Every birthday, I drag out this old nugget, read it over, add/delete/edit anything that needs changing to match how I feel now and post it as my birthday gift to you. Since today is my 42nd birthday, here it is.
“What I Have Learned So Far”
I’ve learned that it’s taking me a long time to become the person I want to be. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want to continue to grow and change and progress until I die. I do not ever want to rest on my laurels, get set in my ways, do something a specific way for no other reason that I have always done it that way. I want to be constantly evaluating my choices to see if they still match with the person I am and the person I am on my way to becoming. We can all do that, think about what is important to you and then reflect at the end of the day, as you drift off to sleep, to see if you accomplished it. It is really less of a score card and more of a reminder for the next day. Did you possess compassion whenever possible and applicable? Did you express gratitude to your friends and family for being able to share each other’s life?
I’ve learned that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become. The past is nothing we can control and it can color who we are, but we can make the decision to be anything we set our minds to. Create your identity, do not let it be assigned to you. The traumas of our childhoods can easily make us into “victims” or “survivors” and we can hide behind that identity for the rest of our life if we desire. That trauma happened a long time ago and is over, your choice to continue the trauma is your choice, but it does not give you a free pass to poor behavior.
I’ve learned that we don’t have to change friends if we understand that friends change. Sometimes, our paths run right along each other at the same speed, seeing the same sights. Then our paths may separate, but that does not erase our history and the reasons why we first became friends. We all understand that we change, so thinking that our friends should not is unreasonable.
I’ve learned that money is a horrible way of keeping score. Money does not make you better or worse than anyone, it is an instrument. Like any other instrument, it can be used in a million different ways. The most beautiful concerto can be played on an old piano just as easily as the keys of a Steinway can be smashed with a mallet. Find something you are passionate about and devote your extra money to it’s promotion. Make your money work for you as hard as you worked for it. Keep the circle of energy flowing.
I’ve learned that two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different. “I say tomato, you say tomato. Let’s call the whole thing off. But oh! If we call the whole thing off, then we must part. And oh! If we ever part, then that might break my heart!” The Gershwins were on to something. Learning to not be so arrogant that your way is the right and only way will take you far in love and life.
I’ve learned that you can get by on charm and looks for only so long. After that, you’d better know something. This does not always seem true and maybe the length can stretch out for years, but in the end the boys and girls will stop turning their heads when you pass, so you better at least have some good stories of your youth to retell. There is nothing wrong with physical charm, but giving it any weight and worth as a way to judge yourself or others is a mistake. It is just a roll of the DNA dice. It does not matter how attractive a person is if they are ugly on the inside. Everyone has a unique talent or gift in life. Personally, I have always been attracted to people that have an ability to tell a story, that have a talent of finding humor everywhere, and people that know that life is an ongoing journey of exploration. It is a physical attraction, an attraction to a glow or fire or something that people possess inside. Have you ever tried having a conversation with nice biceps and teeth? Exactly.
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t compare yourself to the best others can do. We all have our talents, we all have our accomplishments, and for the most part, they are unique to us. Comparing yourself to the best parts of others will of course cause you to feel inferior. The exercise in being proud of and happy for your friend’s success is a hard one. It is hard to remove your jealousy or envy. When you are able to do it, however, you become a better friend and a better person. If you still cannot remove yourself from the equation, think about how awesome you are for choosing such talented and successful friends. We can be happy when our friend’s are successful, no matter what Morrissey says.
I’ve learned that you can keep going long after you can’t. It applies to running, it applies to life. It is always darkest before the dawn for a reason, so you appreciate the dawn all the more. Heartbreak and disappointment are horrible and painful, they can tear you into pieces from which you think you can never reassemble. You can, and in time, you will. That ability is one of the most exciting and unique parts of being human: resilience. Knowing that life right now is hard, but having the memory and perspective that none of it is permanent and situations will change. “Don’t give up, I know you can make it good.”
I’ve learned that just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to doesn’t mean they don’t love you with all they have. Learning to understand their language may make the difference between feeling loved and feeling neglected. Getting mad because someone doesn’t love you the way you want to be loved is like getting mad because the IKEA furniture assembly instructions are only in German. You can either try to translate and understand the IKEA instructions or you can shop somewhere with different instruction inserts. Complaining will not bring you any closer to having a chair.
I’ve learned that either you control your attitude or it controls you. Every second of every day, we have the choice on how we are going to behave. We can fly off the handle at the slightest things or we can choose to not let them ruin our day. How we react and behave to every day situations is completely in our control. Our past experiences may point us in a knee-jerk direction, but they have no actual power over us today. Choose an attitude that would make you proud of the person you are. If it does not feel natural to behave that way, fake it, eventually, it will become part of you. I am a strong believer in the school of “Fake it ’till you make it.” I am a result of that philosophy. I didn’t like something about me or recognized something about me that didn’t work, thought about how I could do it differently, and consciously did it that way going forward. It did not immediately feel natural, but eventually, it became a part of me. It is like diet and exercise for your character, it is hard and strenuous, but eventually, it becomes who you are. Anger is ego, we all know this. That person that cut you off in traffic did not do it to you because of who you are, they just did it. It didn’t happen to you, it just happened, don’t take it so personally that it changes your mood. Don’t hold onto it, that energy is undirected and wasted.
I’ve learned that heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences. The title of “Hero” has been been attributed to so many people in so many ways that it’s meaning has been diluted. For this, I mean a person whose courage and strength I admire. Heroes are quite often not popular or even liked at the time, usually because their actions cause discomfort and disruption. Heroes see how the world can be a better place and do their best to change it.
I’ve learned that you cannot make someone love you. All you can do is be someone who can be loved. The rest is up to them. Learning and accepting that you cannot control how other people feel or react to your feelings is freeing. I have learned to not withhold my feelings due to fear of them not being matched with equal strength from the other person. Feelings are not discounted just because they are not returned. Love and affection require expression to attain it’s full potential, they need air around them to grow. It is crucial that you allow the organic nature of your feeling to exist and not squelch or play down them in any way. Washington Irving wrote, “Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.” Take a chance, take a leap, the air rushing under your feet will do you good.
I’ve learned that it’s not what you have in your life but who you have in your life that counts. Everyone knows this. Your job and your stuff you love will never love you back. Your things you have will not bring you love. That BMW will get you attention that at first may seem a lot like love, but it is probably more like envy. The people you touch in your life may not sit impressively on your mantle or fill up your checking account, but they will hold your hand when you cry and bring you soup when you are sick. In life, the immeasurable out-values all. There are no price tickets attached to love, devotion, friendship, and loyalty.
I’ve learned that no matter how much I care, some people just don’t care back. None of this changes how I should feel. Zelda Fitzgerald is quoted as saying, “I don’t want to live — I want to love first, and live incidentally.” I find myself thinking of this quote often and understanding it to mean that we need love to live, that we should approach life as a series of opportunities to love. Everyone has been on both sides of this coin at one point in life: the lover and the loved. It sucks and I hate it, but at the same time, there is a real rawness to heartbreak that is the purest of emotions. That emotion has no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas that it hopes by creating one, another will follow. It is pure loss, pure ache, and purely human. No matter how horrible it is, you feel so alive and wonderful knowing that you possess such capacity for feeling.
I’ve learned that you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you see them. Bring everyone you meet a gift. This obviously does not mean a physical item wrapped with a bow, it could be a compliment, a touch, a smile. Do not leave things unsaid for fear of over exposing your heart. Your heart functions best when exposed raw to the air, it expands and produces more than ever imaginable. This applies too even if you were thinking about someone during the day, send them a short note to tell them. Keep communications open, don’t let too much time pass.