Clearing out old documents and files, I came across this bit… I started to toss it, but then thought better of that and figured I’d post it here. I wrote it 5 years ago, when I was 46, and most are things I try to impress upon my now nineteen year old, lol.
At 46, I am pretty happy with where I am. Happy enough that if I had to live my life over, I don’t think I would change anything to be in a different place. Could it be better? Sure. It always can, right? But it could be worse – a lot worse. There are things I have now that I would never change or sacrifice.
Does that mean there has been no pain? Hardly.
No trials or tribulations? Absolutely not.
I do think that you learn from mistakes (even when you don’t realize it). If you don’t get overwhelmed and dwell on mistakes and failures then they ultimately make you a better person. We all know people who either couldn’t pick themselves up or could not move on after a failure, right? That is a shame. Please don’t take this as my being a Polly Anna or having rose colored glasses. There were tough situations in my life that I wouldn’t change because they either provided me with something in my life I wouldn’t give up now, or put me in a better place as a person. Case in point: seven years ago I was single again after a long and nasty divorce. Friends thought I would never marry again because of the pain and anguish. Heck, I thought I would never again be able to trust enough to marry again. It hurt my family, my finances, and my attitude for a while. To this day I am more suspicious, less sure of anything that is supposed to be ‘definite’, and less trusting than I once was. Seems like I would change if I could, right? Absolutely not.
That marriage provided me with the best daughter there is – bar none. It put me in a place, at 40, where I was ready to begin another relationship and marry my current wife. That experience allowed me to have a son who would not have been born had I not divorced. So if I had it all to do over, I would do it all the same to get to where I am now. Sure, I was far more selective the second time around and didn’t overlook things, rationalize away problems, or make things work and was far more cognizant of issues that probably should have been signs of inevitable failure and incompatibilities. But I’m glad I did what I did, learned from it, and would do it all again to have what I have now.
That being said, there are things I have learned that hopefully enable me to make better choices now, things that would have helped me avoid some mistakes I have made. These are the same things that I find myself telling my 14 year old (that I wish she would pay more attention to). They are the things I will be telling my 3 year old son in the years to come. I am sure some are the same things my parents told me, too. Things that I thought I understood but either didn’t really listen to or didn’t really grasp as well as I thought I did. Knowing that, I thought I would write those all down and combine them with things I learned along the way.
Well, here they are in no particular order:
* Try and keep a reasonable perspective on things. Do you have to work too much or study too hard some times? Sure. Do you have to sacrifice things that others around you aren’t/don’t? Sure. Will there be times that some things - major things - change your life (and not always for the better)? Yes. But time moves forward, life goes on, and you will rebound if you want to. Want to. None of it will matter how happy you are in five years.
* Things won’t make you happy. People won’t make you happy. Events won’t make you happy. Only you can make yourself happy. Look, I always want ‘more’ and am rarely satisfied. But I am happy where I am. Would I like a bigger house? Sure. I would be happy in a smaller house though.
* Have a budget. You hear all the stories about how a storm, or fire, or business closing ruined someone financially. Realistically? I find that you are in more trouble from getting into credit debt than anything else. You live over your head and then can’t catch up. For example, if you make $40,000 a year and spend it all plus charge another $5000, you lived on $45,000, right? Even if you don’t get used to living that way (and most do) you conceivably have to live the next year on $35,000 (a $10,000 difference in lifestyle) to catch up and break even. That’s like taking a paycut of 20%. If you can’t live on what you make, how are you going to take a 20% paycut ext year? Learn to live on your pay. Think of credit cards as portable cash, or for unexpected events like a car repair. Credit cards are not to finance vacations you cannot save for, or to buy expensive clothing with. On-line shopping, ATMs, impulse purchases, keeping up with the Joneses, dining out too much… all can drain your money faster than you realize. Have an overall budget, check it occasionally, and pull back if you find that you are going over. Have a aavings account you will not touch. Do not use it even for emergencies if you can save or use other money you have. Also have a separate savings account to save up for big items you want to buy. Every time you think twice about a credit card purchase, save it instead. You realize may that you actually don’t really want it. You’ll see how you can get there by saving. If you still want to but the item later, you have the money to buy it. Think about each purchase. Stay away from purchases when you feel down and need a ‘pick me up’.
