One of the things I really enjoy each day are the noon time ringing of the bells in Thanksgiving Square here in Downtown Dallas. With a window open, the sound fills my apartment, and for a minute or so overpowers all the normal noise of traffic, trains, and construction. It’s a moment of calm in an otherwise hectic day.
In a discussion about my divorce last year with a group of designers, someone made the comment that I was in my ‘Saturn return.’ I had never heard the term before, but it’s a reference to an astrological phenomenon that occurs every 29 years, coinciding with Saturn’s return to its place in the sky when you were born (Saturn has a 28.5 year revolution around the sun). Wikipedia does a pretty good job explaining it:
It is believed by astrologers that, as Saturn “returns” to the degree in its orbit occupied at the time of birth, a person crosses over a major threshold and enters the next stage of life. With the first Saturn return, a person leaves youth behind and enters adulthood. With the second return, maturity. And with the third and usually final return, a person enters wise old age. These periods are estimated to occur at roughly the ages of 27-30, 58-60, 86-88 and so on.
The first Saturn return is most significant because it represents the first test of character and the structures a person has built his life upon. According to traditions, should these structures be unsound, or if a person is living out of touch with his true values, the Saturn return will be a time of upheaval and limitations as Saturn forces him to jettison old concepts and worn out patterns of living. It is not uncommon for relationships and jobs to end during this time of life restructuring and revaluation.
But the Saturn return is not all about painful endings. During this time astrologers note that goals are consolidated and people tend to gain a better vision of where they are going in life. There are added responsibilities and a person may reap the rewards from his hard work. Many major life milestones seem to happen around the ages of 29 and 30. This is why astrologers believe that the 30th birthday is such a major rite of passage because it marks the true beginning of adulthood, self-evaluation, independence, ambition, and self-actualization.
Now normally I consider astrology to be entirely bullshit. I don’t even know what my sign is, nor do I care, but this is spot on to what I’ve experienced in my 29th year. I suppose it may simply be a normal stage of human development that happens to coincide with the orbit of a planet, but whatever the case, I think there’s something there. Read More
Today is an anniversary of sorts. This day a year ago marked the official beginning to the end of my marriage. I have not talked about it with many people, at least not in this amount of detail, but I felt it was an appropriate topic to reflect on a year later. Though I want this blog focused on positive things, Thousands of Days is about a personal renewal, and this is the biggest landmark in that process for me so far.
I married very young, at 21, to the third girl I had dated seriously. I met her my first day of college; she was an RA in my dorm, and she was in her pajamas making rounds. I was enamored almost immediately, though we didn’t start dating until a year later. We got married right after my Junior year, and right after her masters graduation.
My wife and I set a habit of making Friday ‘date night’ very early on in our marriage to make sure that we always had at least one night a week together, alone. We rarely broke the habit, and this week was no different (though we bumped to to Saturday). We went to a movie (“Date Night” appropriately enough) and then hung out at a local coffee shop. We were a month from our 8 year anniversary, but all was not well. We had had difficulties from our very first year of marriage, but had both been very committed to making it work. For years though I had felt that all we shared was a bedroom and the bills. After the movie, while chatting at the coffee shop, we abruptly reached the tipping point. Read More
As you might imagine, one of the realities of living downtown is frequent interaction with the homeless population. It’s not an every day thing, and I run into them less often than I expected to, but it’s very common. Most people just try to ignore them; avoid eye contact, don’t respond, keep walking. It’s important to me that I treat them with respect and dignity though, so I never ignore them. In fact, I make an effort to respond.
I have two policies when it comes to homeless interaction. First, I don’t give anyone cash. The unfortunate reality is that many are homeless because they’re addicts of one kind or another, and I can’t in good conscience enable addiction. But if they ask, I don’t ignore them, I simply tell them I can’t help them, wish them well, and they usually move on. The second policy is that if they ask for food (not money for food), I will offer to buy them a meal. It doesn’t happen very often, maybe 5% of the time, but as a result of this policy I’ve taken several homeless people to dinner.
If you want a humbling experience, take a homeless person to a restaurant.
