The hot sun radiates down on a Mexican beach. The melody on your smartwatch rings, telling you in its native digital tongue to rollover and begin baking your other side. As you reach for the Piña Colada the waiter just set on the table next to your oceanside cabana bed, you think, this is the kind of moment I wish I could live in for the rest of my life. Not me though. You know when you’re in the shower and the warm water beats down on the back of your neck? You reach behind you and turn the handle upward and the water turns hot for maybe five seconds or so (my shower is broken so it’s “handle up”). THAT’s the moment I want to live in forever. Meh… call me simple.
I have a pretty stressful but rewarding day job. A good part of it sees me giving talks on a variety of topics to high school students. Most of the time it goes in one ear and out the other (their’s, not mine… although, sometimes mine). I often talk to them about the dangers of drugs, the Internet, social media and sexting!! I try to be as transparent and authentic as I can. Teens can smell bullshit like animals smell fear. So, I talk to them the way I would talk to my own children; like a father who’s just looking out for them. For the most part, it seems to work ok. I don’t get a standing ovation at the end of my presentations but even the mildest of applause is appreciated and tells me, “job well done.”
I think at fifty years old, there’s a greater level of credibility that’s gleaned from a life of experience. I don’t know many fifty year-olds out there with no life experience. My god, what rock would you have to had to have lived under to have learned NOTHING from all your years on this planet? I think I’m pretty good in the experience department. I’ve seen and done a lot in fifty years. More than most people I’d wager.
Throughout most of my academic career, I was a solid C student. I spent more time drawing in my textbooks than focusing on my lessons. As you can see by the quality of my artwork, I spent a lot of time paying little attention in school. And I will wave my own flag slightly over the fact that I’m the only one in my family to earn a university degree. My family isn’t dumb, we just chose different paths. And although I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, I’m good at appearing smarter than I am; mainly because I keep quiet at the right moments and I’m not really that opinionated of a person. I may appear to sit quietly calculating my next move when in fact I’m recalling the moment on Gilligan’s Island when the Japanese soldier with the thick glasses shows up in his one-man submarine and is thwarted by the antics of Gilligan and his friends. But now, I’m the responsible head (co-head) of a household. Juggling a full-time career and two kids is tough enough. When I’m not thinking about what to make for my kids’ lunches and whether aliens exist, I’m thinking of that one idea that will open the door to the next phase of my life. But why is it so hard?
I’ve heard many people say, “follow your passion” and in all honesty, I couldn’t disagree more. What happens if you follow your passion and end up sucking at it? I say follow your skillset and TAKE your passion with you. There’s nothing worse than seeing a twenties-something year-old social media “influencer” telling their ten billion followers to “follow your passion”. ** Insert big eye roll here** It’s horribly unrealistic advice. You should be pouring your passion into everything you do. Even if you hate your job, get out of it if you can or in the least pour your passion into it. It’ll still suck but at least others will notice that you’re making the best of a shitty situation.
If you haven’t felt it yet, you will at some point. It’s the weight of the world attempting to crush your spirit. I’ve felt it a lot in the past several years but being who I am don’t allow it or anything to crush my incurable optimism. I know I have skills and I know I have talent. I know I’m not meant to stay in the job I’m in for much longer. Paulo Coelho, author of the book The Alchemist, said, “… when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” Now, I’m not much of a believer in fate. It’d be hypocritical of me. I mean, if you REALLY believe in fate then I dare you to stop looking both ways when you cross the street. But I believe in what Paulo is saying because, in my opinion, it has less to do with fate and more to do with attitude. If all you do is dwell on the negative then you’ll be miserable. If you hold true to the belief that there is something more waiting for you and that it is good… then? I dunno, it’s a bit hard to put the way I see the world into words sometimes but my life has been the perfect example. I’ve always had a good attitude and I think I’m doing very well in life as a result. I have a great job, a nice house, a loving family… but… sigh. Let’s just say that I may be where I NEED to be… but I’m not necessarily where I WANT to be. Are any of us?
I turned fifty last month and that’s fine. It’s not like I’ve struggled with it or had to make peace with the fact that I’m now older than the 26th amendment to the US Constitution. But I like to celebrate landmark occasions in style. I brought it in my 50th birthday halfway around the planet in Tokyo (bucket list item checked off). But what you leave behind when you travel is usually still waiting for you when you come back. Whether it be bills, debt, work-related issues, etc., it’s weight, pure and simple. Sometimes ahead, sometimes you’re behind. Middle ground doesn’t seem to last very long when you’re all grown up. Can you recall the time in your life (if it’s happened yet) when you felt you were finally a grown up? For me it was last summer when my mother’s kidneys decided to shut down. Her death isn’t something I’ve ever considered until that event, which thankfully wasn’t the end of her. But I remember thinking, I’m finally a grown up now. It took 49 years to come to that revelation but there ya have it.
