- Dan Fogelberg
I don't think Dan Fogelberg had someone like me in mind when he wrote those words thirty-plus years ago. Over the course of my journey through this lifetime, it seems I have had to learn some lessons more than once. At least it feels that way.
As I prepare to mark another year in the book of life, I look back and ponder the question of what, if any, lessons have I learned. I'd like to think perhaps I have finally learned a few, albeit at a slightly later stage in life. However, the reality is that I am still learning. At least I hope I am. Among the things I am trying to learn:
- Stuff is replaceable. Friends and family are not.
When I was four years old, my favorite toy was a working mockup of a car's dashboard. It had a little windshield with working wipers, a steering wheel with a working horn, even a radio (which for some reason never did work). One day, some other child picked up this favorite toy of mine and threw it into the swimming pool of the apartment complex where we lived. I tried to go in and save it, but being unable to swim at the time, I guess I was lucky not to have drowned. It was my first real sense of loss. The following year, my father left for good. Although I now know there were good reasons for him being banished from our lives, you can probably guess which loss had the greater impact.
- Define your stuff. Do not let your stuff define you.
So often we are defined by what we do or by what we have. People with big houses and new cars are seen as successful. People with smaller houses and older cars are not. It seems to me the really successful people in this scenario are the marketers and salespeople who convinced those with the big houses and new cars that they needed these things and the added expenses that go with them. As I get older, I think about getting rid of stuff, stuff I don't use or need. At the same time, my son talks about getting more stuff. The battle of the bulge with regard to stuff is a never-ending one. In the new year, I hope to put our house on a stuff diet.
- Sometimes, less is more.
This piggy-backs on the previous point about stuff. We work five or six days a week, 40, 50, even 60 hours or more a week, volunteer for overtime, etc., all in search of a bigger paycheck to pay for our toys and the things we want. Perhaps if were a bit more selective or held on to things longer or perhaps did not jump on every bandwagon or take part in every new craze that comes along (the hype over the new iPhone 6 comes to mind) we would not need quite as much money and would actually have time to enjoy what we do have and perhaps spend time with friends and family. Yes, there are things I want, but I try to wait patiently as we save toward those things. In the meantime, I look at some of the things around me and wonder whether I could get rid of some of them.
- Once you reach a certain age, time is no longer on your side.
When the Rolling Stones sang that time was on their side, they were all in their early 20s. Once you reach the age of 30 or 40 (definitely 50), time is no longer on your side. In other words, if there is something you've dreamed of doing, do it. I struggle with this one because of a variety of factors: lack of self-confidence, lack of ambition, lack of discipline, just a lack of. Throughout my life, I have had a number of dreams. Many of them I've long since given up on, some I stubbornly hold on to.
- Chase your dreams while you are young before life gets in the way.
This could almost be point 4b. I am not saying here that it is impossible to pursue your dreams after a certain age. However, I do think it is easier to chase a dream when one is younger and still firmly holding on to the strength of their convictions. Older people sometimes refer to the young as being idealistic and/or naive, as if that were a bad thing. I suspect that some of them are actually lamenting the loss of their own innocence and of their own dreams when they say something like that. They realize that it is easier to chase a dream before one gets tied down with a job, a family, a mortgage, etc. Having said that, however:
- Never stop dreaming.
Even as we get older, it is important to keep dreaming. Dreaming may not keep us young, but it can help keep us young at heart and give us a reason to get out of bed each morning. Even at my age, I continue to dream. I truly believe that the day I stop dreaming is the day I die, even if the body lingers for years after. Do not listen to those who tell you to grow up and start living in the real world. They are the walking dead who stopped dreaming years ago. Having seen the real world, I can attest that it is not all it is cracked up to be.
- Find your passion in life and pursue it.
I believe that each of us has something we were born to do, and only rarely does it coincide with what we do for a paycheck. Often, it may not bring any financial reward at all. Riches, though, are not defined simply by one's bank balance. I have struggled with this for years and have yet to truly define my passion, but I know it's out there. I think, perhaps, that my passion is writing, though not the type of writing I've often spoken to others about, novel writing. I think lyric writing may be my passion; it has certainly been my lifeline for 40-plus years. I will never be mentioned in the same breath as Paul McCartney or even Irving Berlin, but I think I occasionally come up with something pretty good. So I keep writing. If you cannot identify your passion, ask a friend to help you. Brainstorm, do whatever it takes, but find it. Having a passion, more than a big paycheck or lots of stuff will help keep you sane and will likely lead to a happier life.
- Look beyond the black and white to the shades of gray. It is there that the truth is found.
I am fearful of people who speak in absolutes. No one has all the answers. No one religion or philosophy has all the truth. There are always at least two sides to every story, sometimes many more. I also believe there is more to truth than mere facts. One needs context as well. Without context, facts are like random numbers, meaningless. Often, looking beyond the words to the speaker and the circumstance is much easier said than done. I myself probably fail as often as I succeed. But I believe it is worth the effort.