My dear younger self,
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 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. You work hard, stay focused, and good things will happen. Everyone roots for you and is deeply in your future plans.
Now listen up. Things are going to change.
In mid-life your whole universe may collapse. Most dreams you ever had will crumble. Instead of universal support you will run into a firestorm of opposition even from some of your closest friends.
There are times when you will bomb terribly with mistakes that will embarrass you for years to come. Your family will not turn out the way you planned. Your career will be in in tatters. Death, divorce, and may stare you in the face. And everything in your deep-seated faith (It calls, you answer, and it happens) will be up for grabs. When it comes to your health you will have been through all manner of physical challenges. With your sense of despair sometimes at an all time low, you will sit there asking “What happened and 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. You may be living in the most exciting and fulfilling period of life. You learned that even bad things get better. You have come to embrace impermanence. As a result you embrace all you have today and you make the most of and are grateful for the good times
But for what’s its worth, here is my spin on the wisdom that I have discovered and the lessons learned through momentous loss, grievous disappointment, and the complete unpredictability of life. This concrete advice I offer to you my younger self.
Life is messy. It never turns out the way you planned. But it could even get better.
In the end it is better to be a realist and not a dreamy idealist. Naïve idealism can lead to you becoming disappointed, depressed, and disillusioned. It can also keep you trying to control the uncontrollable, depend on people (as well as yourself) always 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 broken dreams. It also helps us let go of the illusion that we are in control in life.
Success, as people define it, is not everything that it is cracked up to be
We often define success as getting to the top, receiving , being financially secure, and having the model marriage and family. There are two reasons to avoid this trap. 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. The one success you can control is by being a giving person.
Look for the many faces of grace that appear out of the blue in the hard times.
Grace is the one constant in the face of ever changing circumstances . Grace is also bundled into unpredictable and seemingly hidden events despite heartbreaking and confusing losses. Through the gift of grace, (grace always finds me. I don’t find it), we experience those painful experiences to be our most transforming moments and instructional teachers. As the writer Adyashanti writes of his difficult times,
“The immensity of unconditional love was just washing over me in waves”
Grace 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 bring one to such a place?
People will tell you to be mindful and stay in the moment. That advice is largely a cliche. It is more important to pay attention to everything around you. See things and people with this fresh set of eyes. Above all, get out of your head and into your heart. Keep yourself from being derailed by your emotions (I can control everything, understand everything, and predict my future accurately) . In so doing you will walk the path to discovering the magic of living. Just think of the wonderful moments you miss when you are living solely in terms of future hopes or past regrets?
Forgive yourself and others
The letting go of past “failures” is one key to finding yourself fully in the present. I find the mercy and permission to give myself absolution for the past. For those past indiscretions and foolish choices I declare myself to have been temporarily crazy (mindless instead of mindful). It also helps to be able to move to a new community where nobody knows and cares about my past and I have the opportunity to reinvent myself. Why beat up on myself when that act does nothing to change the past? Why reminisce about my flawed humanness when one real problem is the lack of acceptance of others? They may remain stuck in their desire to control or judge me, but I choose to move on.
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 self, brimful with dreams and plans, I trust that you will learn these lessons sooner rather than later. They will not prevent the tragedies and disappointments of life from occurring. Your middle age may still be a time when the “stuff hits the fan”. However, these beliefs will empower you to see other paradigms of living. The bitter pill life will ask you to swallow will not be as bitter. It may even be the cure from yourself.
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. In fact you will be preparing for a better way to die.
The older man you never dreamed you would become