* Stay in shape and stay active. Do not take being in good shape for granted. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was extremely active and in great shape. Better than most, probably. I took martial arts, ran, biked to work, worked out at a gym once or twice a day, etc. Then I got married… I put myself into my career… I had a child… I went through a draining divorce… Life moved on and there weren’t enough hours in a day to do all I needed to do. Working out and staying in shape was something that didn’t have to be done that day. There was no immediate repercussion from not hitting the gym or riding a bike. I still 40 in better shape than a lot of my peers, but I hadn’t worked out in years. I started working out a bit more after the divorce and found out I was still pretty flexible and still pretty strong. I knew I could lose a few pounds but I thought that was about all I had to worry about. I did not realize that age does catch up with you. Yes, even you, lol. Again in a new relationship, getting married, having another child… any thoughts of working out were pushed to ‘later’. At 45, my doctor was still ‘impressed’ enough with my blood tests, etc. that he told me “If you are in this shape at 45 there is no reason you can’t be in this shape at sixty’. Almost immediately after that I started getting plantar fasciitis. I suffered through the pain rather than address it. It worsened with scar tissue and it became impossible to walk pain free. I found out it was usually due to tightness in the legs (something I never had as I always had been flexible from all the stretching I did in my twenties). I was actually surprised to find that I couldn’t even touch my toes! By about six inches! The limp threw something off in my back and now I have been dealing with back pain, too. Something I had never had before. Being much less active now, because of the leg and back, I have put a few pounds on instead of taking them off as I had hoped I would be doing. Lesson learned: get in shape and stay in shape. It’s easier than trying to get back into shape!
*Eat healthy foods Let me say simply: white sugar and white flour are bad for you. High fructose corn syrup is terrible for you. Partially hydrogenated fats are terrible for you. Think about it. If businesses chemically change something so it won’t break down in nature, does it sound like a good thing to put it in your body? I am not a vegetarian or only eat all natural foods. I eat an occasional fast food hamburger when on the road in a rush, and have a sweet tooth. But I eat fast foods as little as possible and eat dessert less than I would like. I don’t drink soda anymore. It is probably why I only have a few pounds to lose at 46 when some of my peers have many more, or high blood pressure, etc. There is a reason why diabetes and obesity is rising in America along with the use of high fructose corn syrup. White foods are typically bleached (from sugar to flour to tuna) and rarely occur in nature. Bleach in your food doesn’t sound good, does it? Know why? It isn’t. It robs the foods of the nutrients… you get taste and ‘filler’ but your body still needs the sustenance. You eat more to get the same benefit. Then you wonder why you gain weight, right? ;-)
* Don’t smoke. That brings up another vice: smoking. I never was a cigarette smoker as I saw my dad battle with it, ultimately leading to the heart attack that claimed his life. He was only fifty years old. No cancer, ‘just’ a heart attack. I understand the appeal to some extent. I do like an occasional cigar and like the taste. I like having the ‘prop’ when I am socializing. I like the ritual of a cigar, and how smoking is an activity that forces you to slow down and chill a bit. But only a few things can happen when you start cigarettes: 1) you don’t like it and then quit, or, 2) you like it and then you have to quit anyway, or, 3) you like it and then can’t / don’t quit. None of those are good options, are they? As it is a guarantee that it is bad for your lungs and heart, which of those options is a good one? Don’t start and you won’t have to deal with any of them. You will be glad you avoided it by your late twenties, guaranteed.
* Drugs. Same advice as cigarettes. You will either not like them or like them, right? If you don’t like them, you’ll wish you hadn’t used them. If you like them you will spend money on them that could have gone to something else, risk embarrassment for yourself (and your family) in taking them, be breaking the law while you buy and use them (risking a permanent record and total change of career and life), and possibly be hooked. Even if you like the temporary feeling, none of those worth it? Either way you will regret using them. So don’t start. That way you don’t have to quit. Even if they ‘should’ be legal, they aren’t.
