Lessons I’m Learning…With Age

I was already in bed when the doorbell rang last Friday evening; actually it was already Saturday morning. My spouse was in on the surprise so she knew that my daughter and her husband were the “unexpected” guests who flew in from St. Louis to wish their dad a happy birthday. I was overjoyed, speechless and very blessed.

What followed was a great weekend with family, friends, good food, and frustrating but fun golf.

The weekend passed by quickly – as are the years. As I reflect on the past and think about what’s headed my way, I realize that some things really matter while others no longer do. Regardless of your age, I believe it’s important to think about what really matters in your life and start living that way.  Here’s my list:

Family matters:  A few weeks ago my wife and I traveled to Europe. Our 19-year-old boys were really looking forward to the trip. One of our stops was the city of Heidelberg, Germany.  My boys never did have a chance to meet my parents as they unexpectedly passed away in 1992. But I wanted to at least show them where their grandparents were from and have them meet friends who knew my parents.  They didn’t say much but I think the visit to my parents’ gravesite had a big impact on them, as it did on me because I was there with them.

This weekend we sat in the living room drinking coffee and looking at family photo albums. It was a wonderful time with lots of laughter.  We enjoy having the boys home from college and our daughter and her husband with us, even for a few days.  Soon my mother-in-law will leave Switzerland and move to the States and live close by. As she advances in age she too is realizing how important family is. You can live in the most beautiful place in the world – and she does – but if your family is on the other side of the ocean, life can get lonely.

Friends matter:  This afternoon a friend and I visited one of our buddies in the hospital. He had been in a bad motorcycle accident on the weekend and was recovering from surgery.  He is lucky to still be around.  Was it an inconvenience to drop what I was doing and make the visit? Sure it was. But was it worthwhile to do so? You better believe it. Friendships are easy to make but difficult to retain.  A real friendship demands that you put the other person first, think about how you can serve them, not what they can do for you.

I coach many men and when I ask them to tell me about their best male friend, I often get a long pause. When they finally give me a name I’ll ask: “When did you speak the last time to Joe?”  Often times they can’t remember or say that it might have been a year ago. This isn’t my definition of a good friendship.   Who are your best 2-3 friends?  Why would they call you their friends?

Health matters:  While not being a fanatic about it, I do try to stay healthy.  That means daily walks with the dog, working out, good food, limited alcohol and getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. (Some of the best conversations I have with my spouse are when we’re walking Max). Staying or getting healthy is not easy and takes a lot of discipline. I’m on an autoimmune diet and had to give up my favorite food completely: mint chocolate chip ice cream! And I used to eat this stuff every night!

Why is it important to get and stay healthy? There are many reasons: cost of becoming ill; risk for employability; burden on others.  But I personally believe that it’s impossible to have a positive attitude if you have health issues.

Planning matters: What I mean here is the importance of getting your financial house in order.  Being a son of German immigrants who came to this country with little more than a sea chest (which I still have), I was raised with certain financial principles: live below your means, save for a rainy day, pay for things in cash, no debt except for your house.  It was a constant lesson of delayed gratification growing up.  If I wanted a new bicycle or skateboard I’d have to find a job, save the money and pay cash.

This mindset, which you might not agree with, has helped me plan for the future and remove the financial pressure that many people my age have, especially as they look to their future retirement. I’ve tried to teach these principles to my three kids but it is difficult in a culture that is based on instant gratification.

Experiences matters:  We live in a material world and it is natural that we constantly compare ourselves to the “Joneses”.  But soon after we buy the new toy, we begin to tire of it and are looking for the next product we believe will satisfy us.  I’ve learned that experiences, such as family vacations create lasting value and memories and its where I want to invest my money. I know my kids won’t be talking about the type of car I was driving when I’ve passed away. But they will remember that ski vacation or trip to Europe we took together.  They’ll also remember that I took the time to experience almost all of their soccer, football and lacrosse games.

Rest matters:  I find it hard to slow down, turn down the noise and turn off the electronics. I want to get things done, achieve my goals and make a difference. But I also know that life is a marathon and not a sprint and if we want to finish the race well, we need to run at a good pace.  We also need to charge our batteries daily. So how do you do this? Are you able to turn off your cell phone or leave it at home when you take your partner our spouse out for dinner? Can you turn off the TV or log out of Facebook and spend an hour or two with a good book? Have you ever taken a 2-3 week vacation and totally tuned work out?

Burnout is a real threat. I’ve seen it many times in my career. Finding ways to rest and relax is important but not always easy. Here’s an interesting exercise you can try: the next time you drive to work, leave the radio off. Listen to the quiet; use the time to think. It might make you feel uncomfortable at first, but I think you will find it very rewarding.

I start each day with my quiet time. I pray, read some scripture and write my thoughts in a journal. I’ve been doing this for several years now and I can’t imagine life without it.  Regardless of your spiritual walk I highly recommend this early morning quiet time.

Learning matters: One of my goals is to be a life long learner.  Hopefully it is also yours.  We are blessed to have so many ways to continue learning and many of them are free: podcasts, audio books, videos, library books, etc.  I also invest my own money in courses, conferences, seminars and certifications that will help me grow. Find ways to continue on a mental growth path, regardless of your age.

Thankfulness matters: I count my blessings every day. It starts out when I get up in the morning and turn on a hot shower. Most people in the world don’t have this luxury.  Having been to developing countries I know how blessed I am to be able to drink the water directly out of the faucet. The list goes on and on: great family, good health, nice house, car, and food in the refrigerator.

During my quiet time I write down, each day, three things that I’m thankful for. I believe it is a good habit to get into and that it will shape my attitude on life.

I’ve shared some of the things that matter to me. What about you?  What does your list look like? Don’t wait until you get to be my age to start thinking about them.