As I sit here writing my latest article, I’ve turned 48. Not exactly a milestone age to be sure, but most certainly getting closer to one. Now, although I certainly don’t consider 48 old, I’m not exactly a spring chicken, as they say. To put it another way, if I were to drop dead tomorrow, there may be a few bummed people out there, but nobody will be crying, “But he was so young!”
Reaching this age has most certainly made me more introspective, which I consider a huge plus to this whole life process shit. So what has all this inner space voyaging revealed to me? Well, it’s taught me without a doubt that when it comes to modern goals for what society considers a successful life thus far, I have achieved almost none of them. By the standards of many in the mainstream, I am a complete and utter failure.
I wasn’t a terribly well-behaved kid, I hated school, I don’t have a degree, I never went through more than a semester of junior college (hell, I barely made it out of high school for fuck’s sake). I’ve not carved out a successful corporate career, no big house on the corner with two cars in the driveway, never been married or had the 2.5 kids (I opted for one perfect daughter instead), I’ve got no 401(k), no retirement plan, and outside the foreseeable future I have absolutely no idea what comes next. I didn’t design some life altering iPhone app, haven’t discovered a savant’s talent at computer coding, and after more than five years of trying to learn, I’m still complete shit on the bass guitar. I can’t speak 10 (or even two) languages, I’m no artist, and am pretty sure that I’ll never be famous. So what the fuck have I done with my life? Well, I’ve tried to live as close to full throttle as I dared.
I ran a little wild as a kid lying, cheating and stealing. I stayed out ‘til all hours of the night and slept entire days away. I’ve done drugs, partied like a rock star, then imitated a rock for weeks on end while I recovered. I’ve been naked in public more than most people have in private, I’ve danced and I’ve performed. I’ve hiked mountains, climbed walls, jumped off bridges, jumped out of airplanes/helicopters/hot air balloons. I’ve flown planes, I’ve traveled the world making both great friends and bitter enemies along the way, watched a new year arrive while blowing bubbles under the Pacific Ocean, touched a shark in open water, seen the sun rise and set in some of the most amazing locations imaginable. I’ve owned shit cars and nice ones, I’ve crashed motorcycles, lived in pop-up trailers and high-rise apartments. I’ve had 10 surgeries and more trips to hospitals than I can recall, managed to survive more near-death experiences (some of them would have been amazingly stupid ways to die) than I’m comfortable thinking about. I’ve fallen head over heels in love and been loved in return, had my heart crushed, crushed one or two myself, I’ve had amazing sex, and sex that makes you wish you were anywhere else with anyone else. I’ve lost close friends and loved ones and learned to cope with that loss.
I’ve managed to realize that I know very little about very little, but to also realize that the greatest part of that particular epiphany is that I still have so much left to learn. In short, I have had what I have to consider the luckiest life I could ever imagine, and even more wonderful and amazing is the fact that I know how truly lucky I am.
Now, don’t for an instant think I’m saying that those people who have achieved what society deems a successful life at my age are somehow losing out on a happy and fulfilled existence, because I have no doubt whatsoever that some of those folks are beyond ecstatic with their lives. What I’m saying is simply that I decided long ago not to measure my life by some made-up standard of success or failure—that I have chosen instead to measure my success in life by the level of happiness I’ve managed to achieve, lessons I’ve learned, people I’ve known. To measure my success set firmly in the belief that I’m going to follow my own path, regardless of what anyone else thinks, and that doing so is OK. The only truly miserable people I know are the ones trying to achieve that carved-in-stone standard for “happy, instead of just doing what’s right for them and living their lives, instead of the one someone else dreamed up for them.
To quote one of my favorite songs: “Who all can tell you not to sing your story, who all can tell you that you’re singing off key … You are the dance, you are not the dancer, you are the song, not the one who sings.”