I was speaking with some friends recently – all of us of a certain age with children who are now adults and forging their own paths in life. We were talking about how normal it is for kids not to know exactly what they want to do when they graduate from high school or college – and even during their first years of adulthood.
“I mean, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” I said jokingly. Everyone laughed like I was the best stand-up comedian they’d ever heard.
But it wasn’t entirely a joke. Is it strange to be in your fifth decade on the planet and still not know what you want to do with your life? Is it presumptuous to believe you still have important decisions to make, places to go, people to meet, impact to make, when most of your peers are edging towards retirement?
I’ve had a good career – and it’s still going. And I made a significant change last December from being self-employed for the past 25+ years to moving back to full-time employment with one company. But I don’t feel like this is the end of the road. I keep wondering when I’ll figure out exactly what I want to be, what I’m somehow meant to do. And while I certainly sense the ticking of the clock, I don’t believe it’s too late to change course or try something completely different.
Sure some of the things I mull about in my head when I can’t sleep at night are probably unrealistic. I mean, I’m not going be a professional athlete at this stage of my life. But people get in shape and run marathons in their 70s, so dipping my toes back into the fitness realm is certainly not out of the question. I taught aerobics classes off and on for twenty years and I still miss it. So maybe no one does traditional aerobics or step anymore, but there’s always Pilates, Yoga, Water Aerobics (cringe!). I always thought these were “old lady” activities but hey – I’m creeping up on that status and now I see nothing wrong with having fitness be at least part of the “what I want to do” equation.
Sports, especially hockey. Talk about passion for your subject matter! I explored blogging for a couple of sites in past years. So I’m not going to be a sports broadcaster at this age, nor am I going to take away the careers of lifelong sports journalists, or publicists who have spent their careers in sports rather than tech like me. But it’s a big wide world, especially online, and there’s plenty of room for writing, opining, podcasting, and general opinion-sharing.
Teaching. One of my favorite jobs in college was tutoring English for UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program. We helped low income and minority students, and occasionally, we were loaned out to the Athletic department to help student-athletes. I always felt such a profound sense of accomplishment when one of my students came to me after a test with a smile on their face, knowing they did well. And teaching satisfies a sense of giving back, doing something important for the world, that I have missed in my career to date.
What else? Well, I had several short stories published at one point and I wrote a novel. I always thought I’d be a writer, but the cold, hard reality of the publishing world – querying hundreds of agents, getting just far enough to taste it and then being rejected – caused me to push it aside at some point. But I still love it. Self-publishing? It has become more common, I know many people who have done it (and some lucratively), and hey – some of my favorite authors are in their later years, so it’s definitely never too late to write.
We are fortunate enough to be around during a time when we can live longer and healthier lives. Studies continually show that people are working longer and retiring at later ages. So why limit yourself to one, two, or three careers? Why push aside the thought that you might still not know what you want to be when you grow up, regardless of your chronological age?
I’m going to keep plugging away at my current job. But I’m also going to keep dreaming about what I really want to be when I grow up and maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure it out.
I lift my bangs and study the creases in my forehead. I don’t care much about them because I still have bangs and so long as the bangs are there, hiding the deepening lines, I don’t need to worry about them. But the drooping eyelids. Those are troublesome. I lift one, then the other, to see how I might look with artificially lifted lids. Sigh. I never wanted this.
I don’t mean aging. Aging is inevitable whether we want it or not, and I don’t feel old. What I mean is this sudden, gripping fear that despite all of my deep-seated values about aging gracefully, giving my daughters the proper role model – women who care more about what’s on the inside than the outside, defying the superficial, materialistic, upper middle-class suburb of Los Angeles I live in – despite all of this, I’m beginning to think that I have to do something.
Surgery is out. Right? I’ve seen the face lifts around me and I have no doubt that these women looked better before they had their faces pulled tight like Batman’s Joker. Collagen lips – I’m thankful I don’t need those and I hate that I see 20-somethings and 30-somethings filling and refilling lips that were just fine to begin with. Don’t they know that what is filled today is bound to droop and sag tomorrow? Filler. It would make sense for those laugh lines I inherited from my mother but everyone I’ve seen who took this step looks weirdly puffy-cheeked. And botox? I refuse to inject poison into my face and I had one friend whose face drooped to one side for weeks on end. She said it was a “rare” side effect.
