I’m not sure how old I was when it dawned on me that I had more past than future. It was awhile ago. And it gave me a heightened sense of urgency.
Some older people talk a lot about regret. I wasn’t so smitten by regret as much as I was driven by a looming deadline. Heavy emphasis on the “dead.”
A couple of weeks ago I had my 6th surgery. Six surgeries and no broken bones. Go figure. When I was in high school I had to have surgery on my nose. That was surgery number 2. The doctor asked me when I had broken my nose. I said, “I’ve never broken my nose.” He said, “I think you have.” So that’s one broken bone I guess.
Growing old is a daily, subtle elevation. It’s not like waking up one day to a pain you never had. It’s more like waking up with a pain you always remember having. Hard to explain. The toll life takes on your body is just the price you pay for gaining experiences. The aches come with the territory. Some days you notice them a lot. Other days, not so much.
Within 2 hours of coming out of recovery, I started walking up and down the halls of the hospital. Determination has a lot to do with healing. I speak from experience.
I made fast friendly acquaintances with the nurses. They’ve got a tough job and I didn’t want to make it any harder. I’m not one of those “hey-wait-on-me” kind of patients. My pain levels were very tolerable. No reason to complain and make my life – or anybody else’s – miserable.
I kept walking and moving. I knew it would help the healing process. Besides, it made me feel better!
A day later I was home and the day after that I hit a wall. If you’ve ever had surgery, you’ve likely experienced it. You hit a dip where you feel worse before feeling better. Day 2 and 3 after the surgery were wall days. It’s during those times that you simply make up your mind to grind it out. The pain, the aches, the discomfort – they’ll rule your life if you let them. I tried not to.
No pain meds. Other than Tylenol. Nuff said.
On Monday I had my follow up office visit. They shot 2 x-rays to make sure things were looking good. I’ve never looked so thin.
Pretty amazing, huh? No, I don’t know how they do it either. I don’t even how they figure out how to do such things, much less to actually do them. I’m just thankful there are skilled surgeons capable of such feats. My surgeon is a rockstar. So are the folks who work in his practice.
My next appointment is in 4 more weeks. In the meantime, I can’t lift anything over 15 pounds and the doctor said I needed to “take it easy.”
But this isn’t really about my health update. Well, not entirely. So let’s move on…
Growing Older Just Takes Time. Nothing Else.
Richard Pryor, playing the role of an old man named Fishbone, said, “people may call you an old fool…but you don’t get to be old being no fool…” Fishbone was wrong. There are plenty of old fools roaming the earth. Always have been.
The human spirit is resilient. So is the human body. You know this if you’ve ever watched a terminally ill person die. The body lingers and fights for every breath long after consciousness.
Back when I was running a retailing company I’d pass a number of homeless people on the way to my office. They’d be on busy intersections holding cardboard signs begging for money. Day after day living on the streets of Dallas. Living under overpasses. Night after night in the summer heat and winter cold. Weathered by their circumstances they’d persist. The lines in their face show the hardness of their life.
The lines and creases account for something as we grow older. What, is up to us!
The Age Of Discontentment
I suppose every age has been an age of discontentment. It’s the plight of all men to be dissatisfied. What with all the encouragement to push harder, go faster, endure longer…it seems our best is never good enough. Besides, somebody else is doing it and making us look like an amateur. All those creases, wrinkles, aches and pains that got us this far just don’t quite seem good enough to get us there. Wherever there is.
We’ve all got a story. Most of us have way more than one. Or it could be our story is as meandering as a public speaker who has no idea what he wants to say, or how to say it. Sometimes our lives ramble on like that. No direction. No strategy. Just getting by.
Discontentment took a turn by the time the Internet became widespread. The explosive growth of the world wide web between 1995 and 2000 brought with it many fine things, but as with most things – it weren’t all good. Since I was 15 I was part of the consumer electronics industry. By the time the VCR was invented and video was beginning to toss hi-fi aside like a red headed step child, we all knew that the porn industry was largely fueling the growth of the VCR. Sinful industries are among the industrious on the planet. They can seize opportunities for making money long before most of us. Time shifted recordings of TV programs was pretty terrific. But it came at a price. Porn was now able to enter the home in ways never before possible.
