Tag Archives: Aging

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger

(Image/financeandmortgage.com)

(Image/financeandmortgage.com)

I heard a car alarm going off while exiting the mall.

I’d have ignored it like I do most car alarms, but I was still on high alert from a previous car break-in in the not-too-distant past. I had left a large shoebox with about 70 compact discs in plain sight on the floor behind the passenger seat. I had also failed to remove the detachable face from my car’s CD player. Someone broke a window and stole them.

It was the first time I’d ever really felt violated. It’s a unique sort of anger. I replaced the broken window, the CD deck and about two-thirds of the CDs with insurance money and my father’s generosity.

Then, not long after that on my 17th birthday, my mom and stepdad took me to dinner and then the mall to buy me gifts. I realized while walking out into the mall parking lot that the car alarm I heard was mine.

My walk turned into a run.

Sitting in my passenger seat with my car door open was some asshole trying to yank the CD unit from my front dash, and my fight-or-flightometer was firmly set on fight.

Arms spread wide and displaying the universal sign language for Tough Guy® I yelled: “What the fuck, man?!” and just kept coming. I had every intention of slamming my heavy 1986 Buick Regal car door into him over and over again, but this guy was spry.

He jumped out and pulled a knife. It wasn’t a hardcore Crocodile Dundee knife, but it wasn’t some wimpy punk knife you wanted shoved into your gut either.

The switch flipped on the fight-or-flightometer, and I backed up. Dude ran away. My stepdad chased him, presumably less afraid of being gutted than I was. I always thought that was awesome, but only because he didn’t get stabbed. Later, I ID’ed the guy to police detectives from a series of photos at the police station. Maybe that guy is dead or in prison now. Or maybe he reads this blog and remembers that night (Hey man!).

Standing in my father’s kitchen with all four of my parents, my dad totally ripped my ass, which he almost never did. After going through all of that trouble with the police and insurance and him spending more money so that I could have my stupid (but awesome at the time!) car stereo that drove all the neighbors crazy, I had left a detachable face on the CD deck and more CDs just laying around in my car like a Welcome sign for thieves.

He was pissed. So I spent the evening of my 17th birthday, getting a verbal ass-kicking from my dad in front of all four of my parents who were pretty much never in the same room at the same time.

I totally deserved it, too.

(Listen to this song on repeat for the rest of the time you’re on this page, please.)

I turn 37 tomorrow.

For the same reason I left that detachable CD player face on even though I’d already had it stolen once, and the same reason I foolishly sprinted up to some stranger where I could have easily been shot and killed, I don’t know that there’s ANYTHING you could have told me 20 years ago that would have kept me from (stubbornly) “needing” to figure things out on my own—often the hard way.

I tell my young son 100-percent of the time we’re eating together to eat over his plate so crumbs and sauces and whatever fall on his plate and not on his shirt, lap, or the floor.

And pretty much 100-percent of the time, he gets crap all over his clothes and the floor. Because, almost certainly to his mother’s chagrin, he’s a little bit like his father.

But what if I could somehow get Doc Brown to fire up that old DeLorean time machine and hand-deliver it to myself in 1996? Wouldn’t I pay attention then? Probably not. But let’s pretend I would to eliminate some of the pointlessness from this exercise.

If I had to give the gift of knowledge and wisdom to a young man oblivious to his need for it in the form of a time-warped letter, what would I write?

A Letter to Myself on my 17th Birthday

3-24-2016

Dear Matt,

Happy birthday, dude! I really wanted to come back to ’96 and just have a nice sit-down talk with you, but Doc was all “blah-blah-blah… time paradox… blah-blah-blah… space-time continuum… blah-blah-blah… destruction of universe…” so I was like: “Fine, Doc. Whatever. Give him this letter AFTER you tell him he’s a 37-year-old divorced single father who lives alone, works in an office cubicle for 40-plus hours per week, and doesn’t smoke or even drink often to help manage the shame. It’ll probably go over his head because I was kind of a dipshit at 17.”

Sorry I said that. But you really are kind of a dipshit. You get solid grades and have an excellent vocabulary so you fake everyone (and yourself) out. But you’re totally dumb. This isn’t unique to your teenage years. You’re actually a moron all the way through your twenties.

