Monday, July 30, 2012

...About Life

You don’t have to know everything to know something. That’s why I put this together. As I celebrate my 53rd birthday in August, this is what I’ve learned—or at least some of it. It’s not everything, but it’s a start. My hope is this: That I will continue learning. And that you will share with me what you’ve learned.

 1. Take one. Enjoy life—there are no reruns.

 2. My philosophy on living. Eat right, get lots of sleep, drink plenty of fluids, go like hell.

 3. Getting older vs. being old. Betty Davis once astutely observed that “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” She’s right. Your metabolism changes. You knees start sounding like Rice Krispies. Your back is suddenly what’s stiff in the mornings. Getting older is a physical aspect that is out of our control and happens to everyone. But that’s different from being old. Old, I’ve come to discover, is the age you haven’t gotten to yet. No one ever told me that I would feel like the same person inside at 50 as I did when I was 25. I’d like to think that I’m a bit wiser than I was half a lifetime ago, but I still feel the same on the inside. And I doubt that will change. We are who we are no matter what our age.

 4. Young vs. old. The difference between young people and old people is that young people have their lives in front of them and get to look forward with joy to all the things they want to experience, while old people have their lives behind them and get to look back with joy at all the things they’ve already done.

 5. Stretch. Stretch your body. The older you get, the more your body tightens. The more it tightens, the more easily it breaks. Stay loose and limber. You’ll feel better, live longer and people will think you’re a lot younger than you really are. Stretch your imagination. Dream. And don’t just dream, but dream big. It’s easier to tame a wild idea than turn a boring one into something great. Stretch your limits. Dare yourself. Do something you’re afraid of. Something that scares you. Something you can mention to your friends and they will listen to intently because they can’t believe it. Stretch your boundaries. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Then go somewhere else. Stretch your mind. Study, read, take a class, learn a new language, take music lessons, do something but never, ever, ever stop learning.

 6. Minds. They’re like parachutes—they work best when open. Why would you even want to have a closed mind about something? About anything? Why wouldn’t you want to learn—or at least be open to learning about—something different? The world is full of differences, opportunities. Explore. Grow. Don’t cling to the past.

 7. Grow. If you’re through growing, you’re through. So do something new—mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, all of the above. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn a different language. Hire a personal trainer and get in better shape. Take up martial arts. Scuba dive. Jump out of an airplane. Get up at 5:06 instead of 6:05 and go exercise as the sun comes up. Cook something using new ingredients. Stay up alone all night. Teach some kid what you know best. Dance. Surf. Ski. Just don’t stop. Ever.

 8. Progress. What an exciting time to be alive. In my lifetime I’ve gone from rotary phones to push-button phones to cordless phones to cell phones to smart phones. I’ve gone from a Commodore 64 computer to an iPad. I saw man walk on the moon—which happened just 66 years after the Wright brothers learned how to fly. I’ve gone from vinyl records to eight track tapes to cassettes to CDs to iPods to the cloud. I’ve gone from teletype machines to fax machines to email to instant messaging to texting. I’ve gone from a black-and-white TV with a UHF converter box to a flat-screen plasma HDTV. Jim Crow died (theoretically). Social media was invented. DNA, genetic mapping, microwave ovens, GPS systems, ATMs, fiber optics, laser surgery, solar energy, electric cars, bar codes all came about. We’re living right in the middle of the Technical Revolution—what the history books are going to write about as an historic period in the evolution of mankind the way they do the Industrial Revolution or the Stone Age. It’s changing history, and we get to be a part of it. To me, all this progress is exciting. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

 9. Time. Time is the most valuable commodity we have. It’s inelastic and totally irreplaceable. We’re all given equal amounts of it every day—24 hours, no more, no less—and once it’s gone, it’s gone. For some reason I’ve always been aware of time. I think it dates back to a Schlitz beer commercial that said, “You only go around once so go with gusto.” I probably should have paid more attention to the gusto part—I would be a lot more fun if I had. But I didn’t. It was the “only go around once” part that resonated with me. But maybe that’s good. It’s pushed me to do as much as I can with the time I’ve been given—to try to live my life and not merely exist.

10. Time, part 2. If you can’t be on time, be early.

11. Time, part 3.
To realize the value of 10 years,
ask a newly divorced couple. To realize the value of four years, ask a graduate. To realize the value of one year, ask a student who has failed a final exam. To realize the value of nine months, ask a mother who gave birth to a stillborn. To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who has missed the train, bus or plane. To realize the value of one second, ask a person who has survived an accident. To realize the value of a friend or family member, lose one. Time waits for no one. Treasure every moment you have. You will treasure it even more when you can share it with someone special.

