Life Lessons

At the end of this year, I’ll turn the big five-oh. It’s a milestone I’d rather forget before it even happens. I’d like to think that I figured out most things in almost five decades on this planet, but I’d be lying if I said that. However, I have learned some things that may be useful. As my daughter used to say when she was a toddler, let’s go look.

Older…but wiser?

If you’re over the age of 13, you know that cliches are tired sayings repeated by older people meant to teach a lesson. Cliches rely on stereotypes and represent lazy shortcuts for people who’ve given up on actual critical thinking. As with all cliches, there’s some element of truth to them. The “older is wiser” cliche makes a giant leap in causality and assumes that someone who manages to survive is somehow wiser based on the experience that they’ve endured as a result of the passage of time. In theory, this should be true if (and this is a big if) said person actually learned lessons from the experience and evolved as a result. Unfortunately, most adults stop evolving shortly after they reach adulthood, and there are simply too many examples where “wiser” would be a very generous assessment. This cliche should be buried in the cemetery for bad ideas.

What is truth exactly?

As a kid, truth seemed like a certainty, solid as gravity, but as an adult, I quickly realized that truth is incredibly fungible. Two people can view the same event at the exact same moment and come away with their own truths. The reality is that our “truth” is colored by our own biases and ignorance. When I was in school, I used to think that at least history was certain because it involved events that had happened in the past, but even that is constantly being reevaluated and rewritten. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly in my lifetime. As an adult and a fan of history, I realize how misleading and very incomplete our history lessons were. At least we have gravity.

Adults are winging it

When I was a kid, I thought adulthood meant that I’d have most things figured out and that I could say goodbye to all of the petty insecurities of high school. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived at the adulthood party only to find that it wasn’t all that exciting. Not only do adults continue to suffer from petty insecurities (some never really evolve beyond high school), but they don’t have shit figured out and likely never will. We’re all winging it. .

Toxic people must go

Some people are hard-wired for negativity. They attract all of the unnecessary drama of the universe onto themselves through their negative energy and they redirect it to others. This toxic brew taxes even the most positive among us. Some of these people may be our friends or members of our family, and so we feel an obligation to keep them in our lives as some twisted act of loyalty. These people bring everyone around them down by lashing out and/or generally making our lives miserable. Life’s too short for this shit. Kick them to the curb. You’ll be much happier without them.

Things are never as good or as bad as you think

When things are bad (as they are now), it can seem like the world is ending, that nothing will ever be good again. Human nature tends to let negative thoughts play out in the worst possible way. Yes, bad things happen, and yes, they’re painful, but in the end, it’s rarely as bad as originally thought. On the flip side, things are rarely as good as you believe, either. I’ve seen this riff repeated over and over again with people reminiscing about the past. The past seems better because it’s certain and cannot be changed when compared to the present and the future, which is a vast, sometimes scary, unknown.

We’re more alike than we’re different

Human nature tends toward tribalism. There’s always an “us” and a “them”. These faux divisions create unnecessary strife and unpleasantness in the world. I like to say you don’t really know someone until you sit down with them and have a meal together. That communal act can bridge a lot of differences and make you realize how similar we all are. I’ve learned this repeatedly as I’ve traveled over the years and met different people all over the world. One thing that has always struck me when I explored a new place was how different it was on the ground than how it was portrayed in popular media. Unfortunately, too many people practice lazy, TV diplomacy where they view other parts of the world as it is presented on the TV news, which is exactly the worst place to learn about our neighbors.

Life is too short to be a pessimist

Life is full of ups and downs. Some days it feels like there are more downs than ups, but that should not define your outlook. If it does, then you’re missing out. When I lived in Seattle, the winters could be challenging because of the seemingly endless cloudy, gray days, but then, you’d get this wonderful, sunny day thrown in there that just seemed surreal and amazing. Mt. Rainier would bask in the sunset on Puget Sound, and I’d soak it all in. Those days in the winter made all of the cloudy days seem insignificant. If I had just focused on the cloudy days, I would have missed out on the joy of the sunny ones, and those days made it all worth it. Focus on the beautiful, sunny days.

Like all old people, I have a penchant for offering unsolicited advice. Take it for what it’s worth.

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