Intellectually and maturity-wise, turning 30 is really good for you. But sadly, that’s also when a bunch of bad personal-life things will start happening, and since you fake being smart instead of actually being smart, your entire life is going to fall apart. Like, clinically depressed, fall apart. Like, have a few things in common with suicidal people, fall apart.

Today, you have no idea who or what you want to be. You see all these other kids who are going to go off to college knowing their career path. You see people who seem focused and disciplined and who seem to genuinely crave knowledge.

You sometimes wonder what’s wrong with you because you don’t know what you want to do with your life. You don’t know why you never seem to be able to maintain long-term attention and focus. You don’t understand why all of these other people want to learn things. School’s boring. You just want a job that helps you pay the bills so you can get to that next weekend party. Living for the weekend.

But now you have a secret weapon. The knowledge of what you WILL want. I’m going to tell you what some of those things are, how you can have them, and a few bonus secrets, too. You’re welcome.

There Are No Shortcuts

There’s only the long way. But here’s something awesome I didn’t expect at 17: Today feels the same as Today did in 1996. I know 37 sounds totally old to you. But it doesn’t feel old when you’re in the moment. The 20 years between your Today and my Today is more than enough time to master everything you want to master, even after learning what I’m about to tell you.

You Have Something Called ADHD

You’ll hear a lot about it later. You’ll think it’s made up. People will tell you it’s a fake thing Big Pharma is pushing to sell drugs to kids. And maybe it is! One of the best things about being 37 is that you’ll get really comfortable with the idea of uncertainty. It’s totally okay to not know things! Pursue knowledge. Pursue truth. Try your best. Learn about ADHD and how to manage it. That will help you with everything you do, and your relationships with everyone you meet.

You Value Money Too Much

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all. It’s nice to have. I’m just saying you rank it above most other things, and it’s a really bad idea. You should put most of your energy into the most important things. If you had a billion dollars, and then you found out you had brain cancer, would it matter that you were a billionaire? When your health is poor—mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally—everything in your life falls apart, and there aren’t enough dollars to fix it. Which brings us to…

College (Fresh out of High School) is Overrated

Not only is it overrated, there are some fields in which attending college can be demonstrably proven to be a bad financial proposition. It’s not your fault. In 1996, it seems like only the kids with no future skip college. The losers. And the conventional wisdom is you need a bachelor’s degree to get a professional job. But it’s a big lie everyone believes and I can’t figure out why. Some fields of study lend themselves to higher education. Law. Medicine. Engineering.

But pretty much everything else? You’re paying tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that says you learned things that if you drank enough beer, you didn’t actually learn.

At 37, I’ve had three full-time jobs following college graduation, NONE of which benefitted from me attending college.

I’m NOT saying be a burnout loser. I’m NOT saying don’t learn things. But I AM saying don’t take on a bunch of debt for a crappy four-year degree after classes you won’t remember and having acquired zero useful life skills or valuable knowledge.

Instead, read every book you can on the subjects which genuinely interest you, and then spend 40 hours per week actively practicing a skill or attempting to create something in your field of interest, instead of sitting in expensive classes that won’t help.

Because you’re you, it will take you five years to earn your bachelor’s degree and cost a small fortune.

You can get 10,000 hours experience (a time length generally accepted as achieving expertise at any given thing) by putting in 40-hour weeks for 4.8 years. Guess how many 22-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees are experts at anything other than bong hits and using coin-laundry machines?

You’re Not the Only One Who Thinks and Feels That

About what? About anything. You have thoughts and feelings and fears and questions and beliefs, and you never talk about them with anyone because it feels safer to keep it a secret. Maybe you’re afraid your friends won’t be friends with you. Maybe you’re afraid your parents won’t love you. Maybe you’re afraid you’re a freak, and if everyone figures out who the real you is, they’ll all laugh at you, and you’ll die alone and celibate with no friends.

EVERYONE else is ALSO thinking and feeling those same kinds of things. That’s an awesome life secret. Don’t be a fake version of yourself in order to win the approval of your friends, or family, or people you know from back home, or for girls you meet. No one will like the fake version of you any more than the real version.

