I think it's common for those of us in our middle years to look back with a grimace at some of our "less shiny" moments. But I've learned an awful lot in the past twelve months. And, as I think about what I would tell my younger self, I wonder if any of you will be surprised or challenged by what my new perspective has brought forth.
See - here's the thing: as many poor decisions as I've made in my life, I don't necessarily want to go back and undo any of them. Okay - there are a couple in particular I'd just like to wipe off the map. But, really, my life, for better or for worse, is a product of the choices I made, so wishing it away seems like I would be erasing part of who I am today. That said, I think many of those moments would have gone very differently with the 42 Michael at the wheel.
"Should" is the worst word in the English language, and once, it was the bane of my existence. In the future tense, "should" represents a whole host of obligations and commitments, most self-imposed, that pile up in front of you until they feel insurmountable. In the past tense, "should" represents regret and guilt for those things you never got to (or wanted to get to).
Since then, I've learned to reject "should". If I catch myself saying it, then I stop. I examine the thing in front of me and decide: "Are you important? Will you make my life or my relationships that I value better in some way?" If yes, then it goes into the "will" pile. If not, I put it aside and don't spend time worrying about it anymore.
Do not allow others to define you.
For me, as with many, this goes back all the way to the messages I received in childhood. I never really let anyone sway me toward what I was. But I sure let people into my head about what I wasn't. And - the thing is - I can't remember anything I've undertaken that I simply could not rise to. But I do remember pretty clearly the times that I chose not to start down a path because of those voices.
The beauty of the last year for me is that I have managed to do and become exactly the things I set out to accomplish. I couldn't do those things when I started. Flat couldn't. But through effort and dedication and with the support of a truly amazing wife, I can now. Just because you can't - yet, doesn't mean you can't ever.
Don't waste any time with people who don't treat your friendship as a precious gift.
Dr Phil (yes - I believe the man is a modern-day sage) once described these people as "takers". They only use you for commiseration. They bring you down, hold you back. Suck the life out of you. Learn to recognize these people. They're needy, always in crisis, and always seeking validation. Drop them like a bad habit and never look back. Friends - true friends - add to your life. It's not that you become a taker yourself; you enrich and support each other. I shake my head at all the people I allowed to attach themselves to my life, sucking me dry, because I was a good person and, therefore, should help them - again, and again, and again...
YOU are worth making a priority.
My whole life (like many of us) has been wrapped up in service to others. A veteran, a parent (a very young one), a spouse. I spent so much time putting my own well-being aside to take care of other people, I never had anything left for myself. Let me tell you how wrong-headed that is. How can you possibly be a good father, husband, supervisor, or friend when you are completely strung out, exhausted, and unhappy with yourself. People so often use their service to others as a mask for their own personal dissatisfaction with their bodies and their lives. Until they break...
I think that these things may have dramatically changed certain paths in my life. And even if the path itself didn't veer in another direction, it certainly would have been less rocky.
But, we can't change the past; only learn from it. I am in the best place in my life that I have ever been. I'm comfortable with who I am, how I feel, how I look, and who I share my time with. The next 40 years are going to be awesome!