So there’s typically bad with good. I could sense it with the Internet. We became globally connected. People from all walks of life could use this new technology for whatever suited their purpose. Some of the most successful people online today began as spammers, seizing the opportunities to send sales messages to every email address they could find. Many morphed into more legitimate enterprises as time went on. But don’t you ever wonder about the person who began in illegitimacy? I wonder why some of us seem wired to look for opportunities, unfazed by any argument about right or wrong. We simply chase the money. Or fame. Others of us, we’re careful. More than that, we just don’t think of it. It never crossed our minds to spam…or a host of other things that unscrupulous people do.
Fast forward to 2014 and today it’s the success stories that harm us most. Make us discontent with being responsible people doing responsible things. B-O-R-I-N-G!
In the last 5 to 10 years it’s about entrepreneurship. It’s about never being satisfied. It’s about always taking the thing up a notch. Any notch but here will do. Then you can quickly fix your gaze to the next notch. And the next. Always be chasing. The elusive dream.
So our hands grow increasingly creased. Our brows more wrinkled. Our vision more blurry. Our gate slows. Our backs bend.
And these things will happen no matter the state of our contentment. Or lack of.
This past weekend in Dallas the 2014 Podcast Movement conference was held. The first ever. I was rather pleased it happened right here where I live. I was even more pleased to get in on the Kickstarter campaign where early supporters could help launch this thing and save big money to boot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend much of it. Fact is, I wasn’t going to go at all, but when Saturday morning rolled around and I kept watching the #PM14 Twitter stream I grew increasingly discontented with not being there. What a waste, I thought. Right here, mere miles away and I’m not feeling terribly great, not supposed to drive…blah, blah, blah.
Around noon I got dressed, took off the neck brace, fired up the hot rod and headed that way. I had a list of about 6 people I really wanted to meet, if only to shake their hands.
I parked the car, grabbed by backpack and walked up to the 3rd floor where all the action was. I loitered in a room where Cliff Ravenscraft (PodcastAnswerMan.com) and Chris Brogan had been on some panel discussion. The discussion was long past and a line of people were gathered to speak with each participant. The seats were all empty and I sat a comfortable distance back and waited. Cliff is a guy I’ve listened to since the beginning. I was producing online audio for private work when Cliff started. I wasn’t podcasting because the audio I was producing wasn’t for public consumption and it wasn’t syndicated (meaning you couldn’t subscribe to it). But like Cliff, I was and still am an audio snob because my roots were in the consumer electronics business. Cliff was an insurance guy working in his family’s firm, but dissatisfied with that life. Today, he’s a new media rock star. This was an opportunity to finally meet him face to face. We’ve known each other online for a lot of years.
I waited about 15 minutes and ambled toward him as the last visitor seemed to be winding down. When she walked away, I extended my hand, introduced myself and got a bro hug from him. Suited me fine. I’m not a guy uncomfortable with such acts. He said he didn’t expect to see me because he had seen my Tweets about my surgery. I told him I just had to make the trip, but didn’t plan on staying long. It lasted just 5 minutes or so as I patted him on the back, congratulated him on the new house and all his success. “I know you’re completely beaten down by alot of this, so I’ll get outta here,” I said. We shook hands, reiterated how good it was to finally meet and I was off.
Like so many others Cliff is a guy who let his discontentment fuel his drive to succeed at something different. It’s the positive use of discontentment. But somebody else was at Podcast Movement. Somebody I don’t typically follow. A guy who has been at it for a lot less time than Cliff. Two years ago nobody heard of this guy, but today he’s the 900 pound gorilla in the world of podcasting. He was once Cliff’s student. In sheer revenue, it appears he’s left Cliff (and all the rest of us) in the dust. Good for him.
But envy, jealousy and “that’s not fair” ranked pretty high as emotions during such times as a conference on podcasting. At least among some.
Others? They’re enamored by the star power or celebrity of such people. In fact, Brogan was reported to have referred to them as a “cult.” Welcome to the Internet Age where a cult following can be established (it’s not easy, but it is possible) and Pedro can make all your wildest dreams come true. No, it’s not likely. It’s highly UNlikely. But these are the things discontentment can do for you. Or against you.
