, to not only determine what the definition of happy and fulfilled are but to determine whether I want to follow the rules of a given system or if I’m willing to pay the price that might be attached for bending, breaking, or ignoring them.
And don’t rely on any outside entity to notify you when the rules of a given system change. It is up to me to figure out what the state of play might be and how I want to participate, or not.
Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life…just like yesterday was.