My life has been rather ordinary in most respects. I was raised in a typical 1950's-60's American suburban environment by two parents who loved each other and their three sons. I went to college, got married, had two daughters, and built a successful career in an industry I had fallen in love with at age 12.
Along the way I suffered the loss of a favorite uncle, a set of grandparents, and in-laws. Just over a year ago my mom died at 84. I don't think anything I have experienced is extraordinary. But, that doesn't mean there weren't a few times along that journey that hindsight suggests a different approach would have been wiser.
I wasted my time at college. I went right after high school because that is what one does. Also, during my freshman year I drew a low lottery number (remember the draft?) and didn't relish the idea of being sent to Vietnam. I graduated in four years with a degree in a field that had nothing to do with my career. In looking back I clearly wasted the opportunities, and my parents' money.
College, for me, was not a time when I allowed myself to be intellectually challenged. I took the courses I needed to, but was never fired up by most of them. I did feel a spark during a few urban study courses, but never fanned that flame. I doubt if I went to the library more than a half dozen times in 4 years. Since this was well before computers and the Internet, I have no idea how I put together the papers and essays required to graduate.
The cliché that college is wasted on the young is certainly true in my case. I was so focused on my radio career that classes were an interruption. I was the president of my fraternity for a year but I did nothing with that experience. I made no lifelong friends nor did I do more than to keep the place functioning. I rarely dated and enjoyed no new cultural experiences. My college years would be a productive do-over.
My business eventually died because I stopped growing. In my case it was a business that died, but the effect of standing still can be applied to any part of life. At the peak of my consultancy I was serving over 30 radio stations single-handedly and had worked for over 200 other stations at one time. That meant constant travel, spending each weekend catching up on all the office work, and re-packing for a flight out Monday morning. I allowed myself no time for two crucial elements of any business: learning new things and marketing.
I was content to continue to repeat the same mantra even as the radio industry was changing right before my eyes. I didn't take the time to think about new approaches because I was too busy keeping the cash flow up. I had no time to use my standing in the industry and the successes of my clients to generate new business. I became the worst thing you can become in life: complacent. I milked my present success dry until there was nothing left. While things have turned out well, I wish the business had continued for another 3 or 4 years.
I was a absentee husband for too many years. At the time I believed the message that if I made a good living and provided well for my family I was doing my job. If I resisted the lure of years on the road and stayed faithful to my vows and my wife no one could ask for more.
Wrong. While I was spending 170 nights each year in hotels, my wife was raising two girls, keeping the household functioning, and getting everything tidy for the return of her hard-working husband every Friday night. And my response? I looked for the smallest thing "wrong" to complain and point out to the family. Then, I was locked in my office working all weekend on everything that was piling up: bill paying, writing reports, picking new music to recommend, and critiquing tape recordings of the DJs on client radio stations. I helped out around the house but only if it didn't get in the way of my "real" job.
Once I stopped living that lifestyle, it was clear to me how much I had abused my family's love and patience. While it took several years of retirement to get my life balance back, I can never repay my wife and daughters for sticking with me through my "jerk" period and carrying more than their share of the load.
I could easily come up with several more re-dos but I'll save them for another time. The goal of this exercise is to look at mistakes or oversights and hopefully learn from them. I can honestly say that the three mistakes did result in my changing: to become dedicated to continual self-education and learning, to keep growing with new challenges and never allow myself to become stale, and to make every attempt to become the partner I am supposed to be to my wife and family.
I am ready to face a brand new year, full of confidence, but also with a clearer vision of my limitations and shortcomings.
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