* Do learn about compound Interest. Learn the basics of compounding interest and start putting money aside for retirement when you are just starting out. Sure it seems so far off, but you will get there eventually and be glad you planned for it. What if someone told you that when you retire they would give you $75 dollars for every dollar you put aside when you were twenty years old? You would find some cash, right? If you found out that instead of that $20,000 car you bought that would be worth almost nothing in five years, you put the same $20,000 away in a bank you would have $1,500,000? It is highly unlikely you will ever save a million and a half dollars while in your forties and fifties. But if you start early enough, you can… and that is the point. That little bit of interest you get each year is like a little snow on a snowball rolling down a mountain. Look at it as the principle of ‘she told two friends, and they told two friends, and they told two friends…” . The earlier you start, the more you have – BY FAR. At the end, each extra year is ENORMOUS. After a while the money you put in is considerably dwarfed by the interest… and that continues to expand exponentially. After thirty five or forty years (aprox.), the money grows at an enormous pace. But it needs those years. If you are planning to retire at 65, you have to start putting money away in your early twenties. Sure, it never hurts to put money away (well, it always hurts a bit) and if you can’t start when you are 20 don’t say ‘forget it’. But $20,000 put away every year when you are in your forties and fifties won’t amount to as much as if you put $5000 or $10,000 a year away starting at 20. I did not do this. I am now scrambling to save for when I retire, not wanting to take a substantial hit to our cost of living. I know friends who will retire – comfortably – on small investments they sacrificed for in their twenties.
* Do without a car as long as you can. Silly, huh? Doesn’t everyone want a car at sixteen, the urge to hit the open road? Sure. I did. I was also the one who ended up driving friends all over or providing a car to those that didn’t have cars. I felt bad for them then. Looking back, they were the smart ones. I was working two jobs each vacation and summer to afford it while many of them traveled and hung out at the beach. I worked during the school year while they had time to study or relax. The smart ones who had cars when they were in school didn’t spend much money on them and spent more on school and studying less time working to pay for a car. I see it now, even if I couldn’t then. It just isn’t worth it. Definitely go your first year of college without one. You’ll see more and experience more of campus life without one, too.
* When you are young, buy a car with easy upkeep and inexpensive replacement parts. Speaking of cars, when its time to get a car, don’t buy for their color, style, or audio. It goes without saying – or should – but get one that won’t cost a lot of money to upkeep because you get sucked in by a nice paint job! I spent a lot of money in my late teens and in college trying to make an older used car be something special… money it was not easy for me to get when I was seventeen or twenty and a student. That does not mean you have to buy the ‘ugly brown station wagon with low miles’, or that you should buy a new mini car. It means you should look for something you like, but only buy if it will run relatively repair free. If not, move on and set your sights a bit lower on the model.
* Everyone needs time alone at times. Enjoy it. Recharge your batteries and don’t feel guilty about it.
* Make your friends your family and your family your friends. I cannot overstate the importance of this one.
* Realize what is important. It isn’t the person who dies with the most toys that wins, as we have all seen on bumper stickers and the shirts. It’s the guy who dies with the most true friends. Gather them around you, celebrate and enjoy them. You may think that not getting together with friends in order to work late would be a good thing because you’ll be able to buy that television you always wanted. But while I see many people cry when a friend dies, I have yet to see someone tear up when a television breaks. When invited out, go. Even if you are tired. Even if you had planned to go food shopping or run errands. Fit that stuff in when you can, not at the expense of socializing with your friends.
* Work hard. Enjoy your family, friends, and life. That being said, don’t use that as an excuse not to work hard. Hard work is good for you, gives you a sense of accomplishment, and leads to good things in life. Relish and enjoy it.
* And that leads to: Do What You Like, Like What You Do. Study hard when young and work hard at school so that you will be able to do something you like for a profession. You will spend too many hours doing it to hate it. The extra hour a day studying will be well worth it. You don’t want to have to spend eight hours a day doing something you don’t like (for the rest of your life!) because you can’t get the job you really want, right? You do not want to spend the next fifty years working for people not as bright as you because they worked and studied a bit harder than you did. You will regret that you didn’t get better grades because you socialized too much. Study hard now and be in a position to do what you enjoy for the rest of your life.
* Never pick on people and standing idly by while others pick on them is no different. More people have things done to them unjustly because everyone stays quiet, not because there are so many people who are terrible. Don’t be a sheep. Don’t be too afraid someone won’t like you if you stand up for someone. Even when others don’t join in, they all will respect you. And you will respect yourself – then and in the future – when you look back at it. You will never look back and feel proud of yourself for the times you made people feel bad.
* Live life, don’t watch it. Read. Travel. Experience. Take a course. Learn something. Be active. Don’t sit and watch someone on television have a life, or sit and play video games pretending that you are doing something.
* Treasure your time with those you love. I lost my dad when he was seemingly healthy. Suddenly and while he was on vacation. You don’t get a warning. Sometimes things just change – suddenly – and you lose someone. A heart attack, an accident, whatever. Do not take the time with them for granted. Make sure your friends and family know how you feel about them, and never put yourself in a position where you will live with regrets if someone suddenly passed away.