Just be yourself, no matter what, and enjoy the absence of insecurity that comes from being surrounded by people who love and accept you as you are. Changes your whole life.

You’ll Have to Change Your Eating Habits and Exercise Regularly to Maintain Your Shape

One day, your metabolism slows, and you’ll gain weight. You’ll have to exercise even though you’ll no longer compete in organized athletics. When you do so in the morning, you will feel really good all day long, and you’ll look better, and the combination of those two things will improve your confidence and performance in everything you do. Which is good.

Write Down 10 Ideas Every Day

You’re going to discover a writer you really like named James Altucher. He preaches this, and it’s because he’s really smart. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the ideas are. The point is simply to habitually be able to come up with new ideas all the time. When you’re 37, the superpower you wish you could have is the ability to quickly come up with several viable solutions to ANY problem as needed. It’s how you help people. It’s how you make money. It’s how you improve at things. It’s how you do anything. You think of something that may or may not have been tried before. Then you figure out how to execute it. Then you give it a try and see what works and what doesn’t. Repeat the good stuff. Avoid the bad. The applications for your ability to generate new ideas are limitless.

Human Beings Weren’t Designed to Sit in Office Cubicles and Take Things So Seriously

You’re pretty good with people. You have a lot of friends. It’s one of the best things about you. Don’t let the world tell you that you should abandon the love you have for your friends and the joy you feel from social connectivity because “it’s time to grow up.” If you meet a girl and she wants you to abandon your social life for her because she wants no part of it, you run. You’ll never make it with anyone who doesn’t share your values. You need not be ashamed of valuing fun and your social network. It matters so much more than money ever will.

You will learn SO MUCH about romantic relationships and about yourself over these next two decades.

Don’t Marry Until the Day You Love Someone More Than Yourself

If you’re wondering whether she’ll make you happy, she won’t. Making you happy is your job. If you WANT to make her happy, you’re on the right track. Marriage isn’t for you.

Marriage is harder than you think, no matter how many people told you it was going to be “work.” It’s hard to be afraid of what you don’t know. But I hope you’ll believe that you should be. Fear is generally bad. A healthy fear of divorce is wise.

It’s hard to understand that being a good person is not the same thing as being a good husband or a good father.

When you’re young, you don’t realize something VERY important: Your brain is hardwired to feel bored when you do any one thing too long, or when you fall into routine and familiarity. It’s not just you. It’s every person in the world. It’s called hedonic adaptation, and it’s probably responsible for most divorce, feelings of depression, sexual affairs and addictions. If everyone knew about this, we’d all stop looking for the bigger, better deal all the time and ruining our relationships and destroying our chance at contentment on our never-ending pursuits of happiness we never achieve.

So, no matter how gorgeous, fun, kind, smart, sexy your wife is, you will get used to her like all other good things in your life you take for granted (health, income, safety, shelter, transportation, etc.). Make it a daily habit to feel gratitude for the good things in your life and major discontentment will never set in.

People who do whatever they “feel” like will never have healthy relationships, will never pay bills, or hold down jobs, or take care of children, or accomplish anything, EVER. We succeed when we rise above our feelings and make good choices. Some days you will feel “in love” in your marriage. Other days you will not. If every couple who didn’t feel “in love” got divorced, 100-percent of marriages would end in divorce. Never forget this: Love is a choice.

Lastly, there’s a word you don’t quite understand. You’ve just heard adults use it. It’s probably the most important word you can ever fully understand as an adult if you like healthy relationships and a low-drama lifestyle.

The word is: Empathy.

It sounds a little feely and bullshit to you. I get that. You know what else feels like bullshit? Divorce. So shut up and pay attention.

You’re alive and you think things. You look around and you see the world, and you react to others and life events based on all of the things that have happened to you from birth until right now.

This is very important. Every other person on Earth thinks and feels differently than you. Sometimes what they think and feel will conflict with your thoughts and feelings. This is okay. People disagree all the time, and often work things out.

Sometimes, something happens, and it feels like a HUGE deal to you and you can’t figure out why someone else doesn’t feel the same. Other times, something happens, and someone else makes a HUGE deal out of it, but you don’t get it because it’s not on your radar or doesn’t impact your life.

