Tuesday, February 4, 2014

10 Things I Have Come to Understand in My 50 Years

Bonus time.
(Photo credit: hfabulous)
I’ve learned so many lessons in my first half-century. I suppose this is true of every 50-year-old, but only a few of us have blog space to fill up with such ponderings. So, in no particular order:

1. Even if I were to die tomorrow, I win.
To have been born at all completely defies the odds. That’s why ever since my birth I’ve been living on bonus time, and so have you (since your birth). This continued existence of ours- it’s just icing on the cake.
2. The fact that a belief is widely held does not make it a fact.
The earth is flat, 6000 years old, and is the center of the universe. Separation of church and state is wrong. Slavery is morally justified. Women should not vote. Separate but equal is a fair compromise. Tim Tebow may be unorthodox, but there will always be a place for him in the NFL.
3. Listening is more important than speaking.
I realize that this is in easy statement for an introvert to make (if any statement is easy for an introvert to make).
4. Having an open mind and being contemplative are assets, not liabilities.
For reasons I cannot understand, we apparently want our leaders to be opinionated and inflexible, and they must never flip-flop. At least that’s how we vote. In reality, the most thoughtful and effective leaders are the ones who are comfortable saying “I don’t know”, or “I’ll have to think about that” once in a while. My problem is, very few of those people show up on the ballot.

Thankfully, however, many of those people show up at my happy hour. So that’s something.
5. Similarly, most people think they know way more than they actually do about how the world works.
The human brain does not cope well with ambiguity. We therefore construct models in our heads of how the world works, creating the illusion of certainty and predictability. We feel compelled to bridge our knowledge gaps with reasonable assumptions, best guesses, and large helpings of complete bullshit. In most instances the knowledge gaps would be best left unbridged. The fallacies that result from these errant models are at the root of most conflicts in our society.

It is a sign of great intelligence to acknowledge one’s ignorance (if I’m not mistaken).
6. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
The first one is appealing and represents a strength. The second one is ugly, and represents a weakness. I admire people with confidence, something that I often lack. I do everything I can to avoid arrogant people. Yet, I sometimes confuse one for the other. It takes careful observation and a certain amount of patience to be sure which one you’re dealing with.
7. We need each other.
We are social animals. Other than the occasional, functional hermit, every human being relies on a network of other human beings. The people who are most successful and happy in life are not so stubborn as to underutilize their network or so shortsighted and uncaring as to mistreat it. They cultivate their relationships, and realize mutual benefit.
People who spend an inordinate amount of time at home, such as disabled folks, often benefit from an online network too. But this can’t replace the need for face-to-face, in-person relationships.
I could to do a better job cultivating both of my networks.
8. “You make your own luck” applies primarily to the lucky.
It’s comforting to think of the world as a meritocracy – you get what you deserve. This idea is primarily espoused by two groups. First, there are those who have been the beneficiary of good fortune themselves. Second, there are those who hold on to the notion that there is a scorekeeper somewhere, doling out appropriate rewards and punishments despite the overwhelming evidence that bad things keep happening to good people and good things keep happening to bad people.
I accept the idea that a lack of effort lowers one’s chances of becoming prosperous, and that expending effort raises one’s chances. I certainly appreciate the importance of hard work and accountability (ask my kids). But I cannot accept the notion that people necessarily deserve their lot in life.
Admitting that our successes and failures are largely due to one form of luck or another allows us to have empathy for the less fortunate, and discourages us from idolizing the more fortunate.
9. We are stronger than we think.
Resilience is an almost universal human trait. People often don’t appreciate their strength until circumstances demand it. I’ve seen this time and again. I’ve lived this.
You will eventually discover how much you can endure and all that you are capable of accomplishing, if you haven’t already.
10. Things are generally not as bad as they appear to be.
“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” Marcel Pagnol
These are wise words to live by. But eventually things are as bad as they appear to be, and we die. Even then, see item 1, above.
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  1. Brilliant! And I will never believe you are truly an introvert. I think you are like my sister--reserved until she knows people but a real cut up among family & friends.

  2. Daphne, it's true! You should see me at parties. I'm a wallflower.

  3. Thanks for sharing some of the many lessons learned in your past half century. Good stuff.