Monday, December 12, 2011

Opinion: Thoughts on Growing Older

And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. – Abraham Lincoln

Photo: ajft, Flickr ccl
Today I turn a significant corner. I am now on the upside of my second half century. How did this happen?

It was like only yesterday I was graduating from high school, or attending Dalhousie University, or in design class at NSCAD. I remember suppers at Peddlers Pub with friends from college, and smoke breaks in the stairwell at Next Step Graphics (my fist real design job).

It has been sixteen (16!!) years since I started work at my current job. During that time I have seen many fine colleagues both come and go. On reflection it has all taken a very long time to unfold. Why does it seem to have taken the blink of an eye?

I’ve been in significant relationships (and some not so significant), some of which were good, some OK and some downright bad for me. Luckily now I am married to a wonderful person who I care for deeply. Someone who I want to be with for the rest of my life. That's really what's important, right?

What have I learned on the way to 51? Here’s a few "observations":

First, don’t let past actions paralyze you with regret. 
Regret implies wishing things could be different than they are. But no one can change the past.

I do not mean you should never feel contrite for acts you may have done. But if you did not set out to hurt others you should treat them as life lessons as opposed to objects of engulfing regret. Each of life’s situations should be a teacher to you as a matter of course.

The past is a rear view mirror. No matter how hard you look in it you will not change what you see. If you cannot accept the past you will never be able to be truly open to what the future has to bring. It’s where you've BEEN, not where you are going. You have to let go of the past to live in the present.

Each decision we make leads us down a different path. Every day when we awake new roads are open to us. It is up to us to choose where to walk. Will it be where we were yesterday or somewhere different? Each path we take closes options to us, but new ones continually open up. We cannot have all the choices, but we can have new choices.

Choosing not to change is a decision too. It’s not a loss of choice to stay with the status quo. That too will take you further on your journey. 

Here’s another one. The longer I live, the more I know that I do not know everything, nor will I ever. 
It’s a trait of the young to think they know everything and act accordingly – usually rashly without any thought. (That takes me back to why we need point one…)

It has been said that age brings wisdom. I disagree. You can collect more knowledge as you age, but true wisdom to me is knowing that you do not know everything. Knowledge and wisdom are two completely different ideas with completely different definitions.

When I was young I thought I had all the answers. I was a smart ass. Probably a royal pain to a lot of people too. And I probably still am. But I'm working on it.

I often look back and realize that I may not have always acted in kind ways. I feel sad about how I may have made others feel in the past. I cannot change that, but I can try to learn from my mistakes and ensure they do not happen again. That is part of the wisdom that comes with age.

Third? Those you love are more important than any job you may have. 
One of my bosses from years past said “Work to live, not live to work.” At the time – and where I was – that was a radical statement. But it is a statement that we all should live by and must be given its due respect.

Who we are isn’t defined by how much money we make or the things we have, but by how people feel about us. There is a saying: “You never really die until no one remembers you.” Hopefully they will remember you with love. Those people who you hold in your heart should be your first priority. You can do many things for money, but it’s not the fundamental part of happiness.

Those who feel better by amassing “stuff” aren’t really living.The Koran says: "The impious shall find the gates of heaven shut, nor shall he enter till a camel pass through the eye of a needle." It is also nearly identical in Matthew 19:24 but the words used are “rich man.” Everyone has the same amount of money and "stuff" when they’re dead: nothing. Remember that. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take pride in your work, whatever job you may have. But there is merit in having work that makes you feel rewarded every day. I am lucky. I very much enjoy what I have chosen to do for a profession. Many people do not.

If you are one who doesn’t it may be time to think about what makes you happy. Don’t think in the specific. Think conceptually. For me, whatever I do would have to be creative. I have an overriding urge to “make.” That's part of the reason for this blog. I could probably be just as happy working with wood or cooking all day. But that's me. 

Would working for the betterment of a cause or group make you happy? If animals are your interest there are many jobs that have helping them as reward short of going to university to be a Vet. Would working to aid seniors make you feel fulfilled? Or perhaps helping feed the hungry, or building shelter for the unhoused… Whatever you do there are many different jobs that go into the whole of the end result. You don't have to have specific education to be a part.

Depending on your religious philosophy, when we die we either  1) get rewarded or punished for how we act, or  2) keep coming back as better or worse for more chances to get life right, or  3) this is it and it’s over. 

All three lead to the same conclusion:
We should live our lives to make us and those we love happy while doing no harm to others. 

The consequences if you don't? If you're evil you'll go to Hell, come back as something disgusting, or in the atheist case personal gain doesn't do you any good anyway. So we should all focus on being happy and appreciating those we love.

I doubt that is accomplished by staying cooped up in an office all day counting other people’s money. Although for some I suppose they feel it is...


In a nutshell so far I guess I’ve learned that I cannot change the past so I shouldn’t let it cripple me. I have also learned that I am nowhere near as clever as I think and will never be as clever as I hope. Third, which to me is most important, is that those you love always come first. They are the riches in your life and should be the things you guard most closely.

So there’s just three of the many things I have learned in the past 50 years. Now that I am 51 I’m sure just as many wait for me in the future, however long that may be. 

Happy birthday, indeed.


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