You’ll accidentally rub strangers the wrong way once in a while in situations like this. Fine. Whatever. Just try to be polite.

But here’s the really scary part: You’ll also accidentally upset those closest to you in situations like this. Like your girlfriend or wife. They’ll TELL you. And you STILL won’t recognize the gravity of the situation.

I know you don’t get it. She likes Reba McEntire’s music, and you think it’s absolute GARBAGE. And then when you say so in a chiding, not-particularly-serious way, she acts super-butt-hurt about it and you can’t figure out why. You think she’s overreacting and you’ll say so.

She’ll want you to apologize for hurting her feelings.

But since apologizing is tantamount to admitting fault, you won’t do it. You did nothing wrong! She freaked out like a crazy person. If anyone owes anyone an apology, she owes me!, you think.

You will KNOW that you’re in the right and she’s in the wrong.

You’ll know it because your heart tells you that you love her, and that it’s totally insane to conclude that your repeated mocking of Reba McEntire music is a punishable crime.

Every time a situation like this arises, you will argue your well-thought-out and honest point. You will see her anger and frustration grow. You’ll hold your ground because you’re certain she’ll eventually come around to your mature, emotionally stable and intelligent point of view.

And then one day, she’ll leave you. Over something as seemingly benign as a dish left by the sink.

You’ll be taken by surprise. First, by the move, then by how miserably broken and lost you feel. It’s hard to breathe sometimes when it REALLY hurts. It’s not something you’ve ever had to deal with. You’ll be terrified because you didn’t know the human body could feel like that. Joyless. Totally defeated.

Then you’ll go on living, and all around you everyone else is pretty normal. They laugh at jokes and do fun things on the weekend. You’re on the brink of a breakdown, and a constant threat to cry. (I know! CRY! Like in front of people. It’s wild.)

How is it possible, I can feel like THIS while they’re right there feeling like THAT?

BOOM.

Two people. Same situation. Two RADICALLY different experiences.

Empathy.

Things happen to other people that affect them emotionally in profound ways. You won’t always understand because the event didn’t affect you at all.

How healthy your relationships are, and how happy your life turns out will hinge predominantly on your ability to care about things that affect people in your life—not because they impact you emotionally, nor because you are naturally interested in whatever the subjects are—but because the people you love care about them.

On its own, this wouldn’t matter to me. But this matters very much to her. I love her. She matters very much to me. Therefore, I care about the thing, too. It now matters to me BECAUSE it matters to her.

That’s it, kid.

That’s your birthday present. You don’t understand how important it is, and if you work a little bit, you may never have to because all of your relationships can be mostly healthy, and free of pain and drama. That would be awesome for all involved.

It’s the little things that can change everything. Some crap like Reba McEntire. Or even just dirty dishes.

Now, go play your Alice in Chains and The Fugees, then don’t forget to remove the detachable face when you’re done.

Happy birthday.

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Our Souvenirs

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

The little bedroom down the hall from ours was a nice yellow. We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl.

I thought we were going to have a daughter. But she always knew. I think sometimes mothers just know.

There was a crib in the corner. A gender-neutral green bumper wrapped around it. A moon-and-stars mobile dangled over the empty space waiting for the most important thing that would ever happen to us.

That mobile was the first baby thing we bought. We used a gift card because we couldn’t afford anything else from Pottery Barn.

She made curtains. There was new carpet. She made a chair cover for this crappy old recliner I’d kept from college which we were going to use as a late-night rocking chair. A changing table was stocked with wipes and diapers and baby things.

I’d just sit in there sometimes in that old chair, looking around. I understood things were going to change, but you can’t ever be ready for it. I’m going to be a father.

In that moment, you have no idea that life is just happening.

That nothing lasts forever.

I live in the only house our little family owned.

After she left, I thought about leaving, but I’m poorly equipped to handle a project of that magnitude alone, and my little son (Surprise, it’s a boy!) said he wanted to stay. In a world spinning with chaos and change, his little five-year-old voice was my anchor.

“I want to keep our house, daddy.”

Okay, son. Okay.

