We can learn from anyone. Even our enemies.
Ancient Chinese Proverb
I will be turning 50 in November and lately, I have been ruminating about what I have done with my life so far.
Amazingly, quite a lot. And against some stiff odds and claims by people who said I couldn’t do it, or wasn’t smart enough, or that I would not amount to anything. Yet, fifty years later, my track record is chock full of accomplishments that people said I couldn’t do.
My 8th grade math teacher once told me that because I sucked at math, I wouldn’t even get a job at McDonald’s. Well, she was right. I did not get a job at McDonald’s. However, two science degrees, a minor in mathematics, and a position as a senior scientist at a U.S. Department of Energy research laboratory are my counter examples to the amounting to nothing score.
So what have I learned in my 50 years? That people are more oft wrong than they are right. So for the next 50 (I am optimistic that I will make it even though many say I won’t), I am just going to quit listening to people.
If I can impart one piece of wisdom: when ever you are feeling left out, written off, persecuted by people’s assumptions that you won’t amount to anything, that you don’t belong here… just remember that in the scheme of things, it does not matter what other people think of you. It only matters what you think of them. And for the naysayers, the doubters, the haters — they are not worth one iota of your precious time in thought.
Don’t ask me what I think of you, I might not give the answer that you want me to…
Fleetwood Mac (from the 1969 song “Oh Well” composed by vocalist and guitarist Peter Green)
You can’t reason with naysayers. The only way to prove them wrong is to do it. I found this to be the only way you can get them to shut the f**k up.
WordPress has an interesting feature called writing helper that “randomly” generates a quote, a topic, or photo to inspire a blog topic. I tried it and got the following:
Take a line from a song that you love or connect with. Now forget the song, and turn that line into the title or inspiration for your post.
Ok. For me that would be: “If you choose not to decide to decide you still have made a choice.”
The above quote comes from the song Freewill by Rush (second track of the album, Permanent Waves, 1980). The song’s subject is about freewill; how it is not a gift, but rather a choice. What resonates with me is the fact that every day you and I are faced with many choices. Should we do this, or should we do that? Often times, we try to evade the burden of choice, put off our decision for fear of making the wrong choice. However, avoidance is itself a choice.
I often hear people complain about how their lives didn’t turn out how they planned. If only they would have gone to college right after high school, delayed getting married until they were older/more mature, or born into money, how their lives would be different or better. Perhaps. However, those choices are in the past; opportunities gone. Often, people forget that in the here and now are choices to be made to forge a better life.
To show you that I am not just talking out of my arse, I am going to share a personal experience. This happened about 16 years ago: I was freshly divorced; my career in radio hit a wall; I was in poverty (I do not recommend being poor, it really does suck). I had been contemplating a career change but a change to what? I had been spending my free time teaching myself computer programming; the Internet was new and fascinating to me. I could literally spend hours on my computer and thought if there were a way to do this for a living, I think I wouldn’t mind that. The problem was that I had no college degree. I graduated from high school years ago; I would need an education but the thought of college scared me. I was in my mid-thirties; I would be in classrooms of freshly graduated high school students and twenty-somethings.* Talk about a feeling old. Compound that with the thoughts of how I would be 40 when I graduated and that I would be starting a new career — in my forties! These thoughts paralyzed me into inaction.
A few days later during a jog, I was listening to the radio and ironically, the song playing was Rush’s “Freewill.” Halfway through the song came a voice; it said, “Eric, gods willing, you are going to be 40 no matter what you do. Would it not be better to be a 40 year old with a college degree than a 40 year old with out one?” Case closed. I ran back home and began the application process. Several months later, I embarked on one of the greatest experiences in my life: being a university student and it changed my life. I am so glad I chose to do it.
The most powerful weapon is choice; the second most powerful weapon is an educated mind. Make the smart investment in yourself. Choose to decide. It will be the right choice.
* This is not meant to be a slam on young people. It turns out that being the oldest guy in the classroom wasn’t as scary as I imagined it would be. These students welcomed me in their study groups and I learned lots from them. I was impressed at their discipline and dedication. I wished I had that kind of discipline when I was their age. I should have made a wiser choice when I had the chance.