I turned 50 in December. “Turning” 50 sounds so nice and Vanna White-ish, doesn’t it? Vanna approaches a large two-digit board and turns a five and then a zero. I “turned” 50.
I feel more like I “hit” 50. Not “hit” like Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. I mean “hit” like Arte Johnson in his yellow slicker on Laugh-In when he hit the stop sign on his tricycle and fell over. That’s the kind of “hit 50” I can relate to.
So, as my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Farmer, was fond of asking, “What, young man, do you know for sure?”
Here is some of my accumulated wisdom at 2-and-a-half score:
1. Taking a chance is worth the risk if the goal is something one truly has one’s heart set on.
My wife took my breath away the first time I saw her. If I hadn’t worked up the nerve to get to know her, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to have my breath taken away again and again for the rest of my life.
2. Even the most serious things aren’t that serious.
Let me qualify that--loss of life, dread of disease, reality of a catastrophe. Those are indeed very serious, but people have a tendency to over-dramatize unexpected, somewhat shocking, disappointing moments.
For instance, two of my friends had a child together before they finished high school. To hear it on the streets at the time, their lives were practically over, but people spoke too quickly. Those two “kids” loved each other, married, raised that little girl and put her through college.
By the time she was finished with school and on her way to independence, they were barely 40. While the rest of us were starting to raise a family, they had college loans paid off and money in the bank as each pursued successful professional careers.
What once looked so bleak was now downright enviable. The lesson? Lighten up. Things have a way of working themselves out.
3. “No one knows anything.”
Screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man) said this, and it has truly become a creed for me.
I keep it in the back of my mind all the time as I am being prevailed upon. Yes, there are scientists who know formulas and accountants who know equations, but aside from that type of precision, most people who talk about “how it is” are simply giving a version of “how it is for them.”
They don’t know what’s inside someone, the passion, what someone is willing to do to get ahead. My friend wanted to be an architect so badly that he kept asking people in the field how difficult the profession was and if the job market was good, etc. He talked himself out of his passion because everyone else told him it was too challenging.
Do you want to know how possible something may be? Look within to find out what you are willing to sacrifice and what success really means to you. No one really knows what fire burns in your belly--no one but you!
4. Be aware of the great moments of living.
Take in the sounds, smells and sights; notice the lighting and the warmth of the room. I can play back some of my most special moments as if they are on videotape.
In the movie Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts’ character is about to go to the opera by private plane as the guest of Richard Gere’s multi-millionaire character. She’s been given a new dress, a diamond necklace and a complete makeover for the evening. As they step into the elevator to leave for the evening, she says, “If I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time tonight.”
Embrace that type of thinking and you’ll collect memories like a gardener collects the prettiest roses.
5. Most of life is just OK.
Stop living as if each day must entertain you or come complete with fireworks and free candy. Learn to appreciate the small rewards in life and realize how fortunate you are.
I know many people who say, “I’m so bored.” They have a lovely home, dinner on the table and quiet nights in front of the fireplace, yet to hear them tell it, that’s a prison.
Friends, please understand that there are plenty of people who envy the simple accomplishment of being able to relax, pay bills on time, and eat a good meal. Life is not a movie or TV show. This is just life and the secret is enjoying the passing of time. If you had turkey every day, how would it taste on Thanksgiving?
6. Put off decision-making, and life will make the decision for you.
A soccer mom was talking recently in the stands about how the economy has always been against her and her husband. She complained how he couldn’t get a football scholarship because he wasn’t one of the “coach’s pets,” which blocked him from going to college, forcing him to take a manual-labor job, and now, 20 years later, they still feel the effects.
I wanted to scream at her, “You mean to tell me the excuse you guys developed when you were 18 is still the one you use today? You never found a way around that measly story to rise up and do well for your family? You want me to buy that story? I am trying to believe either one of you still does. What once kept you down is no excuse for today. That oppression you speak of is also known as opportunity!”
I have also observed others who recently turned 50. They are proud when someone tells them they look younger than 50. When someone says that, they say, “What?” just to have it repeated. How cheap. How petty.
Personally, I seek “expert” testimony.” Although many men say they’ll “never pay for it,” I do. At the county fair every year I cough up two bills to have the carni guess my age, weight, and birthday. He tells me I look younger than 50. I have been doing this since I was 40.
Here’s the system. Approach the carni alone--no wife, no kids, no parents, no friends, nothing he can gauge you by. Looking fit and energetic, say, “Hey, guess my age.” He writes a number on a slip of paper, palms it, then looks squarely at you and says, “Tell me.” You states your age, and he reveals his guess. If he misses by 2 years or more, you win a prize.
Last summer when I was 49, he guessed 44. When my wife saw me approaching with a teddy bear in my arm, she knew why I was smiling. “Does this mean you’ll stop falling asleep in your chair at 7:30 every night?” I just smiled at her.
So, yes, I am 50. The above revelations didn’t occur to me on my birthday. They have been woven into my lifestyle for many years. What do I know for sure?
Well, I know that still pictures used to evoke romantic memories and stories, and now they have been replaced by video. Although I now have a more accurate record of the past, I will never again be able to have a truly romantic one.
I find Facebook to be nothing more than an absolute violation of privacy, and have steered as far away from it as possible, but the pressure to join from friends and family mounts daily. “Follow the sheep, follow the sheep,” they seem to say.
I know my 13-year-old’s obsession with Internet-fact-checking every time I tell a story has ruined some of my best laugh-getting whoppers, and I hate him for it.
I know that waking up at 5 a.m. to take my dogs to the park to run free in Christmas snow during my holiday vacation was as fulfilling as scoring a game-winning touchdown.
My friends, life’s blessings are many, and all I can say at 50 is what I hope to be able to say at twice 50. What a lovely ride.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.