Forty two years ago today, I entered this world. My dad was probably the happiest man on Earth considering he was forty-eight and had left his first wife because she was afraid of dying in childbirth. My first night that I was brought home, I slept in a chest of drawers drawer because my crib wasn’t ready.
We lived in the woods, in the middle of nowhere on property that had been in my family for a couple generations. Some of my kin folk still live near there, on Cleghorn Drive. It seems so far away. So long ago.
I was a fat baby with huge rolls. I’m told that I was extremely inquisitive and walked and talked very early. My mother was much younger than my father, by nineteen years. This foretold…problems later in life.
As most of you know, my dad has been dead now since 2007. Most of my life has been trying to apply lessons that he tried to teach me, and making him proud. People tell me that he would be proud of me and I know they mean well, but I don’t always feel that way. It’s hard not knowing. You just can’t call them up and ask them, any more.
But this post was meant to share all the things that I wish that I could have told my 21 year old self. 21 years ago today, I turned 21. The world was my oyster. I thought I knew everything but really, I didn’t know much. I didn’t know much about the world, and worse, I didn’t know much about myself.
Go outside and view sunsets and sunrises
When I was 21, I was lucky to not still be drinking at the time of sunrise. I never saw them. I never cared to look, or distinguish between a beautiful one, or the mundane. There is magic in the rise of the sun. Every day. My favorite part is five minutes before sunrise when it actually gets darker than it was before. It’s awesome.
I never saw them. Sad.
Put down the alcohol and drink water
I was never a HUGE drinker. Sure I drank a lot in the Army and some in college. But I sure wish that back then, I had drank less, drank more water, ate better, exercised more, took care of my body. When I was young and could have gotten into the best shape of my life, I didn’t. Now, stuff hurts, stuff I didn’t even know could hurt, hurts. Then I was damn near invincible. Or at least I thought I was.
Save more for retirement
I remember thinking that who in the hell would want to ride in an RV, much less BUY one? Those are for OLD people. Well, yeah, now that I am old, I want one. Badly. I was so eager to get to work that I failed to contemplate the me that really wouldn’t want to work anymore. Which is now.
Don’t pick short term happiness over long term contentment
Pretty self explanatory.
Prioritize career happiness over financial mobility
I started out my college career as a Pre-Med student. All my life, I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a pediatrician. Then, at the first sign of adversity, I quit. I wasn’t disciplined enough at the time to go through what that took. Sad but true. But then I compounded my mistake by choosing a career that would chain me to an office desk. Because at 21, I thought that it was ‘lesser’ to work outside. What a fool, I was.
The desk has come to symbolize for me a ball and chain and a death sentence. I want SO BADLY to be working outside. I ALMOST majored in Forestry, as Auburn had an excellent program. Every day, I regret not doing so. Kids, ensure your long term happiness and the money will somehow work out. Unless it won’t and then you can regroup. Money is not everything.
So if you’re still reading you may be thinking, what did he get right… Anything? Bueller….
Yes, some things…
If nothing else, be principled
Probably the best compliment that I get from my friends is that they see me as principled, if even to a fault and sometimes to my detriment. It’s true, I’m an extremist with it but I just have lived life refusing to compromise my core principles. And like most people, I sometimes fail to live up to them, but for the most part I try and be principled and choose right over wrong and expedient.
Reading is the single most important thing that IMO that humans can do to better themselves. My life has been dedicated to reading. I don’t read as many novels as I used to but I’m always reading something. A map, a blog post, magazines, articles, what have you. If you don’t read, start NOW. And never stop. It is probably the single most important gift that I received from my childhood. As chronicled before, I’d venture to guess that there aren’t 50 people in the US with an 11th grade education that read more books than my dad. And from disparate sources and subjects. You simply MUST do this.
Be on time and be present
It’s amazing to me how little time management skills that people have. I’m psychotic about it but it works. Honestly, just showing up is probably about 40% of what life is about. But be present for people. I try to. Be present for others even if they aren’t present for you. It’s hard, but do it.
Love your kids and your friends
Seems self explanatory but I grew up in a love neutral household. Perhaps I’ve repressed the memories but I don’t ever remember being told I love you. I know that my parents loved me but they didn’t show it. Telling someone that you love them is not weakness, it is strength. I tell my male friends ALL THE TIME that I love them. Because it is right to, and because I do. People these days need to hear these things. More than ever.
I don’t really know how many years that I have left. At times I feel like I have accomplished a lot, and at times I feel that I have accomplished nothing. I’m sure that most people are like this.