My bedroom was our bedroom. Other than the mess I sometimes leave on the floor, it totally looks like a married couple’s room. No self-respecting bachelor would have used these colors.

I have an extra dresser now. It’s larger than my own. I use one of the drawers for t-shirts.

I have an extra closet now. There are books and luggage in there. I had to walk in it this morning to find a backpack. This little piece of the world that used to be one way and now it’s something else.

I wonder sometimes whether people who grow up in really difficult conditions and find ways to escape to live safe, pleasant, successful lives experience nostalgia much differently than those fortunate enough to grow up in relative safety and comfort.

Maybe when they close their eyes and go back in time, the only thing they feel is pain and sadness so they never feel it because they’re so happy it’s today.

Our triggers aren’t always predictable.

That feeling that I’m not sure words can describe. The one we feel when we rifle though old photo albums. The one we feel when we walk the halls of our old high school. The one we feel when we revisit spots where meaningful life events took place. The one we feel swapping stories at funerals. The one you can sometimes feel standing in an empty closet in your own bedroom.

We are all so young and fearless because few bad things have happened to us. Too ignorant and too innocent to be afraid.

Our grandparents are maybe a little boring because they’re old.

Our parents are a drag because they never let us do what we want.

Our siblings are annoying because they’re always in the way.

School is the worst because 3 p.m. is NEVER going to get here and I’m never going to use this shit anyway!

Our hometowns are prisons.

Our friends are great, but they’ll always be there!

Our relationships are stale because everyone finally stops pretending and no one tells us how hard it is. When the kids come. When your friends start having marriage problems. When you run into financial hardship.

When people die.

Nothing lasts forever.

When my father-in-law died, I was at the house helping out. There’s a deck out back surrounded by woods. That’s where she and I ate dinner the first time I’d ever visited the house. It was the same deck where I drank beer with one of my best friends the night before the wedding having a What does it all mean? conversation. Where my parents met her parents for the first time.

It was the backyard where she and her brother grew up playing their entire lives.

Where I’d watched my little boy be a little boy. Where I imagined him evolving into a big boy.

Then it was gone.

I stood back there crying. She came around the house and caught me. “Are you okay?”

Sure, I’m okay. Just sentimental. Just learning for the first time how unexpected loss feels. Just realizing for the first time how fragile it all is. Just digesting: Things will never be the same after this.

We were so young.

Playing at the playground. Fishing with grandpa. Taking the school trip to Washington D.C. Putting on football pads. Kissing the girl behind the bleachers. Driving just to drive. Partying too much in college. Moving far away. Proposing. Getting married. Having children.

We had no idea that life was just happening.

What is that feeling? Why does it feel good and bad? Our hearts swell when we time travel. Then sink as we mourn the losses of all those great times.

It’s powerful.

It’s why you’re reading this sentence if you made it this far.

It’s why you Share a Coke with Rachael.

It’s why you hope the next high school reunion might feel more like the good old days than that awkward and shitty one you went to five or 10 years ago.

It why we try to recreate fun times from our past and are often disappointed when they fail to measure up.

It’s why tears sometimes fall while watching things that are supposed to be distracting us from real life, instead of evoking it.

I know what that feels like and then we get lumps in our throats and hope no one else notices.

She asked me to get some things out of storage. Baby things we’d kept because maybe there would be another child someday.

There wasn’t. There was a garage sale and it was time to let it go.

I pulled out old toys. I remember these.

Booster seats, and bouncy chairs, all with the teeniest piece of my heart etched in them because a version of the person I love most used to sit right there and play with that thing and fill me with hope.

In one of the bags was the mobile. It had cost about $50 and was the first present we ever bought for our son, making it worth millions.

Someone was probably going to pay $2 for it.

I kind of felt like crying again, but I didn’t. I’m tougher now. I don’t really care about baby stuff I never see and rarely think about stored out of sight in my house. It’s much better that some nice family has them.

You don’t miss the things, really.

You don’t even long for the past.

But you miss something. Some intangible thing you’re always grabbing for like falling water, capturing trace amounts because that’s all we get to keep. Fragments.

All we get to keep is this feeling. This thing reminding us we’re still alive and to live today because yesterday’s gone.

This feeling—these moments—these are our souvenirs.