Let’s face it, adulting sucks. I think the greatest thing about being a grown up is my parents don’t care if I stay out past 2 a.m. (which I never do) and I’m old enough to rent anywhere in the world. The worst thing about being a grown up are the constant reminders you get that as an adult you have a shitload of responsibilities. And if you’re a parent, it’s much much worse. It’s the height of hypocrisy, telling our kids what’s good for them when we don’t even know what’s good for ourselves. And marriage, my god, don’t get me started on that. If ever someone tells you they have the perfect marriage, rest assured they’re completely full of shit. Marriage is hard work! But the upside is when you both put in the effort it works and it’s awesome!! Like a well-oiled machine. The hardest part of adulting though, is we’re pulled in so many different directions. It’s tough to focus on your dreams when you get the final notice reminder in the mail that your gas bill is overdue, your car suddenly makes a knocking noise when you accelerate (BTW: possibly a dirty fuel injector), the kids want to join an indoor soccer league only to want to quit an indoor soccer league, the surprise expense for new furnace that decided to call it quits in early January, etc, etc, frick’n etc!! Adulting sucks! Have I mentioned that?
As I write this, my coworkers are having a pot luck luncheon that I didn’t feel like being a part of due mostly to that fact that it consists mainly of dishes that I can only eat on my “cheat day” (Saturdays). Plus, I’m just not feeling all that sociable today. I really like my coworkers but today, I’m my own best company. So here I am sitting in a high school cafeteria on a PA day (no students) 15 miles from where my coworkers are eating unhealthy food, carrying on, laughing, talking about anything but work no doubt… What was my point? Oh right, adulting sucks.
Since celebrating my 50th birthday last month I’ve come to the realization that there are likely less days ahead than there are behind me. This is the point where life starts to take more than it gives. I don’t lose much sleep over this notion, it is what it is. I learned at an early age that life doesn’t play fair and if you want something out of life then you’re going to have to fight for it. Honestly, the earlier in life you figure this out the better off you’ll be. I think I’m living proof. I don’t expect something from nothing. I don’t care if people like me or don’t like me (even though I’m super likeable), I’m not defined by the number of followers I have on social media, I don’t do drama and have ZERO time for people who do, and I put two spoonfuls mayonnaise in macaroni and cheese. Not exactly living on the edge but I have my moments. But I’m at a crossroad now. I can’t afford to put off my dreams any longer. I may not be curing cancer any time soon but I have a variety of things I’d like to get done so that I can leave something behind to say to the world, “I was here”. I’m hoping these future endeavours will also create a bit of a financial security blanket for my kids too, in case their furnaces kack-out one cold day in January. But getting down to it and getting the work done is so hard when we do a disproportionate amount of adulting and don’t leave ourselves enough time to work on our craft. And even when we have time, do we have the enthusiasm? If you’re like me, you can’t just sit and do. You have to be in the zone; in the mood. I’ve tried to make myself sit and draw or write but it turns into less drawing or writing and more like binge-watching Netflix. Or I sit thinking about how life gets in the way and how it doesn’t allow me time to work on my projects. Meanwhile seven hours goes by that I’ve spent sitting at my desk thinking about how I have no time. I imagine my life as a reality show that no one watches.
My philosophy, and what I find works well for me, isn’t making these changes in my behaviour in big leaps and bounds. Instead, I choose to make tiny micro-shifts in my behaviour. It means that instead of making myself sit for several hours at night working on my craft, I do a tiny bit here and a tiny bit there. You don’t have to do a lot but just do a little. Sooner or later all of those littles will inevitably turn into a lot and voila!! You’re done! Then ship it off and move on to the next idea. It’s as easy as brushing your teeth (assuming you have teeth). And as far as the success part of your plan, I think success is a byproduct and not the end result of hard work. I don’t think success is something that happens after the fact, rather, it’s a moment we suddenly find ourselves in.
This past May I won a really nice (and heavy) award for a youth initiative I created in 2014. I’d been working on the project for five years and it wasn’t until I was on stage accepting the award in front of a banquet hall full of my peers that I realized, holy shit! I’ve succeeded. Thankfully I didn’t say it out loud but I was suddenly caught in the moment of success. It was pretty cool but I also remember thinking, I hope this isn’t the biggest thing I ever do. I wanted to succeed again but on a grander scale. I wanted to do something that might set bigger wheels in motion and take me places I’d only dreamed about. I wanted to keep the momentum going. Cut to: The backyard needs to be completely re-landscaped, my mother is sick again, the kids need to be registered for summer camp, and the dog just took a dump on the expensive new rug. Ladies and gentlemen, LIFE!!! It’ll be here all week! Try the veal!
I think what’s ironic about life is that I embrace the chaos cuz I know one day it’ll all be gone. Our kids drive us nuts and are likely the reason we drink so much and swear like sailors but when they’ve moved on and have families of their own, I’ll miss the madness. I’ll miss the interruptions while I’m working on my craft because they need help on a project that was assigned in September and it’s now November and due tomorrow. I’ll miss the your account is overdrawn again phone calls from my bank. I’ll miss the texts from my wife while I’m up to my armpits in emergencies at work letting me know the WiFi at home is glitchy. I’ll miss running the carpet shampooer over the dog shit stains on the expensive rug.
At fifty I see that life isn’t fair but it sure is funny. Maybe adulting doesn’t suck so much after all.