December 1, 2016

A Letter To My 40 Year Old Self


If given the chance I am not sure I would want to go back almost 30 years to give pointers to my 40 year old self. The rule of unintended consequences would might make such time travel a disaster. But, for purposes of this post, let's pretend it would be a good thing.

Dear Bob,
Experience is unteachable. It can only be gained by living and learning. If you will allow me to tell you what is to come in the next few decades of your life, I may be able to spare you a lot of wasted time, effort, and heartache. 
I am not going to detail what happens with your career. If I do you might be tempted to change something and therefore miss both the highs and lows you will experience. So, just trust me, you do well and you will overcome some sizable bumps in the road. And, since you are reading this letter you know you won't die young.
I won't tell you what is ahead in America or the world. Nor, will I make you a rich man by alerting you to inventions before they are reality, or tell you if the Cubs ever win the World Series. Those are mysteries that will unfold, in their proper time and sequence.
But, I will tell you four things now, that if you pay attention, will make your life fuller and more satisfying than you might imagine. They are in order or importance, so don't skip to #2 before you deal with the first one.
#1) Nothing is more important than relationships & friends.
There is nothing in life that can make you happier and more joyous, or more depressed and sad than neglecting important relationships. No amount of money, no second home, no possessions, no fame, no power, nothing can fill the void in your life if you allow meaningful relationships to die. 
We are not designed to be alone. We need others to care for, and care for us, to allow us to feel alive. A strong and fulfilling marriage is not required for a satisfying life, but it can make things so much sweeter. Don't put off fixing problems or assume that things will work themselves out. Your marriage will endure (spoiler alert), but you will lose a few decades of true partnership and joy if you place your career and self above your wife's needs.
You need friends, true, deep, share-everything-type friends. Take whatever steps are necessary to keep renewing your roster of friends. It becomes much harder to develop deep relationships the longer you wait.

#2) Trust your common sense and yourself.
Experts are highly overrated in too many areas of life. A doctor, a good lawyer, a caring spiritual advisor....in these areas pick the best people you can find. But, for many of the decisions you will have to make for the rest of your life, depend on what mom and dad taught you, what you have learned so far, what trusted loved ones tell you, and your moral code. 
Believe in the gifts the Creator gave you to pick the right path, or get back on track if your steps falter. Now and then, self doubt is normal. But, don't let it paralyze you. Any action is better than inaction. Doing nothing is actually a choice. Decide to take a step and see what happens. 

#3) Good comes from every experience, even the ones that seem bad.
You have been raised to believe their is a superior being who has a plan for everything and everyone. Every bad experience you have has an eventual good purpose.
Whether it is to teach you a lesson about pride, or hope, or trust, or perseverance, there will be a reason everything in your life occurs.
Be open to what lies ahead. Don't hide from what life will bring to your doorstep. Trust me, the journey will change you for the better.

#4) Don't be afraid of risk-taking.
Up until this point, you have led a rather conventional life. Yes, you experienced the loss of your job 10 years ago, with two young children and a wife depending on you, but you took a big chance on yourself and it has worked out so far. Generally speaking, though you have played it safe.
I don't mean just in your career, but in how you live. You hate being a beginner so you are loath to try new things. On vacations, you pick safe places and "normal" activities. You rarely push the envelope in much of anything.  
From where I sit now, I wish you (I) had been more willing to stretch myself. I wish I had tried different lifestyles, hobbies, creative outlets, and physical expressions. Over the last few years I have come to appreciate what pushing back a bit can mean to the fullness of life. Get a jump start. Take more risks now, when you are still healthy and young enough to do so.


         Love you,
Your older self

14 comments:

  1. As a female in your age bracket, I think we might have a different letter to ourselves...our younger selves were trying to get "equal rights" and we didn't have the options career-wise...you could be a nurse, teacher, secretary and possibly a key-punch operator. I look back at this age, having had my daughter at age 36 so I was an older mother and am grateful that she and I took a trip to Paris when she was 14, went to the Babamas when she was about 12, went to Disney World when she was 5 and had every thing with Mickey Mouse available to purchase. I think as a female our relationships stem from co-workers and then mom stuff and kid stuff so that some friendships are for a season or a reason and then you move on to a different phase and priority. I've grown to love my solitude and know that it is almost more enriching to my soul than I could have ever imagined in my younger years.

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    1. I am glad you are adding the female perspective. Yes, our letters would be quite different, except for my daughters love of everything Disney.

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  2. Wonderful article and spot on. But what stuck out to ME was the absence of the concept of having no regrets. In many respects, I identify with "playing it safe" but I also battle the "shoulds" and "musts" from my inner voice and I feel my healing will progress by knowing I did my best at any given time and made decisions that got me safely to this point in life. Thinking I missed out on something is foolish because I'll never know what I missed out on, right? We all need to be kinder to ourselves and
    live more in the present. All the best to everyone!

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    1. Others have remarked about my lack of obvious regrets. While I wish I had handled my marriage differently during my career years, I had a very happy childhood and life since then. I really don't have a lot of "wish I'd" kind of thoughts.

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  3. I have reinvented myself many times. It's always a learning experience whether you have success or not. I don't think in terms of failure because there is always a lesson and sometimes it takes years to 'get it'.
    b

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    1. Part of my belief in the positive aspects of all experiences, both good and bad, comes from my faith. Also, my personality just doesn't focus on what might be termed a failure. What's the point, unless there is a lesson to be learned and progress to be made.

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  4. Good Words Bob, As a 45 year old I jumped off the "safe" journey I was on and started in a new direction. Scary? Yes. However, up to now it has been a very fun experience. Safe travels and good health!

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    1. Thanks. This journey is is one that takes constant course corrections but it is worth the effort.

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  5. What a great post! I loved each piece of advice and would echo all of that to my younger self. At 40, I had just moved back to the US after 7 years overseas and was settling into a new life. I was already practicing 2 and 4, but it took me many more years to fully appreciate 1 and 3.

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    1. I am glad the post resonated with you, Galen. I have to keep reminding myself that #4 is important at any age, including mne.

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  6. I certainly agree with No. 1. But not a hundred percent sure about the others. There were a few times in my life when my so-called Common Sense led me to take Risks that brought me experiences where I had to look real hard to find any good coming out of them.

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  7. Very nice Bob! If I were to add a #5 for me personally it would be to find the right pace at which to live my life. The turbo speed I lived as a worker bee has no place in my much more sane retirement life. It is not about always being in a hurry but rather finding and living a balance between activity and down time. And enjoying every step...

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    1. Yes, that would be a good addition. The "stop and smell the roses" cliche is a lot more important than often thought.

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