So I’m living with it, aren’t I? I ask myself this in the mirror and then think of all the things I can still do that won’t betray my values. Color and blowout for my hair. Gotta cover that grey. Nails (I never cared about them when I was younger). Sophisticated yet still youngish, modern outfits. That temporary skin-tightening moisturizer I saw in a TikTok video.
The thing is, I’m approaching a big number age-wise and I’m still working in the corporate world. In the tech industry. And I am surrounded by youth. I study myself on Zoom calls. Can they see the lines in my neck that I can’t quit staring at? Do I need better lighting? How far to the right can I tweak the “improve my appearance” option without it looking purposely altered?
These are first-world problems to be sure. To have the luxury of even thinking about them is something most of the world wouldn’t understand. There is a war raging in Ukraine and people fighting just to stay in their homes with a roof over their heads and enough to eat. People hiding in bomb shelters just to stay alive. It seems ridiculous to be thinking these silly thoughts, to be wasting time and energy on them.
This aging complex is not uniquely American or Californian or relegated to Hollywood but it surely is more of a focus here and I swore in my younger years I would never fall for it. But now I wonder. Will my words become less valuable because my colleagues are focused on the crow’s feet around my eyes? Will they think my ideas are outdated because, after all, I’ve been around a long time in this industry and “fresh ideas” are what Silicon Valley is built on? After watching “The Dropout”, it’s clear that women were already set back at least a decade by the lies and incompetence of Elizabeth Holmes, so when you’re already fighting for equality do you really want to fight ageism at the same time?
I decide to leave this for another day. I’ll stock up on the skin-tightening lotion. I’ll book an appointment to cover the grey. I’ll try not to look too long in the mirror too often and ponder how long I’ll be comfortable staring at this image on the myriad Zoom calls I participate in every day. I’ll try not to think about what it means to be a woman, trying to age gracefully in a world that wants only to take you at face value.
Disclaimer: I wrote this in post in March of 2020 but never posted it. Time to get back on the blogging train…
Things are disappearing, I tell my husband. He looks at me with the arched eyebrow that says, “you’re losing it”. But there was an iPhone power cord that was always by my bedside that has disappeared and I can’t seem to locate it.
“Maybe the dog took it,” he says.
“Funny,” I respond. He may not see it, but I know that things are disappearing.
The collagen that used to make my cheeks plump and the skin above my kneecaps firm is slowly departing, leaving lines in its wake. The bounce in my step as I exit the bed in the morning has disappeared, replaced by careful planting of one foot, then the other, making sure my hip won’t pop as I stand.
My youngest left for college nearly four years ago and was scheduled to graduate this Spring. I hear parents bemoaning the fact that their graduates may have to move home if they can’t find a job that allows them to “get off the payroll”, and avoid dwelling in basements and those extra spaces that were already being turned into offices and craft rooms and libraries. It’s true: I want my daughter to find a good job and move on but that requires admitting that this time in her life – and mine – is over. The period of time between childhood and adulthood has completed for her and things will never be the same.
I’ve been through this disappearing act once before, so I know. It should be easy by now. My older daughter has been properly employed and on her career path since graduating college, and after living at home for about a year post-commencement, now lives with her boyfriend, just a few miles from us. I am used to her new life away from home and know that it will continue to contain less and less of me as she gets further involved in her career, her relationship, and perhaps, someday, her own family. The proverbial clock is ticking and all I can do is watch as things disappear.
Of course, given the current global crisis, we don’t know if there will be a graduation ceremony now this Spring. But graduate my little one will, bringing to a close all of the graduations of the past. Two elementary school, two middle school, two high school and now two college graduations…I still can’t catch my breath. Surely, there will still be visits and holidays and maybe like her sister, my youngest will need to come home to us for awhile – so very difficult for these college grads to make a decent living these days. But I’m not fooled by these fleeting thoughts. This life, too, is disappearing.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some things in life that are better left to the past and my memories, some things that I am not so sad to say goodbye to, from both my own childhood, teenage and young adult years, as well as those of my daughters. Middle school. Math classes. Dating. Finals week in college. Commuting two hours every day back and forth to work. Changing diapers. Lugging car seats and strollers and bags full of toys on airplanes. Teenage tantrums. Wet towels and suits everywhere. Waiting up at night for the sound of a car pulling into the garage. These things have already disappeared and I don’t miss them. Not much anyway.
