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My dear younger Cedric,
You are at the beginning of your career and first marriage and life is brimming with hope. You are deeply optimistic and have great plans for yourself and your new family. You believe that you made a career decision based on an inner calling and then set the course of your life based on this compass direction. The result is certain: things will turn out the way you planned. The universe presented you with an opportunity and together you are going to make it happen.
Now listen up. Things are going to change.
In mid-life your whole universe will collapse. Every dream you ever had will crumble. Your family will not turn out the way you planned. Your career will be in in tatters. Death, divorce, and disease will stare you in the face. And the deep-seated faith in the universe that you had (It calls, you answer, and it happens) will be up for grabs. With your sense of despair at an all time low, you will sit there asking “What now?”
Here are some pointers that you will probably not believe and may completely disregard.
However, before you reject these views out-of-hand, consider this.
Right now in later life things have never been better. I am living in the most exciting and fulfilling period of my life. I have a deeply gratifying career that is 180 degrees from where you are. I live in the “land of enchantment” New Mexico filled with magic, adventure, and new friendships, a universe away from your life in Africa.
But for what’s its worth, here is my spin on a wisdom that I have discovered through my life’s teachers of momentous loss, grievous disappointment, and complete unpredictability. This concrete advice I offer to the younger me.
- Life is messy. It never turns out the way you planned. In the end it is better to be a realist and not a dreamy idealist. Naïve idealism can keep you disappointed, depressed, and disillusioned. It can also keep you trying to control the uncontrollable, depend on people (as well as yourself) behaving in rational and adult ways, and create fantasies of how you want things to turn out. In a strange way, this realization of the messiness of life normalizes things when you go through hurtful relationships, jobs that are disappointing, and unrealizable dreams. It also helps us let go of the illusion that we are in control in life.
- Success, as the world defines it is not everything that it is cracked up to be (e.g. getting to the top, receiving recognition, being financially secure, and having the model marriage and family). There are two reasons. First, life does not work that way. And second, the success of being is more important than the success of doing. Furthermore, the fact that there have been failures does not make you a failure.
- Look for the many faces of grace that appear out of the blue in the hard times. This is the one constant in the face of an ever changing universe. Grace is also bundled into the universe despite heartbreaking and confusing losses. By the gift of grace we find those painful experiences to be our most transforming moments. As the writer Adyashanti writes of his difficult times,
“The immensity of unconditional love was just washing over me in waves”
What then is that grace?
In my experience it is the realization that I am loved without conditions and accepted by something bigger than myself. Grace is also a part of my oneness with all. This most important part of life opens the door of my heart to another way of living. The result is gratitude and a capacity to see the beauty inherent in everything. Who would have known that life could have brought you to such a place?
- Stay in the moment. Paying attention to this and getting out of your head or derailed by your emotions (I can control everything, understand everything, and predict my future accurately) is the path to discovering the magic of living. Just think of the wonderful moments you miss when you are living solely in terms of the future you plan or the past that you regret?
To my middle aged self I leave you with the words of Adyashanti,
“In those moments when we know that we don’t know, when we take the backward step, heart wide open, we fall into grace.”
So my dear younger Cedric, brimful of dreams and plans, I trust that you will learn these lessons sooner than later. They will not prevent the tragedies and disappointments of life from occurring. Your middle age will still be a time when the “stuff hits the fan”. However, these four beliefs will empower you to see other paradigms of living. The bitter pill life will ask you to swallow will not be as bitter.
Above all, remember that it may seem that your ship is sinking but in reality it is only changing course. So you don’t have to descend into despair and hopelessness. You can then grab the opportunity to live more fully before you die.
The older man you never dreamed you would become.