12. Life in the fast lane. “Life itself is a race, marked by a start and a finish. It is what we learn during the race and how we apply it that determines whether our participation has had particular value. If we learn from each success, and each failure, and improve ourselves through this process, then, at the end, we will have fulfilled our potential and performed well.” —Ferdinand Porsche. Truth.

13. Disappointments. Inevitably, we don’t always get what we want. We don’t always do what we want. Goals go unmet. Roads are not taken and roles are not filled. As a result, we have to adjust and make peace with our diminished expectations. It’s not fun. Or easy. But it’s life. And as long as you do what you can with what you have—and you keep trying—you’ll be OK.

14. Struggles. Suppose we had everything we wanted—no pain, no suffering, every pleasure, every free entertainment, no death, no meaning. We’d become impossibly spoiled brats. Are they happy? No.

15. Reality. Reality exists in various shades of gray, never in black and white. People try to make life’s issues out to be so simple when they never are.

16. Perspective. You can either complain because rose bushes have thorns or be grateful because thorn bushes have roses. Take your pick. The option is yours.

17. The book of life. “Life is a book and you are its author. You determine its plot and its pace and you—only you—turn its pages.” —Anonymous. Truth.

18. The meaning of life, small picture. “The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, from hour to hour. What matters then is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put in general terms, it would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: Tell me master, what is the best move in the world? There is simply no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s environment. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein, he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.” —Viktor Frankl

19. The meaning of life, big picture. “Consider a movie: It consists of thousands upon thousands of individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the whole film cannot be seen before its last sequence is shown. However, we cannot understand the whole film without having first understood each of its components, each of the individual pictures. Isn’t the same with life? Doesn’t the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if at all, only at its end, on the verge of death? And doesn’t this meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual’s knowledge and belief?” —Viktor Frankl

20. Destiny. “The world doesn’t owe you anything. It was here first.” —Mark Twain. Truth.

21. Success. I’ve found no better definition than Ralph Waldo Emerson’s:

To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give one’s self;
To leave the world a little better
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch,
Or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sun with exaltation;
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived...
This is to have succeeded.

22. The secret of success.
Do the work.

Persistence. “Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than the unsuccessful person with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” —Calvin Coolidge. Truth.

24. Money.
I had two credit cards when I got out of college. I ran both of them to their limits. Fortunately, the credit card companies were smarter in those days and my relatively small credit limit kept my spending from becoming a real disaster. I’ve never been good at math, but when I sat down and looked at the numbers—the amount owed, the interest rates, how long it was going to take to pay it off—common sense made me realize that having debt was stupid. So I made a commitment to pay off the cards and a promise to myself: Keep everything on one card and pay it off at the end of the month. If you can’t pay it off, don’t buy it. That’s worked for me. I’ve never paid interest on a credit card since.

25. Mo money.
Money doesn’t buy class. It doesn’t buy character. It doesn’t buy friends (at least not real friends). It doesn’t buy love (at least not real love). Money buys stuff. It can buy experiences. It can buy luxuries. It can buy things that may enhance life, but they are not the stuff of life. They are not what truly matters. Consider this from Warren Buffet, who has all the money anyone would want: “Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many people you want to have love you who actually do love you. That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life. The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it. The only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.”

26. Love.
One of my favorite Peanuts comic strips has Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty sitting under a tree pondering the meaning of life when up walks Snoopy. Peppermint Patty sits up and asks, “What do you think the secret of living is, Snoopy?” Snoopy simply walks up and kisses her on the nose. “Smak.” Perfect. (And funny.) That’s what life is all about. Love. That’s why we’re here. That’s our ultimate purpose. We weren’t put here to hate or to fight or to screw people out of money or control others. We did that on our own. By mistake.

27. Love, part 2.
Love is hard work. But worth the effort.

28. Daily chores.
Exercise. Give three hugs a day. Smile. Laugh. Read. Rest. Relax. Reflect. Work on something (a job, a hobby, a task). Pray often. Dream. Get a good night’s sleep.

29. Exercise.
Life, at least for men, is an endless struggle against beer bellies and man boobs. So for me, I run. In the mornings. Early. Before the day gets started. When the air is cool and clean—and no one can see me dragging my butt through the streets. Exercise really does energize you. It clears your mind, pumps up your body and lifts your soul. You need all three to be in good shape to make it through life.

Sunrises and sunsets. Will Rogers once quipped that people don’t appreciate sunsets because they don’t have to pay for them. That’s brilliant. I like sunsets. And sunrises. Sunsets are usually more colorful, but I’m a morning person, so sunrises get my vote. I like the cool, clean air and the optimism that mornings bring. Either way, sunrises and sunsets are God’s free eye candy and should be admired.

