Posts Tagged maturity

I Didn’t Drive a Mercedes to My High School Reunion

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.

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Halfway There and Gaining Speed

I passed a milestone of sorts last month – theoretically, the halfway point of my professional career.

My career began 20 years ago, in May 1992, when I graduated college. I still remember that entire week very well. I was an honor graduate, which meant that my parents and I attended a couple of functions honoring high-achieving students, including a breakfast on that Friday morning of graduation. I was very good at school, and I already had a job locked up, so it was logical to expect great immediate career success.

Though I’ve had success in my career, I have a lot left to accomplish, and some quick math has amplified the urgency. If I want to at least semi-retire at age 62, I’m half-way there, but not half-way to my goals. Like a NASCAR team in the middle of a race, I’ll need to make adjustments for a strong finish.

Just like college students preparing for a career, NASCAR teams spend hundreds of hours preparing for each race, trying to set up the cars for optimal performance. They test tire combinations and modify the car’s suspension to help the car speed around the track as quickly as possible, minimizing tire wear. They look for any aerodynamic edge, and they prepare their driver with a strategy to be at the front when the checkered flag waves.

Many times, shortly after the green flag waves, all of that preparation goes for naught, as the track conditions change or the car doesn’t respond well to the planned set-up. In this situation, the driver and his crew try to diagnose the problem and correct it as quickly as possible to enable the driver to have a legitimate shot of being out front when the checkered flag waves.

The race to improve performance is a race within the main race, as teams in the pit and garage area try to make their adjustments before their competitors do. The sooner you can optimize your car, the sooner you can make your way to the front of the pack. If others make their adjustments before you or make better adjustments than you make, your race to the front is compromised. Those who don’t make needed adjustments or take too long to make adjustments take themselves out of the race.

I’ve been fine-tuning my career for several years now, making dramatic adjustments ten years ago with a move back to my home state and a change in professions. Now, I just need to make minor adjustments, as the laps seem to speed by even more quickly with each passing year. Though I might not be where I had hoped to be by this point, I like my chances of a strong finish, because I am now much better at making adjustments. That’s the power of age, wisdom and experience.

Napoleon Hill in his book, “Think and Grow Rich,” says that most people don’t experience great success until after the age of 40, because they spend much of their youth in pursuit of the wrong goals, most often, the attention and affection of the opposite sex. As we age, we become more confident in who we are, no longer needing the affirmation of the opposite sex. In addition, we’ve learned from past mistakes and failures. That experience, coupled with the confidence and focus to make adjustments, makes the second half of most careers far more successful than the first halves.

Comedian Jacob Cohen struggled mightily in the first few years of his career, joking that the location of one of his gigs was so far out that it was reviewed in Field and Stream. Discouraged and in debt, he quit stand-up comedy and made a living selling aluminum siding.

Not until he revised his routine to build off his personal struggle to get respect from others and reinvented himself as Rodney Dangerfield did he experience the success with which we identify him yet today. He was 42 years old, 25 years after his first paying stand-up comedy act.

Whether you are well past halfway in your career, or well short of it, be proud of what you’ve accomplished and don’t hesitate to reach for more. Your reach is stronger and better directed than it was at the beginning of your career. Resolve to take advantage of maturity and experience rather than lamenting lost youth. With the proper adjustments, your goals are still within reach.

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