There are some things that, as time passes, I’ve come to learn. Here’s a short, current list:
1. Always choose an experience or opportunity over the acquisition of material things.
2. Risk is inevitable. You take them, thoughtfully or recklessly, or eventually you run the risk of being a victim of your indecision.
3. When you’re young, you think of how you want to live. When you get older, you start thinking of how you want to die. Which may explain why you see so many people over 50 who are exercising and watching their diet.
4. When you’re young, you think of what you can get for yourself. When you get older, you think of what you can leave behind for others.
5. People make their choices. With few exceptions, people are where they are by their own doing. And by a certain age, the dye is cast and they cannot change. This makes helping people tricky: how do you help someone who’s going to make the same mistake again and again? But you still have to be charitable. Where there is life, there is hope.
6. Talk about free will all you want, but destiny has a big hand in the game. It is silent and invisible, but you will learn to recognize it. When you recognize it, accept it. There is no negotiating with it.
7. Giving advice is truly difficult, for we never truly know another person’s situation. If we know them well, we may be a part of their problem. Set an example ten times before giving advice once. And never, ever give unsolicited advice unless a life is in danger.
8. Life is short, but certain moments are eternal.
9. The opinions of others matter not. The truth is, others probably aren’t thinking about you at all.
10. Diplomacy is important and can make the worst news bearable. It also preserves the dignity of the recipient.
11. Candor, though painful, never killed anybody. It can also be a real time saver.
12. They don’t make them like they used to. In time, you will know the truth of this statement. If you find something you like and use it, and it works perfectly well just the way it is, it will be changed. And it is maddening. The only advice I have is that, once you have located such a product, purchase as many or much of it as you possibly can. Ration it. Use it wisely. Take care of it. Make it last as long as you can, and pray that it will remain the same.
13. Things are never as bad (or as good) as the media portrays them to be. Why? Because the really dangerous things happening in the world are generally kept secret until it’s too late. Think about the Great Depression, the atomic bomb, and perhaps about the real value of the dollar bill you have in your wallet. Also, every generation has its advantages and challenges. With the present generation, that would be social media and attention span, respectively.
Every day there’s a panic-stricken headline splashing across the print and digital headlines. Russia’s on the brink of economic collapse. Japan is not far behind, so they say. Blogs breathlessly recant the previous night’s exploits of celebrities and wannabe’s. Some person or some event has “stirred controversy”, whatever that means, and it must be reported. Not only must it be reported, the self-appointed cultural and political pundits must respond to it with righteous indignation, like roosters who think the sun comes up because they crow.
At the end of each day, though, I roll into bed and fall soundly asleep. I am not oblivious to it all. I am not callous to the tragedies and crises that happen–and may happen–in the world. If the world goes to hell in a hand basket tomorrow, I won’t be safely ensconced in a “Atlas Shrugged” style gated community, removed from it all. In all likelihood, I’ll be in Los Angeles or Boston, right in the middle of the madness, like many people.
But still, I don’t worry. I sleep soundly at night. And I’ll tell you why.
Because we live in the Age of Talk. People think, largely due to the influence of the internet, that to hold an opinion, no matter now uninformed or inarticulate, is to have taken action. It is not.There is an old Chinese proverb that says, Between what is said and done, there is an ocean. Believe it. Websites have to constantly post new content. Much of it is a waste of time to read, much less consider or accept as actionable fact. Refine your search. Narrow your results. Worthwhile news and credible information are rare in this era. Journalistic standards have plummeted. Be aware of that.
Personally, I limit my Daily Internet Exposure (DIE, if you will). I keep myself informed, but with select, credible sources. I cut out the noise and avoid the trash. This habit moderates worry about things I can’t control. It also frees up time for me to take action and accomplish some of my goals for the day/week/month/year/life. I’m happy, focused, informed, and productive. Most of the time. (Hey, I’m honest.)
The second thing I endeavor to do is to live on principle, not on circumstances. By that I mean that I work to make most of my choices based on a set of principles that I’ve inherited, adopted, and refined over the years, rather than to act “depending on the circumstances” as people say. I’ve articulated many of these principles in The Old Money Book.
Having a code that you live by is much less of a headache than facing a moral dilemma every time a temptation pops up. We’ve all heard the term “slippery slope”. It’s a place you can find yourself if you don’t plant your feet on solid ground.
Finally, I balance my definition of success between commitments and accomplishments. This means that I work to honor my commitments as well as accomplish my goals. The sum of those two determines the level of my success to me. I repeat, to me, and no one else. Why this 50/50 split? Because I can, most of the time, control honoring my commitments to the people I care about. I can’t always control the elements that contribute to accomplishing my goals. (Other writers, can I get an Amen?)
Furthermore, my success is not a comparative or competitive situation. It is an individual situation. It’s what I know I do, or do not do, on a weekly basis usually, to accomplish my goals. If I’m successful, I know it. I don’t look to see if I’m more successful than someone else because I realistically can’t ever really know that. Another person may have other, private failures that cast a large shadow over their visible “success”.
As for me, I’ll take–and make–mine.