For a few of these guys, I’ve simply gone into the closest fast food place to buy them a meal, as I had already eaten. Reactions from the staff give me a small glimpse of what these people endure every day. I usually see an attitude of contempt and disgust from whoever is behind the counter, as if I’m feeding some kind of rat. And that’s just for helping, not being the ‘rat’. Read More
I’ve been hearing more and more frequently lately that in order to be happy, one must find their true calling in life, and then make a career out of it. If you love cycling, then you need a bike repair shop! If you love decorating your home, you need an interior design consulting job! If you have Bieber Fever, you should monetize that with a blog! It seems at every conference I go to, this comes up, especially in startup circles. I’ve lost count of how many people quote Confucius:
Do something you love and you will never work a day in your life.
It sounds great! But I’ve had a hard time buying it. Partly because, if I’m honest, I don’t have one passion. I’m not even sure I’d call my interests ‘passions’. I enjoy my job, but after 10 years it has lost some of it’s luster. I suspect anything else I did would probably suffer the same problem in a few years. I sometimes wish I could be happy doing one thing every day, but the reality is that I’m easily bored. The hobbies I enjoy would probably turn into grunt work pretty quickly if I was doing them full-time, because mastery leads to a lack of challenge. Read More
As part of my ‘life adjustments’ last year, I got out and made an effort to start travelling again. My sister and brother-in-law happened to be planning a trip to Maui, so I tagged along. The nice part about this was that it was already planned, I just needed to book a flight! My kind of trip.
My vacation experiences over the past decade were few, and mostly consisted of near-death experiences on Colorado mountains (I’m over-stating only slightly). This was my ex-wife’s idea of a fun time. Lets just say, they were more exhausting than rejuvenating!
My sister has an entirely different approach to vacations; namely, pick somewhere with a great beach, don’t feel obligated to do anything, and make it up as you go. I’m adopting this approach from now on. Read More
Following up on the previous post about properly aligning life’s priorities away from the material, I came across a great article today about the preliminary results of a broad survey of very wealthy Americans, Secret Fears of the Super Rich.
It’s well worth a read, but here’s the money shot I think:
“Freud was right,” Kenny concludes. “Love and work are the two things you have to do in life.” And great wealth, he says, often undermines both.
The bottom line is that wealth isolates people from the things that really matter. They are unable to have a rewarding career among the ‘common people’, and unable to have good relationships with those whose problems they can no longer relate. The result is huge anxiety from those you would think would be the most likely to sit back and relax.
This isn’t what we want to hear. In fact, I think it’s a threat to the way everything works in this country. Our culture is largely based around the idea that you too can be rich if you’re smart enough, work hard enough, or are cute enough to marry into money. It’s the primary carrot for work and social advancement – do this, get payed that, and use that pay to get stuff. And if you have stuff, you’ve advanced against your neighbor and are ‘winning’. If you listen to rap or hip hop at all, it’s completely exposed and bare as the end-all accomplishment that you should aspire to. Lexus, Benz or Bentley?
But if you ask those who are rich if the experience lives up to the hype, it apparently does not. I’m by no means super rich, but I do pretty well for myself, and I can see this in my life as well. Am I twice as happy now as I was a few years ago when I made half of what I do today? No.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a divorce lawyer at a business club. She was telling me about a case she had been working on, representing a woman who told her that she needed at least $40,000 a month, or she’d be living under a bridge (paraphrasing). It blows my mind how screwed up that is. If that’s what excessive money does to your brain, do you really want it?
This just seems like further validation that what we find rewarding in life is not the stuff. Beyond a certain point in fact, it’s detrimental. There’s a balance we must find that weighs career and monetary success with relationships and doing things we enjoy. As always, finding that balance is the real challenge.
I’ve always pictured life as a game we’re all forced to play. Some win, some lose. Some love it, some hate it. I love it, and I’m in it to win. But what does ‘winning’ look like?
My vision has not been consistent over the years. Is it being wealthy? Having a house and a nuclear family? Personal freedom? Owning a successful business? Retiring at 40? Being respected in the community? Saving orphan children in Africa?
What some consider success I achieved at a relatively young age. I’ve always been pretty ambitious; I had my own business, I made more money than most of my friends, I had the wife, the house, the German cars, etc. I suppose I still have those things, minus the wife. By many people’s accounts I’m winning, and I will by no means complain. However, I’ve become keenly aware over years that ‘stuff’ is a pretty poor substitute for life. Read More