Paul turns 65 and reflects on eight things he has learned in his life.
There was this guy who lived across the street from our house. We lived in a humble Detroit neighborhood. He would often be sitting on one of the two steps that led up to his house as I came home from middle school. He would shove over and we would stare out into the busy street, much of the time in silence. A car would go by and in detail he would explain everything about the car. He would talk about the person who designed the car’s engine or suspension system. His stories were about using your head, commonsense persistence, trial and error, and finally figuring it all out. I wanted to be old and wise like him. To this day I get the feeling of awe when I think about sitting there with that man.
I saw no weakness, infirmity, or surrender in old people when I was young. And I don’t see weakness, infirmity, or surrender as an age thing today. Lots of young and old people have surrendered to drugs, alcohol, video games, work, overeating, bigotry, hate, biblical laziness and sloth, or the five principal Kleshas of Buddhism, namely: attachment, aversion, ignorance, pride, and jealousy. Age was not the cause of choosing a path of unfulfilled surrender.
I just turned 65. What have I learned in my 65 years? What wisdom have I gleaned over my life? As I ask those questions of myself, I wrestle with the answers. Life is about change and our mind plays tricks on us. However, eight things come to mind.
Age does not make people wiser! How we process, learn from, and create stories about our experiences does. Two of my best friends died very young. Jackie died at age 19 and Hanley died at age 36. My dad died young, too. Things end, people die; that is normal. We can control the story we tell ourselves. The sadness of the loss will be there as part of me forever.
In fact, I don't want the loss of Jackie, Hanley, and my dad to ever not be a part of me. They are part of who I am and allow me to understand grief, sadness, and loss, but are not an excuse to quit living.
Nobody cares! Really, nobody cares about your stuff. You lost your friend, you lost an eye, had cancer, got divorced, feet stink, fart too much—nobody cares about that. True friends care about you. They care about you! My very good friend of 30 years, Joe, calls me and says, “How’s Paul?” He doesn’t say “What’s going on in your life so I can assess how Paul is, and if he is worthy of my comfort or friendship.” He simply says, “How’s Paul?”
Don’t judge the stuff, don’t judge the person, move on and accept the reality. Life is about change, but more importantly it is about how we embrace and react to the flow of life.
Be happy! Do you like to hang out with unhappy people? Do you want to work for an unhappy person? Do you want to marry an unhappy person? No! If you have kids, help them learn how to be happy. If you think happiness comes from being financially rich, then you don’t know happiness. I spent my life advising rich people. After our basic needs are met, extra wealth does not have a meaningful influence on happiness. Relationships do.
Get relationships right—get life right! We are meant to be in relationships. We are always in relationship, with ourselves, our environment—even the solitary mystic on the mountain is in relationship with life, breath, and the cosmos. We need each other.
We want to be with people. Relationships take time, and we trade time for money. So the more time we spend working for a bigger home, a bigger car, or more shoes is time we are not in relationship with those we love.
Balance is hard! Really, it is silliness to try to find or stay on the razor’s edge of having the perfectly balanced life. Life is lumpy. I tell new parents to say goodbye to balance. Kids will keep you broke, tired, and humble. The only payoff is that your heart will feel love so big you think it will explode.
Savor everything! Savor the good and the bad. When Amy was air-lifted to the hospital at 26 weeks into William’s pregnancy, the doctor told me, “All those monitors are to help us keep track of her health. Your job is to comfort her and keep her still.” As I sat in the ICU room, I would feel such love, such fear, such helplessness as I listened to the beeps and breaths. In those hours and days of waiting, I was amazed at how strong an emotion can be. I sat with those mixed up emotions and savored them. It was reality.
Love like you’ll never be hurt! Do not hold back in relationships. Be silly in love, be honest, be loyal, be innocent. The only way to have an authentic relationship is to love like you will never be hurt. Be in healthy relationships with happy people who love you back and you will have a wonderful life.
Simply love! I was going to be cute and say that I will give the eighth idea when I turn 100, but really by then I will most likely just have one thing to say: Simply love.