Middle Age Optimism

Now that I’m coming out of the stage of life that has been a major focus for that past several months (getting debt free), there are other things that I’ve been itching to write about. Financial rightness is certainly a component of a well-loved and well-lived life, but it is one component; it’s certainly not the end-all-be-all.

Life has foundational pillars; necessary substrates that we gather and erect to support and create a fulfilling and satisfying time here in this realm. There is no one right mix. Too much of one and not enough of another can topple the structure of our life. Each person can and will have a different life-pillar support arrangement; some smaller, some larger, but my contention is that there are some common ones. I’m on a mission to label the pillars and get them upright and justified in my life.

Health is a significant pillar. It’s not something that I paid much attention to when I was younger, for obvious reasons. I was bullet-proof when I was young(er). I ate things and drank things and did things that might put me under the covers for a day or a week now. I don’t recover as fast as I used to. I’m teaching myself new ways to maintain fitness and well-being, and as a long time trainer, weight lifter, and strong guy, it’s tough sometimes to talk myself through new (lighter) strategies. Tough, but still fun.

Purpose is another major pillar and also one that I didn’t give much thought to when I was younger. Purpose? I worked. I loved my family. I paid my bills. I went on vacation. I was the drummer. The cycle repeated. It’s not that I felt I was lacking purpose, it just wasn’t anything I thought about. It’s a major one now as I look forward to solid support for the 3rd act of life.

Faith is one of my big life-pillars. I like knowing that I’m not It, I’m not Him, He gets a big kick out of me, and I’m part of Something alot bigger than me.

Optimism has been on my mind and heart these days as a life-pillar. Among it’s definitions, it’s an overall attitude of belief or hope that life in general will be positive, favorable, fulfilling, desirable (and fun). It can be called different things: hope, expectancy, anticipation, enthusiasm, gusto, positivity, zest.

Whatever it’s labeled, I’ve met people with it and people without it. I’ve met positive people that brighten the room and cynical people that suck the light and life out of it.

Being cynical is an easy trap to fall into. We don’t want to get too far out over our skis lest the landing not go as planned. There’s drama in being cynical, and there’s power in drama. Cynicism can be a safety measure, a protection. It can create a “Hey look at me and how hard I’m battling against life; it must mean that I’m important.”

Let’s face it, “My day was blessed and fantastic,” is not nearly as dramatic or intriguing as “Oh my God, you won’t believe the day I had.”

I talked to my mom yesterday afternoon. I call my mom about 5 times a week. She’s 83 and lives in Maine and told me the cardiologist said she has “extra heartbeats.” She’s scheduled for a heart surgery this week and might need a stent. She doesn’t see the point and thinks extra heartbeats should not be a concern.

After we hung up I thought what a magnificent time to be on the planet when doctors can roto-rooter your heart and give you back quality of life.

I’m not advocating for not being honest when life becomes a bumpy ride. Serious things happen and they suck.
I am advocating for refusing to succumb to a negative perspective.

My dad was cynical. He still can be. That alone might cause extra heartbeats. Every bright hope had potential awfulness, every adventure more risk than reward, which he was quick to articulate.
I resist that with every fiber on my being.

So this morning, as the sun overtakes the foothills and the coffee is hot, I needed to write an ode to optimism. To me, optimism is like air and an absolute must-have life-pillar. It might not be in metrical form, but my ode is certainly full of enthusiastic emotion, and I might even make up a song (sorry neighbors).

I started my day at 6am in the hot tub. Rachel is home sick and I thought I’d better quick disinfect myself. While in the hot tub, I sent two emails, watched a jet with 250+ people fly overhead into a great new exciting day, ordered and started a book, watched an early morning hawk, ordered a movie for the weekend, checked my calendar, did my hot-tub-yoga-stretches, prayed, and checked the agendas for two meetings.

How awesome is life?

After I got out of the hot tub I spent a few minutes in my part-time living room. It’s a cool place and allows for a different environment while still having access to all things professional. Sometimes ideas flow better when I change environments. I can get a new perspective on a challenge that I’m overcoming. It even has a glass conference room (I sit at the head of the table).