But I do miss that feeling when you’re little and the summer seems to go on forever. The excitement as you get dressed before a special night out. Late night, shared conversations with best friends. The moment you know “he’s the one”. The feeling of the first rumbling kick in your belly. The sound of little voices laughing and calling “Mommy!”. Holding hands to cross the street. Reading time before bed, snuggled under the blankets. Watching soccer/basketball/plays/choral performances/volleyball and in our case, swim meet after swim meet after swim meet. Wiping tears. Hugs good night. These things are disappearing.
I am always one to look ahead, see the light, keep moving, keep living. But ever so slowly, that thought creeps in when you hit yet another milestone, that there are so few of those milestones left to hit and time is running out. You want to savor each moment just a little more, knowing that like all of these things, these moments are disappearing.
He thinks I’m crazy. I give the dog a belly rub. I write “new power cord” on my to-do list.
Hotel rooms were booked for family flying in. Restaurants were reviewed. Announcements were examined, a cap and gown were on the to-do list.
There was supposed to be a proud walk, across a large stage, students marching up to hear their names called, to hoist a diploma in the air representing four years of hard work. Maybe some caps tossed after the tassels were turned.
There were supposed to be friends, joining in mutual recognition of what has been achieved, of relationships cemented by living and studying together during these past four years.
This strange time in our history has robbed us all of many special events that were on the calendar, but most of all, I am so sorry that it has robbed you, my sweet graduate, of your opportunity to walk across that stage, hoist that diploma, and celebrate your significant accomplishments with family and friends.
I know it may seem of little comfort to you in this moment, but allow me to celebrate you anyway, in this small way, and tell you how very proud I am of you.
Four years ago, you told me and your Dad that you wanted to follow in your sister’s footsteps and swim in college. But of course one that had the right academics and the right “fit” for you, and had football and basketball and all of the other perks of college life. We took some trips and visited some places with and without swim programs, and I’ll confess that I had my doubts about you finding your way onto a Division 1 swim team, as you insisted you could. But like so many times throughout your life, you persisted and proved me wrong, and began your college experience as a D1 student-athlete and journalism major at San Jose State University.
Two years in, it turned out swimming was no longer the right path for you. It was hard transitioning from the routine of a student-athlete. But you didn’t dwell on what could have been. You took your college life into your own hands. You joined a sorority. You worked three different jobs. You wrote for the school paper. And you determined that while you liked to write, journalism might not be your calling after all. You changed your major to Public Relations – a surprise to this day that you’d want to do what Mom does for a living.
During this time, you were named a Dean’s Scholar multiple times. You studied abroad in Italy and applied the wonderful lessons of global travel to your resume. This past semester, you landed an internship at a technology company, while continuing to keep your grades high and work a part-time job. And then COVID-19 decided to interfere with all of your best-laid plans.
The way you’ve navigated through this time might make me prouder than almost anything else you’ve accomplished. After living on your own as an adult these past four years, it was no small feat moving home temporarily to life with Mom and Dad again (although the cooking must have been an improvement!) and you continued your studies and your internship, working from home. You consoled yourself by FaceTiming with friends and doing workouts online and to be completely honest, most of the time you were the one who helped keep our spirits high. And during this difficult economy, you managed to turn your internship into a full-time job.
This time has been tough and continues to be so. You – and all of your fellow graduates – deserve so much better. But I’m so proud of the way you’ve persevered through your entire college career, from start to finish, and through this difficult time, in particular. I’m so proud of how you tackle life itself.
You are a college graduate. And the world will soon take notice, whether we celebrate now or later, of what an exceptional and talented young woman you are.
Congratulations, Clairebear, and Happy Graduation. I am so very proud to call you my daughter.
Prince died today. He wasn’t my favorite artist nor did I ever have the chance to see him perform. But he was certainly a touchstone for a time in my life that was peppered with equal measures of excitement, angst and emotional upheaval.
