Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Most Useful Life Lessons I Learned

There were many reasons I admired my grandmother. She was born on a little island in the Caribbean in 1900 and died at 99, having lived in three countries, through two world wars and the invention of everything from the airplane to blow dryers to the internet. What I always aspired to most was her level of unflappability.

One of my lovely children sent this text today.

How to be a grown up at work - replace fuck you with ok, great
To which a second lovely child replied

I use my “fuck you -> ok, great” replace-a-lator 5000 a lot. Mom’s has always been a bit faulty and even more so in old age

Actually, while it may be that I have very little tendency to hold back if I feel inclined to tell you to go fuck yourself, that inclination has come less and less the older I get.

There have been a lot of milestone events in the past few years - my second daughter getting married, my youngest daughter graduating from high school, my next-youngest daughter appearing in movies and TV shows, a book authored by two daughters winning many awards.

My company, 7 Generation Games, survived its third year in business, which is quite an accomplishment for a start-up. We released our third commercial game and two more demos for upcoming games.

I don't want to make this sound too much like those Christmas letters where they brag about Johnny's discovering a cure for cancer while Janey wrote a poem that won an Oscar for best screen play. "Even those are normally for actual screen plays that are made into movies they made an exception for Janey because of her amazing talent." Oh, and here is a picture of our family on our summer vacation to the moon.

My point is that a lot of good stuff has happened that has caused me to stop and reflect, because, in my life, a lot of bad stuff has happened as well. If you're really interested in the bad stuff, you can listen to our first two podcast episodes, or you can just take my word for it.

I'm getting to that age where more and more people I know have died - all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers - the majority of the 'older generation' is gone now. I've also seen many people die far too young, of heart attacks, accidents, cancer and a few from suicide or murder.

I've seen a lot of people I care a lot about experience great hardships, everything from losing a child to losing a spouse to losing their ability to walk, hear, see or speak. There has been plenty of failure in my circle of friends and family over the years - divorce, bankruptcy, business failures, dropping out of school, losing matches or missing out on teams.

As I get older, I'm starting to dimly perceive the roots of Nanny's composure. When you get old enough to have seen a lot of lives played out and summed up, I think you learn a few things.

  1. The most certain fact about life is that it goes on. Whether you totaled your car last night or won the Nobel prize, in the morning you still need to get out of bed, brush your teeth, eat. No matter how great or rotten things are, life has a tendency to regress toward the mean. (Random fact: Did you know that the phrase "This too, shall pass" is not found anywhere in the Bible? Regardless, it is still fundamentally true.)
  2. Life goes on - until it doesn't. You never know. So, if you want to do something, whether it is visit a good friend, get a Ph.D., start a company, earn a black belt or tell your family you love them, don't put it off too long. Prepare for tomorrow, but not so much that you forget to live today.
  3. People have much more control over life than they think they do. I've been so blessed to have good friends around me my whole life and I have seen people overcome incredible challenges. Just don't give up and it's amazing what you can accomplish. You can be happy and have a good life in a million different permutations. It is really NOT true that you will never be happy unless Bob the Builder from shop class notices you and sweeps you off your feet. Nope. Not true. You can be just as happy being Mrs. Thomas the Tank Engine.
  4. People have much less control over life than they think they do. This might seem a logical contradiction to the previous lesson, but it isn't. Sometimes, things just happen. A tree falls on your house. Someone you love drops dead. The company where you have worked for 20 years goes out of business. You run into an old friend who tells you about an opening for the perfect job for you.
  5. In short, you have much less control over what happens to you and much more control over how you respond to it. Or, as gamblers say, what matters isn't the cards you're dealt but how you play them.
I think if you take these five lessons to heart, you, too, will be less flappable.
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Rick Matz said...

I hope that you got the longevity genes and that you have passed them along.

mandy said...

This hit home in so many ways. I agree that, basically, "shit happens," but that how you respond is indicative of your success in the sense that it is up to YOU and YOU ALONE to shape what you want and work toward. As they say, you may get to choose, but not get to control the options you are choosing from. That's where YOU come in. Heart. And I agree that so much is out there that one can just get, if one tries. Many people don't have the courage to do so. And yet, it's right there, waiting. It's pretty amazing what one can achieve with determination. Great read.