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As we entered the tenth month of lockdown — it seems isolation inevitably begets introspection, an unsettling prospect even when things are going well, and more so in this precarious and unprecedented COVID era. It throws you off your game, your routine, your discipline — and, certainly your headspace. Last week, it was nagging at me — as I looked back at last nine months. When I was trying to remember precisely what day it was while working through another glass of wine, there it was, in the nether recesses of mind, niggling away.
I passed THE BIG midpoint milestone age of 50 last year. It has already been a year since? How did this happen? As someone who is sliding into the back nine of my life, does this mean I am officially a ‘mature’ male? When I was in my 20s, I used to think by 50, I want to have achieved certain goals and now I’m saying - wait 51 isn’t really that old. Why did I think, by a certain age, it meant certain things were supposed to happen? I refuse to scare people with messages that imply their best years are behind them.
I am here to tell people that aging is a wonderful privilege. An age really truly is just a number and I think society sets expectations for us to feel like we need to have something by a certain age or we should be something at this or that age — and, I think that isn’t really fair or true. To quote late American actor John Barrymore, “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” The greatest weight of the human heart is the regret of unrealized potential.
My father died at the age of 53 when I was 18. When he died I remember thinking well he was 53 and lived a long life. And — it is now crazy to think I’m at the doorstep of 53. A few months after he was murdered, I realized I never took the time to truly appreciate him. It taught me, in the most difficult of ways, to be grateful to people who are kind to me. Gratitude is a constant awareness that makes sense of our past. His death taught me to love, helped me to be patient and to deal with pain. There are two kinds of pain in this world — pain that hurts, and the pain that alters. I experienced both.
Now, I’m grateful to my father. He, who explained to me the difference between zero and one. One is your family and loyal friends. Zero is everything else. Best advice I've ever received. When I was 19, I landed a job that would be a turning point in my life — again, it taught me in the most difficult of ways, not only that life isn't fair, but that it shouldn't be. Fate, they say, designs destiny and it is inexorable.
I would say for where I am in my life, personally and professionally, I am exactly where I would want to be. I long believed that optimists hallucinate; pessimists get depressed. However, both will not get anywhere in life. But hopelessness, is an awful wretch. Therefore, we must be willing to see everything the way it is. What is in the way is the way. That is — ruthless pragmatism, and we need that to win in life.
By the end of a — now distant 2019, I was far more bright-eyed than wise. Almost ludicrously so, noting in my ill-fated predictions for 2020, that after a very difficult 2019, I thought 2020 actually might give hope for a better outcome. Well it turned out — not to be so. To that end — just like you, I’m also looking forward to the end of 2020. It’s no understatement that the pandemic has brought dramatic changes to our collective lives. It has been tiring and challenging and quite frankly, not a lot of fun.
Having said all that — here is my prediction for 2021. If there’s any hope for the future, it’s here, and if there were any prediction that should have seen some promise, it’s this one: Humanity thrives on hope and support. Humans do better in adversity than in luxury. Adversity is an opportunity to determine the best possible course of action. Resistance makes muscles grow — and, resistance makes people grow. New challenges lead to new learnings. Don’t get bitter — but, get better. Because, the single most corrosive emotion that exists, is the feeling of — victimhood.
The last freedom a person has is the right to choose their own behaviour. Last week, I dusted off a copy of a timeless classic, The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D. and Spencer Johnson, M.D. After reading an interesting quote written by Malcolm Forbes, "Failure is success if we learn from it.” This led me to think that in some respects the best person for me to manage is — myself. We all can be our most valuable asset — and, worst liability.
In the end, I believe this is a story for our times. Yes, we are going through a very difficult and frightening period. However, there have been other times in history where challenges and crisis descended on humanity. Challenge does not change us — but, it reveals us. It is the resiliency of the human spirit that we need to embrace here. Reminding ourselves that we have the strength to endure — and, this crisis in fact will give us the strength to persevere.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years on Robben Island in isolation with no family, luxuries, or any technology — but, with just hope and a vision for the future. Unlike him, for the most part we all have avoided any semblance of a monastic life up until now — but, with easy access to plenty of new age luxury. So, I’m certain we can do this. Ultimately it is the mind that will win this fight — and, the future.
During the holiday season — I will take the time to make the best investment I can; an investment in myself. I will reflect, learn from my mistakes, shortcomings, failures of 2020 and recognize my ongoing blind spots. I will try to overcome them — and, be energized for a new and hopeful 2021. I will continue to be ruthlessly pragmatic. I will get uncomfortable to grow — because, I know there is atrophy in the coffin of my comfort zone.
There is a ton of runway left for me — and, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “I have miles to go before sleep.”
I will do just that.
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