That time was the 1980s. I was at UCLA and life seemed to be spread out before me like a banquet, ripe for the tasting. You didn’t escape Prince on the radio or on the newly-launched MTV back then whether it was “Little Red Corvette”, “Controversy”, “1999” or his masterpiece, “Purple Rain”. In the early 1980s, when I turned my borderline obsession-compulsion with going to aerobics classes into a part-time job, Prince’s “I Would Die for You” was featured on my very first aerobics tape (that’s right: cassette tape). It was a fun time to be young. I think Prince knew that.
This isn’t just about Prince, though. It’s about David Bowie, Glenn Frey or any of the many talented musicians out there that bring us joy, pain and sorrow through their art. And it’s about the actors, writers, painters, athletes that are all part of the fabric of our lives and to which we form an attachment. It’s about emotional investment.
Some people call me “passionate”. I am ultra-aware that I am often too emotionally-invested in things that bring me pleasure, but in equal measures, pain. It’s why I am an easy target for taunting when my Los Angeles Kings or UCLA Bruins lose. It’s why in my work life, I often follow my clients to their next job and their next, and why I sometimes go to bat beyond the point of reason for a decision I disagree with. It’s why I cried when David Bowie died. And again when I heard about Glenn Frey. And again, today, for Prince.
Partially, it’s about feeling your own mortality. If Bowie and Frey and Prince are gone at ages that are now not too far from my own, I am suddenly cognizant of how fast time is moving and how little time might be left. In part, it’s the reminder of people I used to know, places I used to go, things I loved and lost, memories that are stored away but brought quickly to the surface just by hearing a few notes. I’ll never hear “Young Americans” and not remember a particular summer between junior and senior year of college when two of my friends – one, a summer love – painted my Mom’s living room in exchange for beer and that song blared from the speakers. I’ll never hear “I Can’t Tell You Why” and not think of my college roommate who loved – and actually possessed the vocal chops – to sing it around our apartment on Gayley Avenue. I’ll never hear “Baby I’m a Star” and not think of the little aerobics studio in La Jolla where I first started teaching and where my summer was a blur of teaching classes, riding my bike to the beach and drinking margaritas at Jose’s Cantina.
Certainly, it begs the question: is such a fervent emotional investment worth it? My girls sometimes make fun of my intensity watching hockey games or my excitement at a concert. Or wonder why I would cry over the death of someone I never knew personally. I tell them it’s not just about the game or the team or the artist or the song. It’s about what it all represents. And it’s simply inevitable that anything that gives you so much happiness when it’s all going well, is going to bring you sorrow when it doesn’t.
Is it worth it? As I listen to “Purple Rain”, feeling a familiar pang as the memories shelved long ago flood over me, I want to say no, but I know that’s not true. For me, the answer can only be yes. A resounding and emphatic yes.
The plane begins its descent and I shift in my seat and look out the window. Nearly home. My younger daughter, sitting beside me leans her head on my shoulder and reaches for my hand, intertwining her fingers with mine. My heart does a small leap and I clasp her hand a bit tighter. She is seventeen, nearly an adult, and these moments don’t come often anymore.
We are on our way back from a college visit. She is “stressed” about making the right choice. I tell her she has choices and choices are good. There are so many places that could be right for her and she will figure it out. She nods her head but I can see in her eyes that my words are of little comfort. She will have my experiences and her Dad’s experiences and her sister’s experiences to draw from, and plenty of advice from us, from well-meaning friends and other family. But ultimately, she will have to choose.
Her eyes close and we push through the clouds. I stare out the window and try to remember the last time she held my hand to cross a street or climb the steps onto the school bus or approach a neighbor’s door at Halloween. When she was little, we held hands all the time. A small, daily act taken for granted, as so many are when our children are small. We think we’ll remember every second, then with the passage of time and all of the many activities filling our days, our memory fades and we wish we could have taken a snapshot of those moments.
When the kids were young there were always dishes to wash, laundry to be done, bills to be paid. There was work and the dog and all of the sports and activities and playdates and school and homework. In a blink, they were out the door, driving their own cars, and while there was worry, there was also relief. Time alone, time to do whatever we like. The end of being a chauffeur and the beginning of the next stage in parenting.