So that we know it really happened. And that now, something else will.

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The Things That Matter

13599-Memories

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.

He had just learned she was dying of cancer.

His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.

Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.

No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.

He can’t speak.

She says: “I know.”

And we know that she does.

This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.

And they both remember those times.

The things that matter.

A Letter from my Grandmother

I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.

I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.

I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.

I think most of us are too afraid.

To go on that adventure.

To give up the day job.

To kiss the girl.

To dance.

To leap.

We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.

And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.

I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.

I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.

That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.

That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.

My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.

She wrote me a letter.

Dear Matt,

Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.

The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.

I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.

As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.

Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.

Just know we love you and always will. 

Grandma and Grandpa

How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?

We won’t always know while it’s happening.

But I think one day we will.

I think, one day, we’ll just know.

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A License to Live

“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper.”

Within the first week of getting my driver’s license in 1995, I let a woman with two children in her backseat who had just crashed into my rear driver’s-side quarter panel drive off without calling the police or making an insurance claim, and I ran the front-right corner of my car into the back-left corner of a high school classmate’s car while backing out of my parking space at school.

No one had ever told me what to do in a car accident. It was probably only my third or fourth time driving alone. I was just worried about the kids. They were fine. I figured I’d drive home and my parents would make an insurance claim.

Doesn’t work that way, it turned out.

Oops.

My classmate Jill was in her car next to me when I backed my car out and spun the wheel too fast without clearing the front while leaving school my sophomore year.

I scratched her paint pretty significantly. She was really cool about it. I was really embarrassed.

“Les, that license in your wallet, that’s not an ordinary piece of paper. That is a driver’s license. And it’s not only a driver’s license. It’s an automobile license. And it’s not only an automobile license. It’s a license to live, a license to be free, a license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose.” — Dean, License to Drive

Freedom. That’s what turning 16 and getting my driver’s license represented. Next to moving out of my parents’ house and into my college dorm room, nothing in life has ever rivaled the taste of freedom one feels behind the wheel.

I made the mistake with the mom who crashed into me because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I made the steering mistake while backing the car out of the parking space at school because that was literally the first time I’d ever backed out of a parking spot with cars on either side of me.

I hope it goes without saying that neither situation has come even close to happening again. I’m generally pretty good at not making the same mistake twice.

20 Years Later

At 4:37 a.m. Central Time tomorrow, I turn 36.

There are so many parallels between that time in my life and where I now find myself. Rapid change is occurring. I find myself in uncharted life territory with so many new experiences to have and life lessons to learn.

Freedom.

Not freedom I wanted or asked for. But freedom, all the same.

What are you going to do with it, middle-aged guy?

That’s the question we all have to answer about the precious time we have. I mean, maybe I’ll live to be 80. I hope so. But I might not. A heart beat seems like a fickle thing. Many people younger than me have had them stop without warning.

What are you going to do with the time?

One of my favorite writers Austin Kleon always reads a few New York Times obituaries every morning. About the lives of people who don’t have a today or tomorrow to plan for.

He doesn’t do it to be morbid. He does it to every.single.day remember to live. We all have an hourglass constantly getting emptier with no knowledge of how much sand remains in the upper half.

Today better count.

Learn more. Do more. Be more.

Not later. Now.

The divorce changed everything. It’s because divorce changes everything. A little good. A lot bad.

All the sand in the bottom of the hourglass is just going to sit there now. Days that already happened. Will never matter again. Can’t matter anymore because the sand never flows upward, even if we shake it up a lot.

After divorce or some other traumatic life event, you’re just trying to tread water. Just trying to stay alive.

But it’s nearly two years later now. Life can no longer be about treading water. Now, it’s got to be about choosing a direction and going that way. About lifting the sail and steering as best I can.

I’m a little like that 16-year-old again. Capable, but unsure. Bound for mistakes and missteps. But climbing toward good things. Always climbing.

Because this birthday isn’t an ordinary birthday.

It’s my 36th birthday.

And it’s not just my 36th birthday.

It’s the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

And it’s not just the 20-year anniversary of freedom.

It’s a license to live. A license to be free.

A license to go wherever, whenever and with whomever I choose.

Let’s go.

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