 31. Nature. There is nothing better than nature. Nothing. Trees. Fresh air. The sun. The stars. Mountains. Lakes. Oceans. Fields. Animals. Birds singing. Streams. The sounds. The colors. The smells. Nature is God’s house. (He created it, so why would He only be found in a manmade box, no matter how architecturally beautiful it may be?) We’ve lost that with our cities.

32. Travel. See everything your life allows—the oceans, the mountains, New York, LA, the Great Plains, the desert Southwest, the national parks, some tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, warm places, cold places, any other country in this world. Travel gives you a different perspective and understanding of people, cultures and environments. It opens up your world—and gives you great memories you can look back on later in life. It also make you appreciate your home.

33. Environment. “Treat the Earth well. It was not give to you by your parents; it was loaned to you by your children.” —Sioux proverb. Truth. Life on this planet exists on a razor’s edge. A couple miles closer to the sun and Earth would be nothing but gas. A couple of miles the other way and it would be nothing but ice. We need to quit treating it like it’s our own personal garbage dump.

34. Decisions. When Native Americans faced major decisions, they didn’t make the decision final until they thought through its impact on the next seven generations. We need to learn that lesson. All too often we look at the short-term gain, the immediate gratification, the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality. That’s a dangerous way to live.

35. Taking action. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.” —Dr. Suess. Truth.

36. Character. “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson. Truth.

37. Ethics. Before you can decide what you ought to do, you must first figure out what kind of person you want to be. If you want to be rich, then bilking people out of money isn’t a problem. If you want to be a person of integrity, then you’re going to have a hard time with that.

38. We are all kings. Frederick the Great was traveling through Prussia and met an old man.

“Who are you,” Frederick  asked.
“I am a king,” the old man replied.
“Over what kingdom do you reign?”

39. Taking aim. When an archer misses the mark he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bull’s eye is never the fault of the target. To improve our aim, improve yourself.

40. People. No one ever sized up people better than the person who created the pencil eraser.

41. Everybody is somebody else’s weirdo. I learned this a long time ago and it’s taught me this: I really don’t care what other people think of me. Yes, I have a core group whose opinion I value. Otherwise, if anyone thinks I’m going to change because they think I’m a weirdo or should do things the way they want, they’re going to be disappointed. Shakespeare got it right: To thine own self be true. You have to be. If you’re not true to yourself, you’re wasting a unique opportunity in the history of the universe because there’s never been nor will there ever be another you. Be yourself. Even if that means you’re someone else’s weirdo.

42. Knowing someone. How do you truly know someone? You know what makes them laugh. That’s something that’s truly unique to each person.

43. Friends. Everyone hears what you say; A friend listens to what you say; A best friend listens to what you don’t say. If you end up with six best friends—friends who know what makes you laugh, who know your secrets and keep them that way, who you can act goofy with, who walk in when others walk out—then you’ve done well.

44. Family. If you died tomorrow, the company you work for could replace you within a couple of days, but your family you leave behind would feel the loss for the rest of their lives. So why do we spend so much time on our work instead of our families?

45. Priorities. “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends and spirit. You’re keeping them all in the air at the same time. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.” —Brian Dyson, former COO of Coca-Cola. Truth.

46. Regrets. Whatever regrets I have when I die will all revolve around the way I treated people. Everything else is irrelevant.

47. Worrying. “Worry is fretting about the future. Concern is figuring out future solutions. When you’re concerned, you are going to analyze and determine where and how to improve. If you’re worried, you’re just fretting that things won’t turn out right regardless of what you do—wringing your hands and imagining bad things. Concern leads to results. Worry leads to losing a good night’s sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night with something on your mind, ask yourself if you’re concerned about something or worried about something. If you’re worried, get some warm milk and go back to bed. If you’re concerned, get some coffee and start taking notes.” —John Wooden. Truth.

48. How to be happy. Go serve someone else. Do something that is going to make someone else happy—expecting nothing in return. Their happiness will overflow into you. Guaranteed. I’ve never helped out another person or left a service project where I haven’t felt like I was the one who benefitted the most.

49. How to make peace. Two of the most underused and most effective words in the English language: Thank you.

50. Saving grace. The Lord looks after small children, animals and idiots. (I’m going to be OK.)

51. We must keep reminding ourselves, "This is water." What does that mean? This condensed commencement speech by David Foster Wallace explains

52. Making tough choices. "Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity." Truth.

53. —. Your life is two dates separated by a dash. Make the most of the dash. (If this seems puzzling, go to a cemetery and look at any headstone and you'll understand.) Seriously, the dash is all you get. One shot. Don't waste it.

Also: What I Learned...About Religion

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