I have been through this once already, I think. It should be easier. Somehow, it feels a bit harder. It could be because she is the baby of the family. It could be because facing an empty nest is quite different from having one child leave home. It could be because I’m older and more aware of the time slipping away. Whatever the reason, there are mixed emotions. Excitement for her and the next chapter in her life. Anticipation of the freedom that comes with an empty nest. A bit of jealousy at the wonderful experiences that await her. But also sadness that this chapter is closing. That she is moving on and away and of course, things will never be the same. Riddled with doubt as to what the future holds and how everything will change forever.
The aircraft hits a few bumps on its way down and she shifts in her seat to look out the window. She begins to untangle her hand from mine. Don’t let go, I whisper silently to myself. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. There will be no tears. She is letting go and so am I. Don’t let go, the voice inside me pleads. But I know it’s time and while we have a few more months like this, it is inevitable.
As cliché as it sounds, time does seem to move faster the older we get. It seems I was just starting to appreciate the positives of 2014 – not to mention, get used to writing a “4” instead of a “3” on my checks – when I realized the end loomed near.
Instead of writing New Year’s Resolutions, most of which have the tendency to get tossed aside within a few weeks of the New Year, I decided instead to write a note of appreciation for the highlights of 2014 – my top eight of 2014. These are in no particular order, as assigning a ranking to these would seem arbitrary (and so did making this a “top ten”, hence the less-than-round number of eight).
Daughter #2 got her driver’s license. In truth, this milestone ranks among both the most frightening and the most exciting events of 2014. To have our youngest become a licensed driver was certainly thrilling for her and a huge relief for us chauffeurs in the family who no longer had to plan work schedules and social events around high school and swim practice start and end times – not to mention, being on call for drop-offs and pick-ups at friends’ houses and social gatherings. We all gained independence, though in return, of course, had to battle the ever-present worry of having our little one navigating the L.A. freeways and crazy drivers on her own. At the end of the day, the freedom is a positive result for all.
My second favorite item of the year also involves daughter #2: Claire qualified for and participated in her first championship swim meet. When Claire told us she wanted to swim, we were surprised. Swimming was always her sister’s sport and her sister excelled at it. We’d never discouraged Claire from swimming, but never encouraged either, lest she have to compete with her sister or take on the burden of being “Shannyn’s little sister” in the pool. Despite our reservations, she decided to jump in with both feet – literally! She had setbacks almost immediately, tearing her labrum (not due to swimming, according to the doctors) and undergoing surgery just a year after joining our club team. She battled through the rehab, spending months in the pool just kicking, then slowly working to get her shoulder back into shape and resume swimming. She found herself behind most of her peers at that point, but insisted that she would move up to the next level (she did) and that she would finally make it to a championship meet. So it was with amazement and pride that we watched her this summer achieve her goals. Not only did she get her Junior Olympic time standards at a small meet in Santa Maria, but two weeks later, at the Junior Olympics meet that our club hosted, she bettered her times and made it back for her first JO finals and dropped time, once again in the finals competition. Persistence? Stubbornness? Probably a bit of both, with some hard work thrown in, but as a parent, it was a proud moment. Truth be told, even we doubted that she could do it, but fortunately, she never doubted herself.
After changing her major twice, Daughter #1 finally settled on her academic goals and can see the finish line. After many trials and tribulations, soul-searching and so-called epiphanies, not to mention the agony of having to take Microbiology and Organic Chemistry, Shannyn finally settled on a course of study that suited her. While she went in as a Business major (code for “I don’t know what the hell I want to do with my life”), she soon had a brilliant brainstorm that nutrition has always been her passion and becoming a Nutritional Sciences major was the path for her. Unfortunately, the self-declared “non-science person” quickly realized that this major required her to take – well, SCIENCE. After struggling through a semester of brutal classes like O-Chem that caused her GPA to suffer, she realized she needed to change course. The final epiphany (accompanied by some solid academic counseling) was that a major in Economics and a minor in Nutritional Sciences, would make the best use of courses already completed, while allowing her to pursue a career in marketing for the nutrition/fitness industry. Yes, she’ll go an extra year (thank you, continuing athletic scholarship), but she is happier, more focused and her GPA is back to its previous good standing.
