Last week, I turned 58 years old which means I’ve had some experience at this life business. As my birthday gift to you all, I’m going to share an important piece of wisdom that I’ve managed to learn over my almost-six decades on earth.
Life is hard. Life is unpredictable. Life will kick you in the nuts and then, just as you’re catching your breath, kick you in the nuts again. And again. Loved ones die. People get sick. Jobs are lost. Bills accrue. Relationships end. Dreams don’t work out. Your novel gets rejected. Your boat sinks. You lose your license. A pandemic hits.
To put it another way, life is like climbing Mt. Everest with nothing but a tweed jacket and an inaccurate map. You’ll get to the top eventually, but not without a bunch of wrong turns and a whole lot of snow. Sometimes it feels like your mountain is taller and snowier than others, but trust me, everyone goes through storms. We’re all scaling the same mountain with the same crappy map. (Actually, that’s not true. Some people have even crappier maps, but we tend to think our map is the worst map ever.)
The difference is whether you let those storms define who you are. Look, I know, how demoralizing life can be, especially during those times when one bad thing after another happens. When you’re in the middle of the maelstrom, it’s tempting to wallow in your victimhood, becoming angry and bitter. I know, because I have friends who have done this. They never pass up a chance to remind you that they are a victim, be it of circumstance, bad luck, or whatever. The ironic thing is that their bitterness often attracts more bad events. It’s like attracting like.
In my dotage, I’ve accepted that life is a series of good and bad mixed together. You can suffer disaster after disaster for years followed by decades of happiness or vice versa. The secret is to not stress about the unknown future, but to focus on the small steps you need at that moment, to survive until the bad times pass.
Eventually bad times end. They don’t always end the way you want, but they do end. If you don’t believe me, ask my friends who have suffered through cancer, child illnesses, layoffs, divorces, etc. and come out the other side. What’s more, the memories of the bad times will — if you let them — fade. It’s like the memories of giving birth. You remember it hurt, but you forget just how much. One day you’re suffering, and thirty years later you’re sitting around saying “hey, remember when your child was born 8 weeks early and they had to put him on a feeding tube and a heart monitor and he had a brain hemorrhage, and your husband had hives and you had post-partum depression and oh yeah, the day your baby was born, the house flooded?” like you’re recounting a memory from summer camp. (Albeit a really, really sucky summer camp.)
So, keep climbing my friends. Weather the storms best you can and know that, when life kicks you in the nuts, you aren’t alone. It’s kicking someone else too.