I understand that I'm asking something very broad here, but please bear with me. I just celebrated my 32nd birthday a couple of weeks ago, and for a few reasons, I'm taking much more account of what I've done and left undone in my life up to this point.
I'm willing to chalk up much of my 20s as a failure--with career, money, women, and so forth--so much so that for a good chunk of it I lived almost as a hermit, ostensibly to reflect on my own misdeeds and the curve balls thrown me by circumstance, but also in large part as a self-defense mechanism. Youth is supposedly the most vibrant and gregarious time of our lives, but my balding pate and the grey hairs in my beard tell me that youth is fast receding, and I passed it in a solitude that often crossed the line into loneliness.
I finally found appropriate work (I am a teacher) and prospects are good to go forward for a graduate degree. Experience, however, teaches me to expect nothing--or, more likely, that even if good things come my way, I'll decline or sabotage them in the violent immediacy of the moment. There's one particular instance over this past year that made that very clear to me, and still causes me pangs to this very day. Nonetheless, Kipling's lines always return to me in this regard: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same."
I know we're all different men here, but I put it forward just in case any of you, my brothers, have ever been there. Thus, I'm appealing most to those of you older than I, especially those significantly older, with the distance that allows for a clearer picture. The next few years are a grand unknown for me. Is being stoic in the face of success rather much the same as remaining stoic in the face of failure, even though success is by no means a given? With career development and seeking a trustworthy and vibrant lady whom one would be pleased to call wife, what is to be expected? And, if you could go back and see yourself at my age (or in my position), what would you tell yourself?
Thank you for your consideration.
Matthew, I’m showing up late for this discussion but I think that it is a worthy one and I would like to offer my comments. My ‘toughest’ birthday was 33 (cue the harp music)…Married with kid, dead end government job, no significant friends, suffering from Chronic Fatigue and facing the realization that 1) I was probably not going to retire on my pre-determined schedule (40) and travel the world and 2) I was not going to become a world class cyclist.
It was at that helpless, hopeless moment that I sat down with a six pack of Sierra Nevada and my journal and set about shattering some of the myths I had about life, love, happiness and success. I offer to you my humble wisdom from that day:
1) Life is not a television show. We don’t all have carefree fun in our youth then settle down into a great career with a beautiful wife and gorgeous kids.
2) Bad Luck does exist and it is often helped along by over-anxious, overly-motivated, bumbling young men.
3) Life is long. We don’t need to accomplish all of our goals by age 35.
4) Some doors are not going to open, no matter how long you wait or how much you pound your skull on it. Waiting for them to do so is stupid and destructive.
I literally changed my life that day. I gave up the bike, launched on a new career path and adopted a new approach to life. That’s not to say things have been rosy ever since. Life sucks on a regular basis. But at least I find that I am moving in a more beneficial direction.
If I had the chance, I would offer the following advice to a younger me:
1) Relax! I’ve never heard of anyone stroking out from being too relaxed. Besides, being tense makes everyone around you tense—bad for your relationships, bad for business.
2) Pick a realistic goal—one that you actually want to obtain-- and drive toward it with every ounce of your being.
3) Life is a one-way ticket to the grave, be sure to stop and appreciate good whiskey. Maybe, just maybe, you can prolong the trip.
4) Oh, and fuck Kipling. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love that poem (I gave a framed version of it to my eldest when he left for college). But I’ve used that poem like a To-Do List and I’ll tell you, at the end of the day, being Stoic is not all its cracked up to be. Every once in a while you need to be a bit like Uncle Walt. Try reading Song of Myself and savor the emotion, the passion. Then try to inject that passion into your life.
Good luck! Keep me posted on your progress.