Work travel was educational and fun. I’ve worked at home now for 20+ years and am thankful that I’ve had the ability to maintain a challenging and rewarding career with the flexibility to be available for my children. I love working from home, but there are times when I miss the “water-cooler” talk and close bonds that develop from being in an office. This year, I was able to not only pay a few visits to my key client in Silicon Valley, but to also travel with them to their annual customer and partner conference in Las Vegas. Whenever you can learn things that help you do your job better and, at the same time, have a blast with a group of smart and fun people, you know you’ve hit the jackpot, career-wise. I was grateful to participate in the four-day event, meet some of the employees, partners, customers, analysts and reporters I’d previously only communicated with via email or phone, and learn more about my client’s technology and how it’s being used in the real world.
Old friends came to visit. In a perfect world, we’d go abroad every summer as we did in 2013 when we visited Per’s family and friends in Sweden and spent a wonderful week in Paris, seeing the sights. But until we win the lottery, we’ll settle for visitors coming our way occasionally, as was the case this year when Per’s best friend from childhood traveled to Southern California with his wife and two children from their home in Oslo, Norway.
We’ve been able to continue traveling to see daughter #1 finish out her swimming career. It’s hard to believe that the toddler who took to the water like a fish at two is nearly twenty-two now. And that after almost 15 years of competitive swimming, it will all come to an end this Spring. I’m sure this will inspire a separate nostalgic and emotional blog post when it’s over. For now, suffice to say that I’m thankful for every trip I’ve made, every event I’ve watched from the side of a pool deck or bleachers of a stadium, and every hour of sitting in a timing chair, because I know it’s almost over. It has been an amazing ride, we have all learned so much, and made wonderful friends along the way. And most of all, I feel so fortunate for all the incredible benefits Shannyn has reaped from the sport – not just having her education funded – but the lessons of discipline and commitment, leadership, working through adversity, and the lifelong friends she has made. As we get ready for a few more trips between January and March, I will brace myself for the end and be grateful for the opportunity to witness it.
We have our health. Nothing more to say about this one. As you get older, you realize how lucky you are to escape each year without a serious malady and you’re thankful that you and your extended family are still healthy.
And finally, on a lighter note, no words needed for this one…you didn’t think I’d leave this out, did you?!
Go Kings Go!
Happy New Year, everyone! What were your favorite moments of 2014?
While I hate to cave to the expected, there is always value in producing a list of things one is thankful for – even at this, the most expected times of the year to express thankfulness.
With Thanksgiving just a day away, I will keep my list short, but sweet – three reasons who I’m grateful this holiday season.
1) I am thankful that my girls are growing into women that I not only love, but like very much. Every day, I see more evidence that my little people are growing into big people who will be more than equipped to take on the great, big world in which they live. Not only do I love them because they are my flesh and blood, I truly LIKE the people they are becoming. They care about the world around them, they are engaged in discussions of importance, and most of all, they are kind to others. I am a proud mother and I am grateful for the people they are becoming.
2) I am thankful for my house. It’s old. The kitchen cabinets are peeling and the appliances are outdated. Blue carpet remains in three of the rooms and some of the tile is cracking. Neighbors have long since painted, revamped, redone, remodeled…some of them multiple times. We’ve chosen to spend our dollars on other things – mostly experiences we enjoy with our family whether it be traveling, going to sporting events or concerts. Would I love to remodel? Of course. Am I thankful for this old house, regardless? I am. My children have grown up in this house, we’ve had many moments of laughter (and of course, some tears) and celebrated many wonderful occasions. At the end of the day, this house is comfort and it is our home, even if the floors creak and I don’t get around to cleaning all those cobwebs that sit at the top of the ceilings.
3) I am thankful for my spouse and for the fact that he grew up in another country. Not just any country, but one where women are valued and hold equal roles in society. I’m not saying there aren’t American men who believe that women should be paid equal wages, don’t complain about sharing the household chores and chose their partners in life based on more than just a pretty face. But there is a vast difference in cultural attitudes between America and Sweden, and regardless of how “evolved” some American men are, the fact is, they’ve never lived in a society that inherently values men and women equally. My spouse’s home country does. Because he was raised in this environment, he benefits from a culture wherein young boys and girls must BOTH take classes in home economics and shop, where both men and women are given equal time off for the birth of a child, where contraception has always been the responsibility of both men and women, without question, and no man is allowed to regulate what a woman does with her body. The result is probably subtle, but it’s there. At no time in my marriage have I felt that my husband did not view me as an equal partner in all things business and domestic. At no time, did I feel he expected certain behavior from our girls, simply because they were girls. And most of all, at no time have I felt a lack of respect from him.
