December 26, 2017
If Life Had a Do-Over Option, Would I ?
I have given some thought to how my retirement journey has unfolded. That has raised the question, " What if I could have a do-over on some of the choices I made in my life? What would I do differently?"
Since life doesn't really offer such a correction, is there a benefit in asking? Yes, because it helps me see patterns in my decision making. There is the opportunity to learn from past choices to improve the ones I, and maybe you, are making during our satisfying retirement.
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 in my late 20's, 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. My parents are both gone. 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 did. Also, during my freshman year of 1967 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 but did give me a broad, liberal arts background.
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 6 or 7 years and I had given more to my clients.
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 possible lures 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, like the lack of any hobby or outside interests, 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.
Betty and I have made 41 years together and are much happier and satisfied with our relationship than during the dark times when my work was my wife.
I did find an excellent list of do-over ideas that Mike Bellah posted on line several years ago. You might find reviewing his list kick-starts some ideas for you.
How about you? Any imaginary do-overs cross your mind?