How even awesomer is life?

After that I crossed the parking lot and came back to the condo. The sun had just crested and our little home was almost blinding in the morning sunlight.
I was suddenly overcome with gratitude.
I let it take me and thought about how much I love my life.

I have so much to be thankful for.

I love and am loved.
I have great friends that set a high bar.
I have a good bed and a good pillow.
I am warm, safe, well fed, and healthy.
I love my 30 year old mountain bike.
I love the way we give.
The Patriots are 5-0.
I love sitting on the balcony at the end of the day with a fresh martini (gin of course) and reflecting.
My phone is waterproof if I move really quickly.
The morning sunlight pours into our home and makes me emotional.
I love my work and my team and every once in awhile feel like I really made a difference.
I love Sunday nights and Al Michaels’ voice and homemade french bread pizza.
I have a new red couch and a glass coffee table and I put my feet up and watch cool things when I can get the rabbit ears right.
I love my morning chores and learning new ways to make the bed.
My garage door goes up and down with a button.
I have a garage.

I never want to miss the little things.
There are no little things.

I’m going to continue to invest in optimism and keep surrounding myself with optimistic people. Why would anyone not?

I’m standing that life-pillar up and cementing it in place for ever.
I’m willing to bet it helps support a really fantastic life.




Be Careful What You Take in

As I move onto my latter 50’s (ok, geeze, 58 in September), I continue to marvel at my phone (little things that aren’t so little, huh?). My Google Pixel is a 5″x3″ portal to the planet: libraries, pictures, people, weather, news, work, stocks, directions, answers, movies, games, and adventures (Oh, yeah, it makes calls too). I’m pretty sure my kids, born into a world of ubiquitous technology, don’t get it.

The morning was like most: drag out around 6, coffee-shuffle to the hot tub, song birds, gorgeous Idaho sunrise, ducks in flight, and the phone held carefully (it’s gone in twice but still keeps working). I planned to catch up on some of the blogs that I follow like The Retirement Manifesto and ESI Money. They’re really good. 

After the blogs, I checked the Facebook to see if I had earned any Likes on some barefoot lawn pics I posted the day before. Nope. But I did notice a post in my feed from a group that focused on remembering the 70’s. In the fun post pic the Osmond brothers were dancing with Cher. The bait worked (like you could resist sequined bell bottoms and yes I was being task avoidant about work).

One of the posts on the site was someone starting a Who Remembers These thread. Despite the misspellings and bad punctuation (seems to be the hallmarks of my generation), I became a 1970’s kid again: HR PufnStuf (that witch still freaks me out), Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman (Bob landed a lunker!), Dark Shadows (that music still freaks me out), electric can openers, a Rupp minibike, clothing styles from the period (man could I rock that white denim suit), and even a music video (Living Next Door to Alice. If you Google it, that’s on you). I suddenly remembered why my kids laugh at me. 

I was having fun and laughing out loud (in the hot tub. Sorry neighbors). A bit further down the page someone asked what advice would you give to the 13-year-old-you if you could go back in time. Fun idea! I was expecting things like buying Apple and Microsoft stock, being careful about teen drinking, keeping dad’s ’73 Charger, listening to parents more, and keeping the puka shell necklace (what? I was a stud in that!).

But that’s not what I read. That’s not what I read at all. 

It would have been impossible (and psychologically damaging) to review all of the 1,273 responses, but I read quite a few until I realized I had stopped laughing and was getting depressed.

While there were some light and insightful answers like wishing they’d kissed the girl or been nice to the fat kid or been less shy or focused on education or told mom they loved her more, those types of responses were actually pretty scarce.

Most of the replies were angry, cynical, and dark:

Run from the bitch and never look back.
Never get married, ever.
Men are jerks.
Never trust a woman, she’ll take everything you have. And your kids.
Teachers were wrong, there is no good life waiting.

He was the worst mistake of my life and ruined it.
I would change everything.  Life is hard and there is no rainbow.

It went on and on. 