* When you have kids, enjoy them. Sure, discipline them, yell at them when you have to, too, etc. but continue to enjoy them. I have loved every moment of my time with my fourteen year old and am in a small panic that she will be off to college and then off to life in just four years. It seems like only yesterday that she was ten, and in that same span our conversations (minimal as they can be now at fourteen) will no longer be a daily part of my life. She is doing what she should be doing, pulling away, so she can live one day on her own. I realize that in my head but my heart will miss her not being in my house every day from when she leaves to when I die. Enjoy it all now, as much as possible. As crazy as it is in this house with a three year old boy, as overwhelming as it can get, I am trying to enjoy it all.
* Your first obligation when you decide to have kids is them. Do not have them until you can do that. You are no longer first in your own life. Your spouse will not put you first in theirs. Until you are ready to sacrifice and put them first, don’t have them. Once you do? Be their parent first and pal second. Too many people try to be their kid’s buddy and then find it difficult to be a parent. Love them and they will love you, even when they don’t like you.
* Take pictures and write things down. You know how you take pictures and think you’ll put them in an album ‘later’? Or don’t write something down because you know you’ll remember? How could you forget, right? Trust me on this. Write them down and put the pictures in the album (on-line is fine for both) as you will forget. And you will forget more as you get older. And you will forget things you don’t even realize you forgot, and don’t miss – until someone reminds you of something and you wish you remembered it better. I’d tell you of all the important things my dad told me or things I learned from my kids and give specifics, but I forgot them.
* No one wants to hear your complaints. Sorry to tell you, but while your spouse and parents are totally sympathetic to your issues, even they don’t really look forward to hearing your complaints. And no one else remotely does. Ask for help when you need it, by all means. Get something of your chest – quickly – if you have to. But don’t be a Drama Queen or King and don’t think your problems are more important than anyone else’s. We all have them, right? How miserable would we be if we all whined about them to everyone that would listen. As a friend is fond of saying, “Put on your Big Boy pants and move on.” IF its something you dislike, fix it and / or make sure it is something that doesn’t keep happening. Make the changes you need to. But don’t just complain and whine about the same things over and over. It drains you of energy and bores everyone around you. Don’t complain, fix the problem or move on if you can’t.
* Keep learning. Even if you don’t like school and can’t wait to get out, find a way to learn something. Cooking. How to play basketball better. New computer programs. Music. SOMETHING. And teach others. Learning keeps your mind growing and fresh and teaching others really makes your mind work on it by thinking about it, talking about it, seeing what they are doing, and listening to them all at once. It really exercises your brain.
* No good ever comes from having ‘one last drink’. And rarely are any memories made while ‘doing shots’ the memories you look back fondly on. It usually makes you the example in stories you don’t want to be in. You know all the stories you’ve heard about ‘that guy’ that did something foolish? Or ‘that gal’ that did something really, really stupid? Don’t be ‘that guy’ or ‘that gal’. While on that subject, and I have no scientific evidence to prove this, different liquors will affect you differently. I realize there is the same amount of alcohol in one beer than there is in a glass of wine than there is in a shot. And sure, you are more likely to drink more if you are doing shots than drinking wine. But that doesn’t explain why a shot of vodka makes you feel one way, and a shot of tequila or Jack Daniels another. Know what you can drink, know what your limits are, and keep an eye on your friends who have shown they don’t know theirs. That goes for when you are twenty one or forty five.
* Don’t give in to peer pressure. Apply it.
* Everyone makes mistakes. You will make the most when you are in your teens and early twenties as you have little life experience. Don’t make mistakes that carry forward though. If you dent your car, you will pay a penalty. If you hurt someone else, you will be changed forever. If you get drunk and sick, you will be embarrassed and feel terrible. If you get arrested for drugs, you will lose jobs for the rest of your life. Think before you do something. Not just if it can go bad. Not just what would happen. Think also about how it will affect you for the rest of your life if it goes bad.
* Jump in and do things NOW. You know all those things you want to do but won’t be finished for five years? Start them as soon as you can. Sure, you’ll start taking guitar lessons or karate classes thinking “This will take me five years before I’m any good!”. Absolutely you’ll start learning a language thinking “It’ll be years before this is usable!” But in five years you can either have those skills or still not have them. Your choice.
Lastly, take all advice with a grain of salt and a dose of suspicion. ;-)