I walk around the Podcast Movement and see my people, fellow podcasters. Most of whom I suspect are just like me. Wishing for bigger audiences. Wanting more downloads. Hoping to figure out some way to earn a few extra dollars to defray the expense. Or longing to find a way to make it a real business, a real money making endeavor. Most of us aren’t making enough to cover our expenses, but you’d never know that by our enthusiasm.
Like any group, we’ve got a pecking order. There is THE rock star who appears to be earning more money in a month than most of us earn in a year. Everywhere he goes, he’s grabbed, one selfie after another taken with him so people can brag about having touched the hem of his garment. Slightly more than 2 years ago he went to such an event in NYC and nobody knew his name. That’s ancient history now. Today, jealousy is raging. So it goes.
I spot a kindred spirit whom I’ve never met except online. I approach him, “Steve Kloyda, I’m a fan of what you do.” Steve isn’t a young pup. Like me, he’s weathered some storms in life. Steve is a sales prospecting expert.
Steve has some creases, wrinkles a bit more skin on top of his head than hair like some other brilliant people I know. And like me, Steve has a background steeped in selling. We’re a couple of old guys who are still hustling. We have a nice brief visit and I’m pleased to have met another person on my “list of people I want to meet at this conference.” I’m probably more pleased to meet Steve then he even realizes because he does do good work that I appreciate and I know the kind of work he does is never going to result in the BIG STAR parade. He knows it too I suspect. And I walk away knowing that life is not fair, but there’s nothing me or Steve can do about it. Just accept it and get on with our lives. So we do.
As I drive away from the hotel I pass areas of Dallas where people would view my life as that of a rock star. And the reality that the creases, wrinkles and lines of our life don’t necessarily define us as much they remind us.
Cliff built a brand new house. A house much larger than his last. His business success has afforded him a new lifestyle he’s not had before. I’m happy for him and his family. He’s worked hard, so why not? But I’m imagining that the people who live in some of these humble places I pass as I drive back home have also worked hard. Some maybe harder. Any rational person knows it’s not just about hard work. Cliff knows that. I know that. Steve knows that. And if the lines in my hands and the creases in my face have come as the result of learning anything, it’s this. The Bible is right. Always.
Eccl. 9:11 “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
I don’t know about anybody else, but I can only answer for myself. I know that whatever success life has afforded me isn’t entirely of my own doing. Sure, I made some smart choices along the way. And some monumentally dumb ones, too. Yes, I created some opportunities, seized some others and blew many more. And however great or terrific I may sometimes think I am, I know my life is a finite resource and the tank is emptying fast.
If your platform is just a single square foot of space with just a few family members listening, you’re blessed. If it’s a larger stage with professional sound and lighting, then…well, I’m not sure you’re quite as blessed. You may be cursed for all I know. I know you’re pressure and stress is elevated because the world expects more from you. The podcaster who’s earning 6 figures a month has another month coming up when September starts. He’s got to keep that ball rolling, creating more products, attending more conferences, taking more selfies with people. Giving truth to the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”
I’m rather convinced these days that if people follow God, do the right thing, serve their family and friends and do nothing more – then those lines and creases represent a pretty good life. But God told us that all along.
1Tim. 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain”
The Stories We Can Tell
John Sebastian wrote it. Sang it. So did the Everly Brothers. And Jimmy Buffett. And Tom Petty. It’s a great song. More than that, it’s true. It’s all about the stories we can tell.
Donald Miller has built an entire career on that notion. He wrote about it in his popular book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. If you want to live a different life – presumably a better life – then write a better story. Start living a better story.
Worry, poor health, obesity and hardship can make a person appear to be older than they really are. You can’t stay young forever. And no matter how easy and soft, or how difficult and hard your life is – you’re going to have the lines in your palm, creases in your brow and screws in your head to remind you of all the good and bad that has brought you to this point.
What you do with it now depends largely on you. You can create new creases and new wrinkles by doing meaningful work. Or you can run to more mischief and sin and you’ll still get the creases and wrinkles. They’ll just represent something vastly different.
Me? I’ve now got 6 screws in my head. So if one comes loose, I’ve got 5 more to back it up!