I stopped reading. I felt a little sick. Some fun person had asked a fun question. It should have been fun. I had wanted it to be fun. Maybe I could even find a cool quote and capture it for my day. What I thought would be an insightful look at the past with my peers turned into a reading of bitterness. 

I made the mistake (slow learner here) of tracing some of the more spitting comments back to the headwaters. Wow, these were some angry people. Angry at just about anything you could think of: politics, climate, animals, genders, tourists, culture, the past, the future, and the unknown enigmatic “they” for causing all of the disappointment, underachievement, unfairness, and mistreatment.

I finally closed it. Even work was more fun that this. I sank down in the warm water and reoriented myself. That was dumb of me. Dumb to keep reading and dumb to take it in. No Generation Groovy, teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, Doobies (no, the singing group. Really?) or peace signs. I de-hot tubbed and headed in to do my chores. Morning chores make me feel better; like I’ve done something good.

The Facebook post reminded me of something(s): I need to get better at staying away from pessimistic, cynical people. I need to get better at surrounding myself with bright, optimistic, energetic, witty, purposed people (hello Mesa!). I need to be more vigilant about what I let inside. I become what I take in.

I’m becoming more aware (and less tolerant) of people that trade fun and energetic conversation for a trip down Awfulness Avenue. The people that can more quickly list the wrongs than the rights and are better at feasting at the table of doom than offering hopeful solutions or recommendations. The people that complain about the free lunches at the free conference and the ones that know we must be in the end times because it’s never been this bad (Ummm…what?) and the ones that just. can’t. shut up. about politics and the ones that for whatever reason just can’t be happy (and yes I know that was one giant run-on sentence).

Those people leave me wanting a scrubby shower and a drink (not necessarily in the order. Or maybe both at the same time).

Sure life is challenging and there are some awful things that happen. There are real dangers and bad people and bad places. That’s just the truth of life on the planet; it always has been and it’s always going to be.

Sure there are things we could have done better. We’ve all looked back and sucked our teeth (probably could have handled that a little differently) over things we should have (or not have) done. They’re on our timeline forever. We can’t un-ring a bell. We Imperfects bang around and crash in to people and make messes.

But we can choose to focus forward, learn a lesson, look up, hope for good, apologize, forgive, and be better. We can re-think, re-frame, reconsider, and grant the benefit of the doubt. We can seek higher ground and a better outcome. We can let it go. Stop looking back. Move into the sun. We can. We should. We owe that to ourselves. Maybe it’s not easy, but it’s better for us.

We have tremendous and crazy access to the world, but it’s not without risk, as I’m learning. Technology can bring good to our lives if we choose it. There is so much positive content, good music, fun games, and quality social media that can enhance life. Technology can also bring us incessant sensationalized news, the push to be globally aware every second, endless polarizing social and political issues; it’s easier than ever to perseverate on the negative or become a back in my day-er (I gave Rachel the ok to hit me with the kayak paddle if I ever say that). It’s all in how we use it, or in how we allow it to use us.

Not everything written needs to be read; not everything spoken needs to be heard. Solomon advised that it’s most important to guard our hearts (and eyes and ears), because it’s where our life comes from (he seems like a pretty smart dude). I need to be more vigilant about protecting my optimism; it’s where my energy comes from. It’s too easy as we age to become cynical, or fearful, or grumpy (or to get whacked with a kayak paddle). I’m much better than I used to be at being optimistic and it’s good to keep reminding myself how awesome life is.

After this morning, I’m going to be more careful about what I take in on social media, and faster to hit the x. Social media and technology is a knife that cuts both ways and should be handled as such. I’m going to be better at directing negative thoughts and conversations towards the positive.

Life is sweet. I love and am loved. My job is way cool. I have good family. We have big dreams. I can pedal really fast for an hour on the spin bike. I read good blogs that have pictures of people with big smiles. My life is richer than any pharaoh or king or Caesar that ever lived (even without the puka shell necklace). People are good and they’re doing good things. Life is good, and more good is coming.

Thanks for reading. If you comment, it damn well better be cheery.