That’s my list. Undoubtedly, I have many more things to be thankful for, but I am thinking about these three today.
This week was Back-to-School night at my younger daughter’s high school. Walking around campus, I was painfully aware that all of the fresh-faced parents I’ve known since our teens were just tots in elementary school have become, well, to put it mildly, older. And that if I’m calling them “older”, I have to look in the mirror and acknowledge that I’m there, too. I was also mindful of the fact that this was the second-to-last time I would ever go to a back-to-school night. EVER.
My daughter had told me ahead of time that her history teacher was one of her favorites and that he coincidentally had a great deal in common with me (UCLA grad, fan of music) and her Dad (back-packed through Europe in his younger days). As expected, his classroom was my favorite: as we walked in, we could smell fresh-brewed coffee, the lights had been dimmed and the John Mayer Pandora station played in the background. His presentation did not disappoint and the parents were given one of the same assignments he’d given to the students that week: to watch a popular, short video making the rounds on YouTube and social media called “If Money Was No Object” and write a response to the video focusing on advice, hopes and dreams for our student’s future.
Naturally, my engineering/math-brained husband looked in my direction and my eyes lit up at the prospect of a creative writing assignment. I’m not sure if I was the first parent to turn in their paper the next day….but it’s very possible.
I don’t know if youth is truly wasted on the young, but I certainly felt a small pang of longing when I read my own words and realized that I could have been better at taking my own advice, say, 35 years ago. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d like to believe that there are still a few nuggets here that apply to us older and wiser folks. In case I’m right, here are a few excerpts from my response to “If Money Was No Object”. These were the pieces of advice I crafted for my daughter, with a little commentary plugged in for us older folk…
Explore your options now, while you’re young. While I don’t regret the path I took, I do have the “what ifs” from time to time. What if I’d gone back to school right away and pursued an MFA in creative writing? What if I’d studied a semester abroad and done more traveling? What if I’d parlayed my college tutoring job into a teaching job or, early in my career, moved from marketing and PR in the technology realm into an area I was more passionate about like music or sports? Explore the things you are passionate about now, while you’re in high school and for as long as you can in college and early in your career. It’s hard to change direction when you’re 40 or 50.
Ok, so for those of us who are getting up there in age, admittedly, it is hard to change direction entirely. But not impossible. And if you can sprinkle just a little of what you love or do just one thing each day that keeps you in touch with those earlier passions, you’ll still be exploring those options, if not making a radical move towards them.
Find ways to travel early on. See the big, wide world. Look for opportunities to study abroad in school. If you’re a dual citizen, as my kids are fortunate enough to be, go to school or work abroad. Grab the opportunity and see what’s out there.
Great advice for the young, but of course, easier said than done once you are settled into a career (unless it happens to involve world travel) and have a mortgage and college tuition to pay for. But when those opportunities arise, take them. Add a few days onto that business trip and see the city you’re working in. Plan to use that bonus money for a weekend somewhere you’ve never been instead of upgrading those bathroom floors. I truly believe that travel is the best education there is. I can’t tell you how many people make comments about Sweden, its culture and system of government to me and my Swedish-born and raised husband without ever having stepped foot in that country. Not surprisingly, they are usually all wrong. Go, see, and learn for yourself – there’s nothing like it.
Quick illustrative story: I was once on a press tour in New York City with the CEO of a start-up I was working with. He told me that he’d been to New York numerous times in his career but had never been to the top of the Empire State building or seen a Broadway show. I asked him why not and he couldn’t answer, but for some reason, on this trip, he decided to change all of that. We went to the top of the Empire State building after our meetings and looked at the glorious view. We saw not one, but TWO Broadway shoes on that business trip! A few months later, he passed away unexpectedly; while on his regular, early morning walk/run with his dogs, he had a heart attack. He was only 51 and left behind a wife and two young kids. I felt fortunate that I got to accompany him on that very special trip to New York.
Rekindle and/or nurture your love for reading. Reading expands your mind, opens new doors, and teaches you empathy. Beyond that, as I advised my daughter, reading improves all of those great communications skills you need in virtually every college class you’ll take and every job you’ll ever have.
