As of two days ago, I have celebrated over 50 birthdays. Typically, I view them as yet another day, but as I’ve written recently in this post, I think that it has something to do with my birthday falling five days before Christmas. As now, when I was growing up, everyone was too stressed and overwhelmed with the preparations for the big day to concern themselves with my birthday. I am not saying that anyone ignored my birthday, but I never felt that it was a particularly special day or that I was the center of attention. As a result, I’ve never treated it as a big deal. I have no doubts that others with a birthday close to Christmas have similar experiences.
So, it comes as no surprise that, as I grew older, I viewed my birthday as yet another day. While those around me tended to freak out, as they reached 30, 40 and 50, it just didn’t faze me. I was older but I didn’t feel older or wiser. This year, I feel differently.
For weeks now, I’ve contemplated my life and I tell you that hindsight is a bitch. It shines a light on the past and in all too many cases, not too favorably. Like everyone else, I’ve made my share of messes (intentionally or unintentionally), blunders, mistakes, poor, and I mean poor, choices, decisions and judgments, that I wish turned out far differently.
You know what I mean, those times that you pray for a ‘do over,’ but it is, what it is. I’ve had more than my share of guilt, fear, insecurity, self-doubt, self-sabotage and all the rest. After days of self-flagellation, I’ve realized that none of that crap matters anyway. In reality, it comes down to one basic question: Am I wiser for all of my experiences over the last 55 years?
It is said:
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. ~ Confucius
Let me tell you, my path to wisdom has been neither noble nor the easiest. As I am wont to do, I make things much harder on my self then necessary. My lessons learned are hard-fought for and I think, as a result more precious.
I think that it is important for me to note that what I am sharing with you are things that I’ve learned through both personal experience, as well as much reading and research. I am still working through all the “lessons” and will most likely be doing so for the rest of my life. For most of us, life lessons are not the stuff of instant enlightenment, but are the result of simply living our lives. Moreover, in my experience, there is a vast difference between learning a life lesson and fully living it.
There is a definite amorphousness to truly incorporating a life lesson into your life. They have that now you see it, now you don’t quality. When we think that we have them figured out, internalized them and put them at play in our lives, something unplanned happens, and all reason and learning goes right out of the window. There is a reason that they are called ‘life’ lessons. It takes a lifetime of living to reach the point where we’ve achieved an A+. For most of us, that never happens, but the beauty is that it keeps us striving to do better. Sometimes, we have to be satisfied with the knowledge that we are at a point in our development where we are able to discern that a life lesson is at play in our lives. All to often the lesson patiently floats in the ether waiting for us to recognize and acknowledge it.
I’ve realized that although I am no sage or font of wisdom, I have learned some lessons during my decades of existence. My past journeys have been peppered with valuable lessons hidden within the peaks and valleys, and if you think about it, they complement one another. Upon some reflection, I concluded that the valleys (i.e., lows) contain more of what I call the “diamonds in the rough.’ The ‘rough’ contains our heart breaks, mistakes, insecurities, wrongdoings, and everything else that we would rather avoid like the plague. The ‘diamond,’ however, is what awaits us should we have the strength and courage to journey through the myriad fears which composes the ‘rough’ outer shell. It contains the valuable truths upon which we can base a rich and happy life — life lessons and wisdom.
I find significant truth in Thomas Carlyle’s quote that “adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with,” for I’ve learned that it is through adversity that we discover the most valuable truths, and more importantly, opportunities to gain wisdom.
The peaks (i.e., highs) are what we tend to embrace and attempt to hold on to. As human beings, especially in this country, we strive to be happy and savor the successes, such as love, financial security, good health, and other happiness-inducing moments, at all costs. As this article reports, happiness even directly affects our health in a beneficial way. Who in his or her right mind, wouldn’t chose the highs over the lows?
I have yet to meet one person whose life manages to escape some or all of life’s valleys. For instance, a much sought after promotion brings with it less time with family and friends and a lesser degree of happiness that we imagined. A long-planned for new baby, albeit a blessing and happy experience, brings with it long sleepless nights, less quality time as a couple and a decrease in spontaneity. The list goes on and on. In sum, by definition, life is a series of peaks and valleys, or highs and lows, if you will, and there are few who live lives solely experiencing one or the other.
The key is to find balance between the two. I am sure that you’ve heard the saying that one cannot know the highs without the lows and vice versa. In my experience this is true. The wisdom comes in recognizing this fact and employing it in our lives. In most cases, with our new-found wisdom comes the acceptance that one cannot escape the valleys and that the key is to use that wisdom to uncover the lesson(s) concealed within those times.
In a later post, I will discuss the life lessons that I’ve managed to glean up to this point in my life.
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