If you would have asked me in 1988 how I would arrive at my high school reunion thirty years later, I would have offered some grand vision that involved wealth and excess. I certainly wouldn’t have said bald and walking with a cane.
Though I am blessed with an incredible life and a family beyond my wildest dreams, life hasn’t worked out for me in the exact way that I originally thought it would, and that’s OK. Life works out in the way that it’s supposed to, and it has no particular allegiance to our plans. It’s up to us to learn from and adapt to the realities we encounter.
If we pay attention and do things correctly, we stand a very good chance of being successful at life. You notice that I didn’t say simply “successful,” because many of us attach far-fetched definitions to that word, and when we fall short, we feel unsuccessful. The concept of success should inspire us to reach higher, not push us into a hole. Unfortunately, when we attach immature ideals to our concept of success, we often trigger regret and melancholy when we don’t achieve those ideals.
Among many other things, my grandfather taught me that being successful at life is almost always attainable, regardless of the advantages or disadvantages we’re blessed with. You just need to snag the blessings that come your way and then nurture them. For him, being successful at life meant having a big, thriving family, which was something that he wasn’t born into.
My grandfather’s mother died when he was four years old, when most of his older siblings had already left the house. His father did the best he could, but when the Great Depression hit Central Nebraska, there weren’t enough resources to support my grandfather and his next older brother. Realizing this, at the ages of 14 and 16, my grandfather and his brother dropped out of school and headed to a life of labor in the sugar beet fields of Western Nebraska, stowing away on trains during their trip.
A few years later, he returned with $700 that he managed to save by living frugally and working hard. With that, he started farming. Eventually, he met my grandmother, and started a family that grew to eight children and 23 grandchildren. He never earned much money, but he lived a comfortable life by prioritizing family over possessions and status. I can’t imagine a rich man being any happier than my grandfather was with his family-focused life.
I’m slowly turning into my grandfather. Instead of what I drive or where I live, the family I’ve built with my wife is my biggest source of pride and fulfillment. It’s not that I gave up on my financial goals – I like travel and hunting too much to get complacent – but if everything stayed just like it is right now, I would feel successful at life.
That’s a change from where I was thirty years ago and probably even five years ago, and it’s a change that I’d like to attribute to maturity and recognizing what’s truly important in life. We don’t need to earn more than our friends or to have bigger houses and fancier cars than them, in order to prove to ourselves and others that we are successful. We just need to do the best we can with our blessings.
No, I didn’t drive a Mercedes to my high school reunion, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. No one noticed, and my 18-year-old self wasn’t there to impress.