Archives for posts with tag: advice

Waking up to start my first day as a 40-year old, I feel good. I’d like to say I feel great, but last night I decided to stay up too late to toast the final moments of my 30’s. It seemed like some sort of profound, and necessary, gesture.

Especially after a few beers.

So I sat alone in the basement, and did a bit of critical analysis of the last decade. Some of my thoughts are captured here:

  • I’m not as fit as I’d like to be. But I’m not as unfit as I know I could be. The scale these days shows a number that seems pretty acceptable for a man my age who has no ambitions to post shirtless selfies on Facebook. I admit that getting my socks on takes longer than it used to, and longer than I feel it ought to, with a few heavy sighs along the way, but I don’t have to do that thing where you shimmy your sock on sideways with your foot resting on your knee. That’s at least something.
  • I haven’t written the next great novel, or sold a screenplay, but frankly I never aspired to. I wanted to write advertising when I grew up. And that’s what I do. Over the last few years, I’ve recognized the value of creative pursuits outside of work, too, so I am writing more and more these days for fun (like this). I even have a few hundred followers because of it. That feels pretty satisfying.
  • I thought when I got to be a father that I’d finally feel like a proper grown-up, but I don’t. I suppose I imagined that infinite parental wisdom and general world knowledge—the kind my parents seemed to have—would just be bestowed upon me one day. But I guess at 40 I finally have to accept help is not on the way. And that in truth, my parents probably had the same doubts that I do. They just figured out that it’s easy to fake out kids by just pretending you know what you’re doing. Actually, come to think of it, that strategy seems to work for most adults, too.
  • I still don’t know whether I should call myself a Democrat or a Republican. But the more I see people who rigidly call themselves either, the more content I am to be conflicted.
  • I’m not an expert at anything. Sometimes I envy my more obsessive-type friends, because I haven’t yet developed a hobby that I’m particularly passionate about. But in the last decade, I’m happy to have dabbled in a lot of things that I’ve enjoyed. At 40, I know more about photography, cooking, wine, and WWII than I did at 30. I learned to speak a little German and explored a couple martial arts. I got a guitar and a motorcycle and a tennis racket. They generally go unused, but I like knowing they’re there.
  • I don’t know yet where, or if, I’ll permanently settle down. As an adult, I’ve lived in 3 of the best big cities in the country; Philadelphia, New York City, and San Francisco. I loved things about all of them. Now I live in the NJ suburbs, and even have things that I love about that (most days). But the thought of never again knowing somewhere completely new kind of scares me. A note here. If you’ve lived in one place your whole life and you’re happy, good for you. If you’ve lived in one place your whole life and you’re not happy, move. Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds and worth the effort and expense. You’ll either find that you’ve found a better place, or you’ll realize you left the place that was right for you. Win/win.
  • I’m nearly 18 years into my professional life and I realize I’m not even half done. I worry about whether I have 25 more years of work in me. But a few months back, I started on a new career path and I’m excited to see where it will lead. Maybe 25 years will fly by. Or maybe I’ll win the lottery. I’d be happy with either of those two outcomes.
  • I’m not wealthy, and may never be, but I have everything I need. And some of those things are pretty nice. Got a pretty big TV, and a pretty fast car, and a couple “precision timepieces.” Some folks have nicer versions of these things, some don’t. I’m happy to say I don’t look at them as ‘keeping score’ anymore. It’s just stuff that I enjoy.

So that’s what I reflected on as I finished my 30s, and my beer. In the end, I asked myself: Am I celebrating, or sorrowing? The answer to that becomes critical. Because for all of us, I imagine, it could go either way at any time. We get to choose how we evaluate our lives. There are going to be things we didn’t do, or didn’t get, and plenty of things that we did. So I choose to focus on the latter, and celebrate. I’m happy with where I’m at, and who I’m with (namely my amazing wife and beautiful daughter). And I’m happy to be leaving some things that weren’t working for me behind in the last decade.

Looking forward to the next decade, I can already see things I want to do better. I hope at 50 I feel the same sense of satisfaction I do today. Something tells me I will. Because we get to change things that don’t make us happy, and pursue the things that do. Figuratively the last decade “flew by,” but in truth there were a lot of days, and a lot decisions, along the way. Ultimately I’m responsible for all of them. I’m ok with that.

So I feel good.

It was ritual in my household growing up. Every Sunday started with a trip to Mass—dreaded by the children, strictly enforced by the parents. Literally, we never missed it. Even vacation was no excuse. Immediately following Mass, and completely at odds with anything we should have learned during it, was the post-Mass recap. This was our time for lively, often snippy, discussion of everything we observed during the previous hour; whose kids weren’t behaving, who didn’t show up this week, who didn’t look appropriately dressed for church, etc. 

My dad rarely participated. He just listened and refereed if things got too mean-spirited, reminding us where we’d literally just come from. It was during one of these post-Mass rituals that he shared with me an opinion that I continue to benefit from to this day. Today I’ll share it with you. I will warn you in advance, you will likely struggle to put it in practice at first. But if you really think about it you might find, like I’ve found, it can be ultimately freeing.

First, the set-up. On this particular Sunday, the topic was an event hosted the day prior by one of the congregants. We hadn’t been invited. Even though I didn’t know my family to be particularly close to these people I remember my mom being somewhat hurt by this. It was a point she made, emphatically, the whole ride to the grocery store (that was the other part of the Sunday ritual, if we’d been good in church we could often talk my mom into picking up some donuts). As usual, my dad remained silent.

When my mom and sisters were safely inside the store, my dad said “Son, I don’t get upset about not being invited to parties I don’t want to go to.” And that was it. Not much more to say about it. Not even advice, really. Just a well-considered point of view. When my mom returned to the car she was on to other things; what she’d gotten on sale, who she saw in the checkout line, and why did they put the eggs with the milk? The invitation snub was forgotten. 

But I remembered those words. Over the years, I came to realize that they were about a lot more than any party. They became an earnest reminder of how silly it is to fret over things we really don’t care about, yet how often we do it. It was a powerful lesson. Which is not to say I became instantly immune to perceived insult. Like I said, it can be a struggle. But it did help me in those times I might have felt slighted by someone to take pause and ask myself, “did I actually just get exactly what I wanted?” If yes, I’d smile and move on. Whatever their problem was was their problem.

So today, 25 years later, I’ll pass the message along to you…know when you’ve won. Consider how much energy you waste feeling hurt by people you don’t really like.

And now realize that you don’t have to.

There you have it.

You’re free!

P.S. Since I’m more cynical than my dad, I can’t help but offer an additional, more literal take on his words. Let’s stop throwing so many parties that no one wants to go to.  It seems more and more that everybody feels that they have to include everyone in every single celebration of even the most personal or minute of happenings no matter what the cost or burden to others. Elaborate, and crazed, birthday parties for one-year olds we’ve never met. Multiple engagement parties for the happy couple that include gift registries. Destination weddings. Parties to announce that it’s a boy. Or maybe it’s a girl. We won’t know until we cut the cake!!

With the requisite gift giving and/or weekend sacrificing all these things entail, it all gets to feel pretty selfish after a while. You may recall, that’s a subject I’m all too comfortable ranting about.

I’m not saying that your parties aren’t worth hosting. Or that your events aren’t worth celebrating, especially among close friends and family. I’m sure they are. I’m simply giving you permission to exclude me from most of them. I’ve learned to not get upset about that kind of thing.