OPINION – Last week, I celebrated my 50th birthday. From the friendly fuss that my family and friends were making, I gather that this is considered somewhat of a milestone.
It’s just a number, right?
For me, turning 40 was a harder number to accept emotionally. This year, however, I felt more at ease and an abiding sense of appreciation for the people in my life and my circumstances.
I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over those 50 years with the understanding that my learning will be a work in progress until my final day. I don’t have all the answers and likely never will but here are a few life truths I felt were worth sharing.
Should one or more of them fail to ring true, I’ll refund whatever you paid for them.
If, as a four year old, you stick your little finger through the chain-link fence into the ostrich enclosure at the Hogle Zoo and wiggle it to see if the birds will notice, they will. Also, an ostrich bites much harder than you’d think. It really hurts.
Having a place where you and your friends can ride bikes is a terrific source of fun. Creating a race track with a perfectly sized jump in a nearby vacant lot will amplify your fun by a factor of ten.
Racing onto your track, first thing in the morning, without first checking it for obstacles is courting disaster. This becomes clear the moment you go over the handlebars after taking the jump and planting the front wheel of your bike in a discarded car tire.
Of course, many of the lessons learned along the way are a bit more subtle.
Friends are a bigger influence on our behavior than we might think. The very best and very worst decisions I’ve made in my life have tended to reflect the kind of company I was keeping.
For instance, on the occasions where I found myself in the principal’s or vice principal’s office, it was typically with the same individuals each time. Just as combining the right chemicals in the right quantities creates a very predictable reaction, putting us together had an unfailing tendency to create mischief.
On the other hand, the most ennobling and meaningful things that have occurred throughout my lifetime have generally seen the same familiar faces in attendance.
In this respect, the best kind of friends are those who bring out our best qualities while unconditionally loving and accepting us; flaws and all. I still remember the sense of surprise I felt when I realized that this included my parents and other family members.
When it comes to finding happiness, one of the most important truths we can grasp is that comparing ourselves to others is the surest way to become unhappy.
Like most people, I bought into the standard script that most of us were raised to follow. Go to school, get a degree, get a good job, make money and buy the things that show you are a success. This is the authorized script that Madison Avenue uses to sell billions of dollars of advertising each year.
The problem here is that it can reduce our lives to mindless consumerism and a futile quest to keep up with the Jones. Short term gratification that is inseparably connected to long term discontent is not happiness.
If life is primarily about acquiring material goods, doesn’t it seems a little ironic that they must all be left behind at death?
Enduring happiness is found in seeking out and discovering the unique sense of purpose to our lives and then using it to have real impact on the world around us.
This requires that we resist the urge to blend into the masses and instead become the most authentic version of ourselves possible. This means that we have to be willing to strive and overcome in order to turn our weaknesses into strengths.
Doing this will attract opposition and criticism from others. These are not things to be feared. They are evidence that you are having impact.
People who are not making a difference are in no danger of being vilified. As Aristotle counseled:
To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.
If your purpose is drawing you down a path that gives meaning to your life, you’ve already won the toughest battle. What other people think of you isn’t important.
The only time they have power to afflict you is when you start to accept their opinions.
What you do with this information is up to you. You’ve likely learned many truths yourself.
Consider sharing them.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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