This is advice that applies to anyone, at any age. There is always time to read a book, just like there is always time to fit in a workout – you just have to want to find that time. 10 minutes here and there – waiting in the car to pick your child up from school, while dinner is in the oven, on your lunch break from work, 10 minutes before turning out the light at night. I truly believe that reading is the single easiest thing to do to keep your mind active, continue learning, expand your horizons and visit new places virtually. Bonus: it’s enjoyable and relieves stress!
Remember that there are trade-offs. This is where we have to acknowledge that money does matter and that means there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. If you’re passionate about traveling, find a job that allows for it, or be prepared that you’ll be backpacking through Europe and sleeping in youth hostels, not four-star resorts. Living in this area and having so much, our children sometimes get the message that having the latest iPhone or the coolest car are things that matter more than what you spend time doing each day. Some jobs don’t come with a big paycheck, but my message would be, try it when you’re young. If you truly love it, it will be worth the trade-offs.
As adults, we are always making trade-offs. The hope is that when you’re in the rocking chair at 80, looking back on your life, you’ve made the right ones. I live in an area where people seem to “have it all”. They don’t have to decide between that expensive vacation, redoing their kitchen and paying for private college tuition. That doesn’t mean they haven’t made trade-offs. To afford that lifestyle, one or both parents may not be spending as much time with their families as they’d like. Maybe the wife gave up a great career that she misses to stay home so her husband could have a job that involves a great deal of travel. Or maybe they are both working at jobs they really don’t love just to keep the wheel spinning. We all make trade-offs and compromises. The key is to figure out which ones you can live with.
What will your verse be? The famous line from Whitman’s poem and the words that Robin Williams famously spoke in “Dead Poet’s Society” are words that haunt me a bit every day. Make sure that something you do in life makes you feel that you’re contributing, giving back, adding something to your community, to society, to the world at large. Find something that has meaning not just to you, but to others.
While I haven’t figured this one out completely, I’ve taken little steps here and there to be sure I’m moving in the right direction. Is there a specific cause or issue you believe in passionately? Give your money and more importantly, your time to it. Write about it. Or to come full circle to the assignment and “If Money Was No Object”, make a video about it and share it with the world. Someone might listen and be inspired.
What advice would you share with your kids in response to “If Money Didn’t Matter”? And do you think that advice is helpful for all ages for just for those of a certain, youthful age? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And so, it’s January again. Time to take stock and look back at the New Year’s resolutions that have come and gone. While I say I’m not one to make resolutions, I did, in fact, make a small list of things I wanted to work on last year. How’d I do? Well, let’s just say that of the six I listed in last New Year’s blog post, I probably made some minimal progress on three of them. Hey, that’s a solid half, right?!
The issue with resolutions is that, once made, we need checkpoints to assess how we’re progressing and take action when we’re not making progress. Just like at work, there are certain milestones that need to be checked off the list and progress reports, if you like, need to be turned in. I don’t know about you, but given I have to be accountable for these kinds of activities at work, I’m not likely to hold myself to that same structure on the personal front!
How, then, do we actually resolve and take action to improve certain areas of our life? It seems trite to simply say “I plan to be a better person in 2014”, but really, that’s the heart of it all, isn’t it? Being kinder. Less irritable. More patient. Less hurried. More giving. Less judgmental. More understanding. Less stressed.
So this year, I’m going to give myself a break from the traditional list, knowing full well that putting in place the measurements necessary to ensure success is something I just won’t take the time to do. I resolve in 2014 only this: to be a better person, in whatever way I can be. That means taking time to connect with those I care about, rather than getting too wrapped up in the minute details of the day. It means making sure that all my good intentions don’t remain just that…that I occasionally take action and give to that charity, spend time doing something that yields no personal return for me or simply deciding to be understanding, rather than judgmental in situations that test my patience. It means ignoring the insufferable, materialistic social media posts that clutter my news feeds and remembering that my family values experiences over things. Maybe it’s as simple as letting that car cut in front of me without swearing to myself or giving a stranger in the grocery store a complement, just because.
I know. It sounds like a lot of rainbows and fluffy puppy talk. But sometimes I think the world could use a little more of that. And a little less of the standard “10 Ways to Improve Your Life”.
Happy New Year, everyone. Enjoy 2014, however you resolve to do so.