EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: We are all living on borrowed time; make sure you repay a fraction of the loan back every day.
Today I am 50. I remember when my dad turned 50 and we had a surprise party for him at my aunt and uncle’s house. I thought I was so funny unfurling a spray-painted sheet from their second-floor windows as he arrived. “50 isn’t old if you’re a tree,” it said. Joke’s on me now. Here I am reflecting on a half century, what I’ve learned, and what it all means. Because when you’re 50, you should know, right?
I take a 360° gander at my life, I look at the decades gone by, and I think about what I know now and when I imagine that I learned it or–in some cases and thanks to hindsight–when I wish I had. So when I think about 50 years, here’s what I think about.
Decade One (0-10)
1) Sisters are the best.
2) Love is the most valuable currency.
3) Strong family roots provide support you can always count on.
4) Being a good speller only matters if you’re too lazy to do spell check. (Even so, I like being a good speller.)
5) Be nice. I still remember some mean things some mean kids did in elementary school. Actions that might not matter to you might matter to someone else. So think about other people’s feelings–don’t be selfish.
Decade Two (10-20)
6) If you spend half as much time worrying about yourself as you do worrying about other people, you’ll come out way ahead.
7) You’ll meet a ton of people now who–expectedly or otherwise–will have a massive influence on the rest of your life and shape who you are or aren’t and what you do or don’t do. Pay attention to them.
8) It’s not easy. But it’s worth it.
9) Music that you listen to now will remind you of things that you wouldn’t remember later in life otherwise, so pay attention to the music! And be prepared to, in 10 or 30 or 30 years, time-travel when you hear an old song and remember every sensory detail of some long-forgotten experience or feeling. So listen to good music!
10) Try new things. Don’t wonder. Know. The more you stretch yourself when you’re young the better trained you’ll be when you’re old, minimizing the likelihood you’ll suffer any twinges of regret. Put yourself out there. Say yes.
Decade Three (20-30)
11) Work hard, be dedicated, be accountable, be respectful, and pay attention to the details.
12) Be authentic, be bold, and take chances. Don’t let the potential negative consequences paralyze you, but heed them–if you’re not willing to accept the consequences of your actions, think twice. Because only you are responsible for your actions–no one else.
13) You can’t unsay things. Choose your words carefully. And just in case you find yourself in a situation where you say something you wish you could take back, get comfortable with saying and living the words “I’m sorry.”
14) Always bring a pen and paper (physical pen and paper or digital equivalent) to a meeting.
15) Remember people you meet. You don’t have to remember everyone’s name. If you’re not sure you’ve met someone before, reintroduce yourself and say, for example “Nicole Comeau; good to see you.” There’s nothing worse than when someone you remember meeting multiple times looks as if they have never seen you before and says “nice to meet you” (as you mentally scowl and think “for the fourth time”).
Decade Four (30-40)
16) Stay open to new people and new things. Contary to what you think ou still don’t know everything (never will) and you never know what seemingly insignificant choice will start a chain reaction that changes your life.
17) Slow down and enjoy it. It goes by faster and faster.
18) Set a good example. You never know who is watching, but you know someone always is…don’t worry about who may or may not see or who may or may not find out…just do the right thing.
19) You can’t change anything you did but you can change everything you do.
20) Life’s not fair. You may experience this sooner rather than later, but by this point you should at least know that it’s not about equity…and you need to sharpen your coping skills because all you can control is your reaction, not the thing that you are reacting to.
Decade Five (40-50)
21) Everything worth having is worth waiting for.
22) Find peace in managing the only thing you can manage–yourself. Don’t waste a moment worrying about things you can’t control.
23) Love and hope can be found in the darkest corners. Use your light and shine it on them.
24) You do only live once and you can’t take it with you–enjoy it responsibly, and consider your legacy. Who do you want to be remembered as? What do you want to be remembered for? Focus on what matters.
25) Trust that your best years are the ones in front of you.
In summary, it’s all about the balance. You get what you give. What goes around comes around. And all that cliched jazz. Karma’s only a bitch if you cross her, so keep it karmically correct.
Eyes on the road, foot on the gas. Tunes cranked up in a car full of love. It really is all about the journey, so enjoy every mile. [Even the ones when you realize you have to pee two minutes after you see the “Next Rest Stop in 60 Miles” sign.]
Over and out. I got me some good living to do.
P.S. The rearview mirror is something that should only be used as a double-check while driving, not as a measuring tool for life. If you spend too much time looking in the rearview or focusing on the horizon, you’ll miss all of the great stuff that’s right in front of and next to you.